Making Sense of VR and 360-Degree Video: The Sky’s the Limit

Published on in Miscellaneous

Over the last couple years, we’ve seen growing interest in virtual reality and 360-degree video experiences. In the ever-evolving live streaming landscape, these technologies are emerging as two of the most innovative trends gaining mainstream attention—powering events such as live sports and concerts, not to mention new projects and jobs for video professionals who know how to bring these technologies to life.  

For the uninitiated, anyone who has used Google Street View or Bing Streetside in a browser has already experienced interactive 360-degree photography, in which you move through a scene by tapping and panning. You can have similar experiences today with on-demand and live video streams. Some mobile apps make it more virtual by changing the scene based on the position and motion of your device. Try on-demand videos today on the YouTube #360Video channel.

Virtual reality (VR) goggles take 360-degree visual experiences even further by adjusting what you see based on which direction your face is pointing. To these, you can add additional sensory cues—platforms such as Virtuix Omni that allow you to seemingly walk in any direction, plus 360-degree audio that provides accurate directional sound no matter which way you're facing.

Why should you pay attention to VR and 360-degree video?

For one thing, there may be big business here. While VR goggles of all types currently seem like techy toys that might remind you a bit of the 3D TV fad a few years ago, their potential for real-world value-added applications and revenue should not be overlooked. According to VentureBeat, as of October 2015 there are 234 companies in the VR space, employing 40,000 people and generating $13B in value. 

These businesses are creating the content, technologies, and gear that power these virtual experiences. They include many companies you’ve probably never heard of, plus the bigger companies you know by name, such as Google, Ricoh, Facebook, Intel, 20th Century Fox, Marvel, IMAX, Microsoft, Sony, and more. Digi-Capital estimates market revenue for VR will hit $30B by 2020.

Beyond the business impact, the use cases for these technologies are too much fun not to consider.  

For example, how quickly will we be able to share a virtual seat with others as we tune into a live virtual-reality broadcast straight from the couch? Expect 2016 to be the year in which live events go to this next level. The Wowza-powered Lollapalooza Berlin 2015 music festival in 4K and a Golden State Warriors basketball game were early tests, allowing viewers to look in any direction from the camera of their choice, whether on stage with the band or courtside at half-court.

How does it work?

While a few VR technologies use proprietary streaming technologies, most use industry-standard streaming protocols. The dozens of 360-degree cameras and video-stitching applications available can output a standard H.264 video stream over the RTSP protocol. A few examples include GIROPTIC, 360fly, and VideoStitch Vahana VR. Easy-to-use live streaming solutions, like those available from Wowza Media Systems, then take that one HD stream and transrate it into multiple bitrate renditions for adaptive streaming delivery to any screen, regardless of device resolution or local bandwidth. Playback is achieved using player apps from companies such as krpano, Finwe, Oculus, and Google.

360-degree views and VR have nearly limitless applications. We’ll soon see see VR streaming used in racing of all types, weddings, corporate meetings, education, medicine, military applications, and many other areas. Hang on for the ride—it’s gonna be fun! 

What do you see as the biggest opportunity with VR and 360-degree video?

About the Writer - Chris Knowlton 

As a passionate evangelist for streaming media products, Chris Knowlton has spent 15 years working on technologies that make live and on-demand media delivery accessible for companies of all sizes. A recognized industry authority, Chris was honored in 2011 as a “Streaming Media All-Star” by Streaming Media Magazine, and he holds several patents for streaming software technologies. Chris came to Wowza from Microsoft, where he spent 10 years orchestrating the company’s on-premises and cloud media server roadmaps, and led cross-divisional and partner efforts to develop the core Microsoft Media Platform. Chris has also worked in alliance management at NetApp and with several Tier 1 automotive suppliers. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering at Michigan State University.

Note: A similar version of this blog post appeared on in January, 2016.
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  • Ralph Carabetta said…
    Monday, February 22, 2016 3:08 PM
    This is a very exciting time for consumers and speculators alike. Between the FCC's recent landmark decision to "unlock" set-top boxes, and the mainstreaming of VR/AR devices and content, I think it's safe to say these are seminal moments and opportunities abound!
  • Connecticut Green Screen said…
    Thursday, February 25, 2016 10:04 PM
    Our company took the VR plunge in December and it's hard to go back to working with flat screens once you've been immersed in VR experiences! It's a different world in all respects to production and really makes you rethink how you go about your production flow. If you haven't already, I highly suggest you demo with the Samsung Gear VR goggles or something better. You just don't get the same experience with lesser products such as Google Cardboard.
    -Tim , CTGS Productions
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