Exploring the possibilities Virtual Reality technology brings to the world of television

Ahead of his session at this year’s VR & AR World, Robert Amlung, Head of Digital Strategy at ZDF German Television, discusses the possibilities that virtual reality technology brings to TV.

zdf-national-broadcaster-blog

For ZDF, VR is still in its very beginning. For a television company, improving the image experience has always been natural. From the invention of colour television to fully immersive 360° video – ZDF is keen on having first-hand experience of what is new and what is possible. This being said, we fully acknowledge that the road to go before VR and AR will be anywhere like mainstream is still long and winding. Is it worthwhile to start going it now? At ZDF, we think the answer is yes. And, for the first time in television, this is not due to improved television sets. It’s another end device that calls the shots: it’s the smartphone. Whether it be 360° video, full VR or any AR functionality – it’s always the smartphone that paves the way to the mainstream.

But, of course, all this would be vain without appealing content. We’ve toyed around this year doing trials. We did some productions around the sites of the Rio Olympics. Some of our journalists used 360° video to report a more immersive image hard to obtain in flat video. We did some 3D CGI to visualize volcanic activities for a documentary in full VR. And we used 4K recording and VR for our documentary “Wolfskinder”, Children of the Wild. Here we tell the story of those children that grow up in the wild forests, far from other humans, nurtured by animals. And of course, we also refer to the most prominent literary figure for this story: Mowgli from the Jungle Book.

At this moment, 360° video for smartphones is our most relevant outlet for VR. Sure, headsets and even Google cardboard give a much more immersive experience. But not everyone will be happy to be so closely confronted and so deeply immersed as a good headset makes possible. Full VR needs the user to be willing to invest much time and energy. However, most media use is a much more casual affair. So we have to find out what the right balance is, how much willingness people will show in using VR not only to find out once, but in daily life. This is not a theoretic experience, you have to apply trial and error. It’s about doing and learning. The same goes for AR, which is in an even earlier stage of development. Microsoft’s hololens provides a good testbed, as do many smartphone apps. There are no ZDF trials on AR, yet.

On the technical side, we’re endeavouring to get all of our apps VR ready by the end of next year, in order to have our own platform for the trials described above. We don’t want to rely solely on the big players like YouTube or Facebook for distribution. As an interim step, we’re offering a separate VR app to do all the testing and iterative improvement to get to a level of stability required for integration with the bigger apps. There is also a classical website to check out our offering on a laptop or PC.

ZDF VR app is available for iOS and Android in the relevant stores.
Visit vr.zdf.de to find out more and download our apps.

Post written by Robert Amlung, Head of Digital Strategy, ZDF German Television. You can hear more from Robert at VR & AR World 2016, where he will be talking about VR and 360° Filming for Public Broadcasters, on day 2 at 2pm.

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