Times Network makes a 180-degree and 3D 360-degree virtual reality move

MUMBAI: We all thought virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) are something in the future, right? Well, no, not really. It is here, right here, right now.

Take a look at the way in which Indian news television channels are beginning to sprint towards the two innovative ways of delivering content and immersing viewers in news stories.

The first mover was NDTV which quietly started putting out flat VR videos online. Republic TV made a big bang announcement a few months ago with its plans to launch a VR production studio and to produce some clips and shows. Zee Media’s English language channel WION has also been uploading and hosting some sourced world news VR clips online.

And, even as other TV news channels have been pawing at the VR starting line, Times Network has already begun to take rapid strides in that direction. The news network is going the full Monty - 3D 360 degree video-based VR and Google’s new 180 degree VR formats.

“It’s a natural attempt. Ultimately, video experiences are changing because of technology,” says Times Network CEO MK Anand. “So, we are creating a lab internally. Our camera and content people are currently being put through the paces and training to produce videos and pilots in 3D 360 degree video and 180 degree VR.”

Dubai-based Real Vision founder and VR expert Clyde DeSouza has been roped in to train a handful of Times journos and cameramen to understand the nuances of VR/AR and also what kind of content and stories are suitable for VR and immersive journalism.

Says Clyde: “Times Now’s use of the new VR180 format compatible with Google’s Daydream headsets will be a first for immersive journalism globally as it allows the videos to be viewed as regular flat clips on any device. But, these videos become immersive and 3D once they are inserted into a Google Cardboard or a DayDream headset. Google is working with a few select partners on this at the moment. The Times Network has made some initial investments in VR hardware and is now investing in gaining skillsets."

Clyde reveals the first VR step is to pick up the VR gear, good gear. “Most companies are going for Chinese cameras which are cheaper at around $3,500 to $33,000 but don’t have full capabilities as the cameras are not in sync with each other or they exhibit only 3D VR artifacts,” he explains.

“Flat 360 video does not show scale of the various subjects being presented, and hence is not a true immersive experience. To get good quality videos with all the concomitant, full blown VR 180-degree or 3D 360-degree capabilities, the investments are much higher or there are cheaper solutions available like renting the Google Jump system which includes the camera and the cloud stitching.”

He points out to the VR efforts being put in by the US-based broadsheet New York Times and the UK pubcaster, the BBC, as real standouts. “The Beeb’s videos on the refugee induction programme in the UK for instance have transcended video-based VR and are exploring hybrid VR storytelling and experiential news journalism.”

Clyde is quite excited about the potential of VR in Indian TV news because of the plethora of news channels operating nationally and he sees himself as a bit of an evangelist for the new format. “I am excited about VR/AR news videos in the Indian ecosystem,” says he, with a gleam in his eye. “I am sure more and more editors and news CEOs will follow.”

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