Comcast Providing Live 8K Virtual Reality Coverage of the Beijing Winter Olympics

Comcast and NBCUniversal Feb. 4 announced the launch of the NBC Olympics VR by Xfinity app. Available for the first time in 8K resolution, the app (which is limited to pay-TV subscribers with an 8K-compatible TV) will feature more than 150 hours of live and on demand interactive virtual reality coverage of the Beijing Olympic Games, which officially begin today (Feb. 4).

“We strive to create innovative viewing experiences so immersive it rivals being at the Winter Olympics live,” Sophia Ahmad, EVP of Xfinity Consumer Services, said in a statement.

Developed in collaboration with product and technical teams across NBCUniversal and Comcast, the app leverages technical VR innovations from both companies.

“Our 8K virtual reality experience for the Winter Games will offer users a one-of-a-kind viewing experience where they feel as if they’re fully immersed in their favorite sports,” said Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics.

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VR/8K coverage includes live and on-demand coverage of figure skating, hockey and snowboarding. Select events will offer viewers the option to switch between different cameras to get alternative vantage points.

Coverage of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, where viewers will have an athlete-level view of the event and get to experience the rush of walking for their country as an Olympian.

Features and highlights from 10 additional sports throughout the Games, including alpine skiing, bobsled and speed skating.

Viewers can also host a virtual Olympics watch party and invite up to three friends to join their virtual suite where they can interact together as if they were in the same room. The NBC Olympics VR by Xfinity app is now available to download from the Meta Quest 2 app store.

NPD: U.S. Saw VR/AR Hardware, Accessories Holiday Sales Increase

The virtual/augmented reality retail category in the U.S. had a very successful 2021 holiday period (Nov. 21 – Dec. 25, 2021), with sales up 180% and 153%, respectively, versus the prior year, according to new data from The NPD Group.

Based on NPD’s Weekly Retail Tracking Service data, sales growth of VR/AV products was slightly lower for full-year 2021, up 163% in unit sales and 137% in revenue compared with the previous year.

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“This year’s holiday gains come as consumers continue to look for unique entertainment experiences and also likely benefited from challenges consumers faced in securing popular gaming consoles,” Ben Arnold, executive director and technology industry analyst for NPD, said in a statement.

Arnold believes that as new devices become available, and the consumer base has an opportunity to grow, he expects positive momentum in the year ahead — starting with 32% revenue growth in the first half of the year.

“The Metaverse, VR/AR, and smart glasses will be areas to watch in 2022,” he said.

LG Creating Physical and Virtual Experience at CES

CES exhibitor LG Electronics will create a physical and virtual experience at its booth during CES 2022, taking place Jan. 5-8.

At its traditional location — the 22,000-square-foot booth at the main entrance to the Central Hall in the Las Vegas Convention Center — LG will connect visitors from the physical space to LG’s virtual experience leveraging both virtual and augmented reality. Constructed of upcycled, recycled and recyclable materials, the space will feature a series of kiosks where visitors can experience LG products.

Visitors will take a self-guided tour using QR codes as they navigate through the physical experience, interacting with LG consumer electronics and home appliance products via AR. Other kiosks will feature immersive VR digital art, including LG’s immersive curved OLED video walls.

Audiences around the world will be able to access the same content and participate digitally in the LG CES experience.

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LG has again been named official CES technology partner for the press rooms and member lounges, which will feature LG OLED TVs.

“We look forward to seeing what LG, a long-time innovation leader at CES, has in store for visitors in January,” Karen Chupka, EVP of CES at the Consumer Technology Association, said in a statement. “CES 2022 will enable attendees in Las Vegas to experience LG’s technology using AR and VR. Audience joining CES digitally from across the globe will be able to experience the same ground- breaking tech, through LG’s digital activation.”

Vudu Available on Oculus VR Devices

Vudu, the digital transactional service from Fandango, is now available on Oculus Quest 1 and 2 virtual reality devices.

Without leaving their Oculus VR headsets, viewers through the Vudu app can immerse themselves in content such as the Ryan Reynolds film Free Guy, available to rent on Vudu starting Oct. 12 at $5.99, as well as Jungle Cruise, The Addams Family 2, F9: The Fast Saga and Marvel Studios’ Black Widow. Hundreds of 3D movies are also available to watch on Quest 2 devices, including The Boss Baby: Family Business, Venom, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ready Player One, Mad Max: Fury Road and Jurassic World.

“We’re excited that Vudu will now serve as the official movie and TV store on Oculus,” Fandango chief commercial officer Kevin Shepela said in a statement. “Fandango’s mission is to usher fans to the most moving entertainment experiences and we’re certainly able to deliver that promise with the new Vudu app on Oculus. We’re thrilled to be working with Oculus to help transport fans to new worlds in the most immersive formats available.”

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Available in more than 75 million U.S. TV-connected device households, according to The NPD Group, Vudu has more than 60 million registered users and serves millions of consumers daily across a wide selection of platforms and devices, including Samsung, LG and Vizio Smart TVs, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Xfinity X1 and Xfinity Flex, PlayStation, Xbox, TiVo and more.

Brazil’s VR Narrative ‘The Line’ Wins Primetime Emmy For Outstanding Innovation in Interactive Programming

In a first for a Brazilian company, ARVORE Immersive Experiences (ARVORE) won a Primetime Emmy Award  for Outstanding Innovation in Interactive Programming for its virtual reality (VR) love story, “The Line.” The series claims to be the first VR narrative experience for Facebook’s Oculus Quest hand tracking feature.

“To receive this recognition, particularly in an innovation category, is truly an incredible achievement for us, which validates our dedication and our vision for the future of immersive technologies as a storytelling medium,” Ricardo Justus, CEO of ARVORE, said in a statement.

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Set within a scale model of 1940s São Paulo and narrated by Rodrigo Santoro (HBO’s “Westworld”), “The Line” is an interactive story about love and the fear of change, transforming players into a child who unlocks an enchanted maquette of two miniature dolls, Pedro and Rosa. This room-scale experience invites players to pull on knobs, and crawl under the scale model engine, to unfold the story of these figurines who are perfect for each other, but reluctant to live out their love.

“One of the most beautiful side effects of VR is bringing the body back to the center of the experience,” said series director Ricardo Laganaro. “We use the body movement as a language device to create emotions inside of the story. When we use our whole body to not only interact with but also tell and listen to stories, we remember that we are human.”

The show’s creators says VR is key to developing the storyline that could not be replicated on standard video or film. Specifically, the VR user is responsible for the development of the story by engaging in a series of interactions that are triggers to unravel the narrative. Justus and Santoro say “The Line” is first narrative with full-hand tracking interaction, where the user can touch the story with their hands with his/her bare hands — at both a God-Like perspective of the scale-mode, and then at the scale of the dolls.

“We believe that we have entered a new phase in the VR market, and now the users are becoming more and more mainstream,” they said.  “However, for first-time VR users the library of content is still very scarce so ‘The Line’ is a fantastic gateway into VR that in just under 20 minutes demonstrates the best attributes of the technology.

The Emmy adds to a list of awards “The Line” has received, including Best VR Experience at the 2019 Venice Film Festival, Best VR Immersive Award at the 2019 Kaohsiung Film Festival and more. The Emmy will be presented to the team on September 17.

“The Line” is available globally on Oculus for $4.99.

HBO Max Bows VR Events for New ‘Lovecraft Country’ Series

To promote new original series “Lovecraft Country,” HBO Sept. 1 announced it is launching a series of virtual reality (VR) companion events, dubbed “Lovecraft Country: Sanctum.” The promotions transporting fans into a virtual world inspired by the show. The series, which launched Aug. 16, airs Sundays at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on HBO and is available to stream on HBO Max.

“Lovecraft Country” is a horror drama television series set in 1950s Jim Crow America developed by Misha Green based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Matt Ruff. It stars Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors, among others, and is executive produced by J.J Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, “Westworld”) and Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us).

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The VR events, which begin Sept. 3, will enable selected users to experience three events consisting of immersive theater, escape rooms, art installations, puzzles and a live concert, via the Oculus Quest headset, all inspired by the series. The events will be simultaneously run on the social platform VRChat, which allows participants to talk and interact with each other in real time within the environment, and streamed via YouTube Live.

“We were very inspired by the deeply layered and dynamic world Misha Green has brought to life in [the series] and wanted to create a digital experience for fans that is just as innovative,” Dana Flax, VP of program marketing at HBO, said in a statement.

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Flax said much of the TV show is rooted in the idea of travel as a catalyst for self-discovery. And the VR experience provides a way for fans of the show to come together virtually and safely in a unique new place and experience incredible performances that further explore themes and ideas from the show.

“These virtual events also give us the special opportunity of spotlighting the work of black artists in celebration of this very important series,” Flax said.

VR participants will experience voiceover performances by series’ Majors, Courtney B. Vance and Michael Kenneth Williams; afrofuturist art installations by David Alabo, Devan Shimoyama and Adeyemi Adegbesan; a theatrical performance inspired by the words of James Baldwin, adapted by series writer Shannon Houston, and performed by Jurnee Smollett; and an exclusive VR concert given by a soon to be announced artist.

Sanctum was developed in partnership with HBO by creative production partner and experience studio The Mill, whose team of artists, coders and strategists developed the experience during global lockdown, in close collaboration with HBO’s marketing team.

“We created Sanctum as a space to expand the possibilities of what the future of theatre, games, art installations, concerts, and live events can be, said Rama Allen, executive creative director at The Mill and lead creative on the Sanctum experience.

Allen said the promotion seeks to create a space in partnership with black artists and voices that centers on the black experience.

“We chose social VR because it is the most transportive medium to lift us from the isolation of quarantine, to coexist in a rarefied location,” he said. “This technology can erase geography to bring us together.”

Paramount Cuts VR Movie Deal With Bigscreen

Paramount Pictures and Bigscreen Inc. Dec. 16 announced a multiyear agreement to distribute classic 2D and 3D films in 10 countries worldwide through the San Francisco startup’s social VR movie-watching platform.

“Bigscreen’s virtual reality platform offers a new way for fans to experience films in their homes,” said Bob Buchi, president of worldwide entertainment for Paramount Pictures. “We’re excited to be a part of this experiment using cutting-edge technology to give fans a new entertainment option.”

Bigscreen’s virtual world, entered through headsets, allows users to customize personal avatars, hang out in a virtual lobby, and voice chat with other movie fans. Movies are streamed on screens inside virtual cinemas, providing a social movie watching experience.

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Four new movies will premiere in Bigscreen every week. Movies run for one week with a new lineup of movies available the following week. Films are broadcast live on a pay-per-view basis with scheduled showtimes every 30 minutes. December’s lineup includes blockbuster hits like Interstellar and Star Trek. For the full list of upcoming screenings and showtimes, visit bigscreenvr.com/cinema/comingsoon.

“We are excited to enable fans around the world to hangout, chat, and watch films together in our virtual movie theater,” said Darshan Shankar, CEO and founder of Bigscreen.

Bigscreen’s virtual screenings will be available in 10 countries: the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, and Japan.

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In addition to 2D screenings, Bigscreen will also broadcast select movies in 3D. Bigscreen’s rendering technology uses VR to create a 3D picture in each eye, producing a level of depth and detail that is not possible with traditional 3D glasses.

Bigscreen can be downloaded for free from bigscreenvr.com and runs on the Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, HTC Vive, Valve Index, all SteamVR headsets, and all Microsoft Windows Mixed Reality headsets.

Tickets can be purchased through Bigscreen’s website at bigscreenvr.com/cinema

Former Fox Exec Hanno Basse Joins Live Planet

Live Planet, creator of systems for virtual reality and blockchain tracking of entertainment content, has appointed Hanno Basse, former chief technology officer at 20th Century Fox Film Corp., president of its Decentralized Media Solutions division.

“Basse brings Live Planet his extensive expertise in driving the adoption of emerging technologies to catalyze new media experiences and services, expanding the company’s innovations in immersive and linear video production, distribution and monetization,” according to a Live Planet press release.

Basse will expand the company’s global footprint, building on its end-to-end virtual reality video streaming and publishing solution and its blockchain-based video infrastructure platform, the VideoCoin Network.

He will be based in Los Angeles, reporting to Live Planet founder and CEO Halsey Minor.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to mark the next stage of growth for Live Planet with the addition of Hanno to our world-class team of media and technology experts. Hanno brings a truly unique level of senior experience to Live Planet that will be extremely valuable to us as we help our customers meet the increasing demands of streaming video and next-generation on-demand services,” said Minor in a statement. “The addition of a technology pioneer of Hanno’s caliber is emblematic of Live Planet’s strategic direction and I look forward to an incredibly exciting journey ahead.”

“The media processing and distribution technologies Halsey and his team have built are among the most groundbreaking I’ve seen. They provide the basis for a new generation of solutions that media, telco and corporations will eagerly embrace as our world moves toward increased decentralization, higher-speed communication and edge-based compute,” said Basse in a statement. “I cannot wait to show the world what we will deliver next.”

Basse was appointed chief technology officer at 20th Century Fox Film Corp. in 2012, At Fox, Basse was responsible for technology strategy for the film studio, covering production/post-production, theatrical distribution and home entertainment. He created partnerships with Samsung, Ericsson and Barco, among others, which led to the founding of the Fox Innovation Lab. While at Fox, he also served as the first chairman of the UHD Alliance where he helped launch the 4K UHD Blu-ray Disc format and, in partnership with Samsung, established High Dynamic Range technology as a consumer product. He also served as the Fox board member of Movielabs.

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Prior to joining 20th Century Fox, Basse was with DirecTV, where he served as SVP of broadcast systems engineering. In that role, he was responsible for the design and implementation of DirecTV’s broadcast infrastructure and served as the technical lead for the introduction of many technologies to DirecTV’s platform, including HD, 3D and on-demand services.

Basse studied radio communications technology at the Engineering College of the Soviet Air Defense Forces in Kiev, Ukraine, and received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Officer’s College of the Air Force in Kamenz, Germany.

The Live Planet VR System is an end-to-end solution for easily creating and delivering live and recorded picture-perfect stereoscopic VR video programming and applications, according to the company.

The VideoCoin Network provides video infrastructure for the blockchain-enabled internet, delivering decentralized video encoding, storage and content distribution.

Parks: Virtual Reality (VR) Headsets Remain Niche Video Game Product

Virtual reality (VR) has often been suggested as home entertainment’s future technology. New research from Parks Associates, however, finds that the video game industry remains the primary use case for VR headsets.

Parks found that while 25% of domestic broadband households are familiar with VR technology, just 8% of households use it. Among consumers who own or are familiar with VR, 54% use their headset or would use it for gaming.

“Sixty-two percent of U.S. broadband households play video games, and while gamers are a passionate market segment, they can be limited in scope, which has stalled adoption of VR to a wider audience,” analyst Billy Nayden said in a statement. “There has been some notable video content developed for VR, such as Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s short video experience Carne y Arena, which won an Oscar, but overall lack of quality, non-gaming content is inhibiting broader adoption.”

Parks Associates: Expected Virtual Reality Use Cases

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parks said 15% of domestic broadband households have tried VR, while 52% of headset owners report owning a smartphone-based system. PC-based systems and game console-based systems are the next most popular systems, with effectively the same adoption rate.

Another 28% of game console owners are familiar with VR headsets, and familiarity is even higher among owners of newer consoles.

Content quality remains a challenge for VR headset owners, with 55% of VR headset owners feeling that content for their device has remained the same since they bought their headset and 3% believe it has gotten worse. The report notes the main barriers for VR content development are costs, the demand for interactivity, and limits on content length.

Mobile headsets are capable of playing most non-gaming content in VR but often cannot play premium games and have much lower NPS scores than other headset types. For gamers, PC-based and game console-based systems are the primary VR headset option, though standalone VR headsets are promoted as a cost saver.

“The aim of standalone VR headsets is to offer much of the same premium content as game console or PC-based headsets, without the need for additional hardware like a gaming console or high-powered PC,” Nayden said. “This technology drastically reduces the cost for consumers, while providing a more premium experience than smartphone-based systems.”

 

SyFy, NBC Universal Bowing ‘Eleven Eleven’ VR Project at SXSW Festival

SyFy channel along with NBC Universal March 5 announced they will bow the “Eleven Eleven” virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) series later this month at the SXSW film festival in Austin, Texas.

Produced in collaboration with VFX studio Digital Domain, “Eleven Eleven” will be available for both tethered and mobile VR headsets and related AR devices.

“With Eleven Eleven, we are pioneering an innovative scripted format for science fiction content that blends the best of theatre, gaming and cinema to create unique VR and AR experiences,” Steve Patscheck, EVP global programming at NBC Universal International Networks, said in a statement. “By creating an original piece of IP, Syfy was able to design specifically for VR and AR, all the while exploring how immersive technologies could heighten the thrill of storytelling.”

Sky will distribute the series through European regions (Germany, Italy, Spain) via Sky VR Studios.

“We’re delighted to be partnering with Syfy and NBC Universal International Networks on Eleven Eleven,” said Neil Graham, executive producer for Sky VR Studios. “It is a truly innovative VR experience and a brilliant step forward in our growing range of VR content.”