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.

AT&T’s John Donovan to Deliver Keynote on 5G Opportunities at CES

AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan will lead a keynote session titled “New Frontiers in Mobile” at CES 2019, the Consumer Technology Association announced.

Donovan will join MediaLink Chairman and CEO Michael Kassan to discuss opportunities for 5G, the next generation technology for mobile.

Owned and produced by CTA, CES 2019 takes place Jan. 8-11 in Las Vegas. The keynote will begin at 2 p.m. Jan. 9 at the Park Theater, MGM Park.

Presented by MediaLink, the keynote will explore how 5G will open up opportunities for robotic manufacturing, AR/VR and mixed reality, sporting experiences and public safety, among other industries. After Donovan’s talk, a panel of industry executives will discuss how global companies are developing marketing strategies to best engage consumers in this mobile, data-driven world. Confirmed keynote panelists include National Geographic CMO Jill Cress, Deloitte Digital CMO Alicia Hatch, Magic Leap CPO Omar Khan, Adobe CMO Ann Lewnes, The Stagwell Group president and managing partner Mark Penn, and Ascential Events president and Cannes Lions chairman Phil Thomas.

“AT&T is a leader in the next-generation of connected mobility that will impact every aspect of our lives, and 5G is the platform that will enable that transformation,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, CTA, in a statement. “We are excited to have John Donovan and Michael Kassan lead this powerful CES keynote that will delve into the new world of 5G innovation and the next wave of connectivity.”

Donovan is responsible for the bulk of AT&T’s global telecommunications and U.S. video services businesses, including its Business, Mobility and Entertainment, and Technology & Operations groups, according to a CTA press release. Previously, Donovan served as chief strategy officer and group president, AT&T Technology and Operations, where he led strategic planning for the company overall.

Kassan founded MediaLink in 2003, a strategic advisory firm serving companies at the intersection of media, marketing, advertising, technology, entertainment and finance.

VR Platform HTC Vive Unleashing Wireless Adapter

Virtual reality platform HTC Vive has announced the Sept. 5 pre-order availability of the Vive Wireless Adapter.

The adapter frees VR users from the tether back to their PC, while maintaining the performance requirements for premium VR on both the HTC Vive and Vive Pro, according to a press release from HTC Vive.\For customers in the United States, pre-orders will be available at Amazon, Best Buy, Microsoft Store online, NewEgg and Vive.com.

The Vive Wireless Adapter retails for $299. Vive Pro owners will need an additional compatibility pack with a connection cable for the Vive Pro, as well as foam padding and an attachment device unique to Vive Pro. The Vive Pro compatibility pack retails for $60.

“Since the first demos of Vive, we’ve known that to deliver on the best of premium VR, we wanted it to be wireless,” said Daniel O’Brien, GM, Americas, HTC Vive, in a statement. “But we learned that delivering a great wireless experience takes time and really smart partners. We’ve brought the engineering expertise together to deliver a truly first of its kind wireless VR experience. Thanks to Intel and DisplayLink for helping to make this vision a reality.”

To install the Vive Wireless Adapter consumers use a PCI-e card and attach a sensor from the PC that broadcasts to and from the wireless Vive headset. The adapter has a broadcast range of 6 meters with a 150 degree field of view from the sensor and runs in the interference-free 60Ghz band using Intel’s WiGig specification, which, combined with DisplayLink’s XR codec, means low latency and high performance with hours of battery life, according to the company.

The adapter is powered by the HTC QC 3.0 PowerBank, which can also double as a charge pack for a smartphone. The retail package ships with one PowerBank and additional PowerBanks will be purchasable at Vive.com.

“I congratulate HTC and we are excited to see a flagship device and new user experience enabled by Gigabit, low-latency wireless,” said Dr. Cormac S.G. Conroy, corporate VP and GM, Intel Communication and Devices Group, in a statement. “In building this mmWave solution, we had our eyes on the demands of VR and leveraged our deep 5G wireless experience. We understood the performance needs of VR and the gaming and enterprise markets. We can’t wait for everyone to bring what we’ve been working on into their homes and into their VR arcades.”

“DisplayLink’s heritage is in solving complex problems for enterprises all over the world,” said John Cummins, SVP, sales and marketing, DisplayLink, in a statement. “We’re very excited to deliver the freedom and complete immersion of wireless VR to businesses and the application development community that serves them. For gaming, arcades, training, and future applications yet to be developed, the promise of low latency, high quality wireless VR is available now.”

“Wireless represents the true promise of VR and Seeking Dawn,” said Freeman Fan, founder & CEO, Multiverse Entertainment, in a statement. “Our gameplay in Seeking Dawn capitalizes on the freedom of wireless, and we can’t wait to showcase how wireless changes the expectations around VR content.”

To celebrate the launch, all Vive Wireless Adapter purchases will include a two-month trial to Viveport Subscription, offering access to nearly 500 titles, including Seeking Dawn.

CTA: Emerging Tech, Smartphones Driving Household Consumer Electronics

About 87% of U.S. households own a smartphone, which is second only to the television at 96% ownership, according to new data from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA).

The trade group said that for the first time, the top three most-frequently owned tech products in the home are screen devices, with laptops trailing TVs and smartphones at 72%.

“The rapid ascent of smartphone ownership in U.S. households exemplifies [its] versatility — for communication, entertainment, productivity and more,” Steve Koenig, VP of market research, said in a statement.  “And because of that, it’s possible we’ll see smartphone ownership in the U.S. match that of TVs within the next five years.”

Echo and Google Home, have nearly tripled in ownership rate to reach 22% of American households — one of the fastest-adopted technologies since tablets, according to CTA.

Smartwatch adoption continues to grow, with 18% of U.S. households now owning at least one of the devices — an increase of six percentage points over last year. Additionally, ownership rates of drones and virtual reality headsets were measured at 11% and 10% of households, respectively.

Next-gen screen technologies and the availability of larger screen sizes drove more U.S. consumers to buy technology in and around the TV, said the CTA. The trade group said 4K Ultra HD televisions experienced the largest growth in household ownership rate, rising 15 percentage points year-over-year to reach 31% household ownership. Indeed, 19% of households own a TV with a screen size of 60 inches or bigger. Ownership of digital media streaming devices rose nine percentage points since 2017 to 45% of households.

“It’s no surprise that … smart speakers and VR are among the products consumers anticipate buying the most” said Ben Arnold, senior director of innovation and trends. “Many of these devices incorporate new technologies and features – artificial intelligence, voice recognition, faster processing – and at the same time provide a smarter way to communicate or experience content.”

DEG Speakers Confront New Reality: AR Shows Promise, VR ‘Going to Take a While’

Virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality have been the new buzzwords in the home entertainment business for the past few years, but the hype is starting to meet reality (the real one) when it comes to the money-making prospects for these new formats in the entertainment realm.

That was the consensus at the “Next Up: Alternate Realities in Home Entertainment: VR, MR, AR” conference, presented by DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

“The challenge from my perspective is not the technology, but how you apply that technology,” said Mike Dunn, DEG chair and president, product strategy and consumer business development, 20th Century Fox.

Still, these new formats are here to stay, and the industry must begin to adjust, noted DEG president and CEO Amy Jo Smith.

“It’s not temporary,” she said. “It’s going to be permanent.”

“The near term is not going to be as dramatic as the long term,” said keynote speaker and author Charlie Fink. “We get very excited when we discover something new, but for it to become a product, it takes a long time.”

Fink noted, “AR [especially mobile] is hot right now, and VR is not so hot.”

“Virtual and augmented reality have nothing to do with each other,” he said. “They are not the same.”

What makes AR, which superimposes data and other content on real video, so exciting, he said, is that “the world is going to be painted with data.”

“Who’s going to be doing the painting?” he said, noting that it is an opportunity for IP owners.

Virtual reality requires an immersive experience that is “going to take a while,” he said. Disneyland, consumers being inside a movie, is an early attempt at VR, he said.

“Although I loved Ready Player One [the Steven Spielberg blockbuster about VR], I note that it takes place in 2045,” said Fink about VR. “I would say, ‘Don’t hold your breath. It’s going to take a while for VR to become as big as AR. That said, when you can walk around in the movie, it will be mind-blowing and everybody will do it.’”

Still, it’s all in the developmental stage, as many speakers acknowledged.

Location-based VR, meaning spaces at malls, etc., where consumers can experience VR, is the leading edge of the VR business, speakers said.

“It’s also bringing so many more people to experience VR, hopefully getting over the hurdles of understanding what it means and some of the scariness of getting the headset for the first time and working out that human interaction as you are first experiencing it and so our hope is certainly that the LBE market will not only be a business in and of itself but also encourage and support the home market,” said Jessica Schell, EVP and GM, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

“These arcades that are popping up, for us it’s a secondary licensing opportunity for the home entertainment product that we are creating,” said Brendan Handler, SVP and GM, virtual reality at FoxNext. Fox has produced VR projects around its ‘Alien’ and ‘Planet of the Apes’ properties.

“Ultimately, it’s going to come down to content,” he said. “It’s going to have to be breakthrough content.”

It’s also the practical aspect of VR, noted Schell.

“Content’s critical but you have to have great devices to be able to experience the content,” she said. “And to really make that accessible you’ve got to have a low price point, you have to have glasses that people can wear for a long time and watch longer form content without getting tired, without getting sick, you have to have it untethered so people can walk around, wireless, long battery life without warming up your face so much.”

The consensus was VR, AR, MR are still a work in progress.

NBC Airing First-Ever Live Winter Olympics Virtual Reality Coverage

NBC Jan. 8 announced it would provide more than 50 hours of live virtual reality coverage during the XXIII Olympic Winter Games from PyeongChang, South Korea.

Virtual Reality immerses the viewer into an environment, whether real or imagined, creating either a lifelike experience at a place in the real world or putting a viewer into simulated environments such as in a VR game.

The VR coverage will be available to authenticated users with Windows Mixed Reality headsets, Samsung Gear VR, and both Google Cardboard and Google Daydream, with compatible iOS or Android devices via the NBC Sports VR app.

It marks the first time that VR will be available for a Winter Olympics and that VR programming will be live in the U.S on a wide range of devices and platforms.

“The Olympics have long been an opportunity to showcase emerging media technology,” Gary Zenkel, president, NBC Olympics, said in a statement.

VR programming will include the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, alpine skiing, curling, snowboarding, skeleton, figure skating, short track, ski jumping, ice hockey, and big air, among other events.

NBC Olympics will offer VR replays of all events previously livestreamed; one daily 360-degree video of a sport not available in VR the previous day; and packaged highlights from the day before.

“We are enabling a truly immersive experience, where fans get closer to the action than ever before allowing them feel like they are sitting in the stands for a front and center view of history being made,” said James Carwana, VP and GM of Intel Sports Group, which is working with NBC on VR coverage. 

Viewers will be able to customize their experience by switching between multiple vantage points, hear natural sound captured at each camera location to provide a truly immersive experience, and enjoy real-time stats, leaderboards and post-event results.

Viewers will also be able to “fly” through the Olympic world, tour Olympic venues and different areas throughout Korea.

NBC Olympics will also provide content prior to the start of the Games, with behind-the-scenes content captured with Intel True VR technology. VR users will be able to experience a winter sports athlete prepare for the Games; witness the culture, sights and beauty of Korea; and explore the PyeongChang Olympic venues.

Programming will span every day of the Games – with the exception of Feb. 18 – beginning the day of the Opening Ceremony on Friday, Feb. 9, and concluding with the Closing Ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 25.

NBC Olympics’ first foray into VR was for the Rio Olympics in 2016. Most programming was presented on next-day delay.