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VR – science fiction or broadcast reality?

One of the fastest-growing industries today is the VR gaming market. Can VR also find similar success in the broadcast TV business?

By Shawn Liew

As the referee blows the whistle to end a pulsating match, you soak up the electric atmosphere in the stadium, as the delirious crowd celebrates their team’s victory.

Then off comes the virtual reality (VR) headset, and you find yourself transported back to the confines of your living room. The stuff of science fiction? Hardly, as broadcasters around the world continue to explore VR broadcasting.

Take this year’s Winter Olympics, for example, where NBC will be broadcasting more than 50 hours of live VR coverage. In Asia, Singapore terrestrial broadcaster Mediacorp has launched a VR Incubator Programme, designed to provide in-house training for staff, and which will culminate in the production of VR content within the next 12 months.

Is VR on its way to our TV screens? While a compelling argument can be made for how VR can add a new immersive dimension to the viewing experience, there is also, perhaps, a lingering sense of déjà vu where VR is concerned.

Remember 3DTV? 3DTV, for all intents and purposes, failed because there was viewer annoyance with wearing 3D glasses, lack of appropriate content and eye fatigue.

Have these issues been resolved for VR to become mainstream? Studies have indicated viewers are only likely to view VR content up to a 20-minute duration, before sensorial sickness kicks in.

What types of content best suits VR? Sports will appear to be a leading candidate, although it is disputable if viewers, for example, would want to relive the quirky antics of Mr Bean, played so endearingly by Rowan Atkinson, on VR.

Consumer acceptance aside, there are technical issues to consider, including the standardisation of VR. And what about the sheer amount of bandwidth that is required to stream VR content individually to both eyes?

There is clearly a lot of work left to be done before VR can enter mainstream broadcast but who knows? One day, sports fans around the world may just travel to some of the most iconic sporting stadiums in the world — all from the comfort of their homes.

Shawn Liew is the managing editor of Asia-Pacific Broadcasting, who has been monitoring the technologies and trends impacting the broadcast and media industries for the past 35 years.
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