Virtual reality & television – can SyncBac VR bridge the gap?
It’s clear that the broadcast community is eager to join the VR party. By giving viewers the option to immerse themselves further into a show by stepping directly into the shoes of a character or contestant, 360-degree filming offers an exciting opportunity for production teams to create engaging new formats and to inject new life into established programmes. Who wouldn’t want to watch a sports event as if they were running alongside one of the players, or snoop around the crime scene of a drama? The potential of 360-degree filming is massive.
So why aren’t we seeing more VR content from our favourite television programmes?
The main challenges of producing 360-degree content for television lie in capturing and producing VR content to the same high standards, and with the same efficiency, as mainstream multicamera filming. Aligning multiple files from a VR rig into a professional workflow, particularly when this includes separate audio, is time-consuming due to the manual process of synchronising and stitching multiple audio and video recordings. The cameras used in VR rigs are typically designed for consumer use, meaning they don’t generate timecode as a synchronization reference. A workaround has been to use some kind of visual or audio cue (for example, the clap of a slate) to mark the start of a take. However, this is disruptive to the creative flow of a shoot and is a time-intensive way for editors to search and align content.
When we released our SyncBac PRO product for GoPro HERO4 cameras a few months ago, we gave the teams behind some of the most popular multicamera shows in the world a professional way to synchronise multiple HERO4 cameras. The end result was to save not just hours, but often days and weeks of production time.
This made us think – could we offer the same time savings to VR content producers?
Working closely with multicamera VR rig experts, 360RIZE, we’ve developed a solution that significantly streamlines the acquisition of professional 360 video content. Using a highly bespoke modular 360-degree multicamera holder from 360RIZE, our SyncBac PRO units can now be used in a spherical array of between six and 24 cameras. This allows each camera in a VR rig to generate its own frame-accurate timecode, creating the ability to wirelessly sync multiple HERO4 cameras over RF, with no additional manual effort required. VR camera operators can record all day long without the hassle of having to manually slate each camera, safe in the knowledge that the media is being synchronised automatically. This offers time saving benefits both on set and later in the edit suite and, just as importantly, minimises disruptions to the creative filming process.
Professional standards of control for the acquisition of 360 video content
With a solid acquisition workflow in place, our attention turned to addressing the issue of content being lost due to incorrect camera settings or malfunction of a camera. With our SyncBac PROs now able to sync all cameras in a 360 rig, we saw an opportunity to use our BLINK Hub device control app to take the guesswork out of VR filming. From a single screen on a smartphone, tablet or Mac, operators can set multiple GoPros in a VR rig to:
- Start or stop recording simultaneously
- Identify low battery
- Check SD card status on a camera before it hinders filming
- Alter the resolution, video format, frame rate and other vital PROTUNE™ camera settings for every GoPro in a rig globally at the press of a button.
- All with real-time feedback.
Stitching like a pro
But it was not enough to have VR cameras shooting in sync with this increased level of central control; it was also crucial for the timecode-stamped MP4 files to be imported easily into stitching software for a swift and efficient edit. Working with Kolor to add a sync option to their AutoPano Video Pro software, we completed the VR workflow by enabling footage to be synchronized and aligned automatically, with complete ease and efficiency.
With this end-to-end VR workflow now available, we have the technology to create VR content efficiently.