AR for Video: The Next Big Thing or Just a Gimmick?

Our innovations team, as you may have noticed, has been busy developing a number of awe-inspiring concepts for the next generation of video. The most recent of these is a really engaging and, frankly, jaw-dropping AR solution, designed to engage viewers watching long-distance sporting events. With all innovations of this type, it is important to ask the question: What’s the point?

That is why we sat down with Chris McNair, our Regional Director, Australia and New Zealand and Adam Nightingale, our SVP International, to get their take on the AR hype.

Do you think AR has more potential than VR?

Chris: VR is limited by the fact you have to wear 3D glasses. I think what the innovations team has come up with around second-screening is such a good, real use case. AR has the potential to become a truly social experience. I can imagine being in the pub watching a game in AR on the table top, with a white dot in the center making sure my friends and I are all seeing the same thing.

That level of engagement is certainly virtually unprecedented and very exciting. I, for one, think it would be amazing to effectively kneel down behind the cricket wicket during the latest test series match. The level of engagement and immersion can go way beyond anything we’ve seen before, and arguably will put the viewer even more in the center of a game than if they were there in person.

What about VR glasses?

Chris: Glasses will get smaller but will always be an isolating factor. The type of use case that requires glasses will only be valuable when the consumer doesn’t want to experience the environment they are in.

There are definitely some use cases where isolation will be beneficial. The most obvious one is on an airplane, where drowning out the environment around you would be a definite plus.

Do you think AR will be big for documentaries?

Chris: I think there is a small use case for that, whether it is AR or VR. You can put on the glasses, be blocked off and have an experiential experience on top of the surrounding environment.

It could equally work well in the second screen environment where you could have a dinosaur popping out of that screen, for example. From an educational standpoint, being able to immerse oneself in, say, a pyramid, could be a real game-changer in educating distractible young minds. As well as distractible older ones, I suppose.

If you add geographical overlays, you can also provide additional data. That way you can watch a program on pyramids while engaging with a pyramid on the second screen.

I would want to disappear inside the pyramid, open a sarcophagus and be shown something relevant to that. However, as with all new technology, it is important not to get carried away and just do something for the hell of it.

What is the potential for AR for Sports?

There are some cool concepts, some working, some conceptual. Ultimately, a sports fan will be able to walk into the stadium to watch an ice hockey game and get additional data in AR. In the interim, second screen AR applications are adding value to the first screen and there is already an appetite for that. Most sports bodies already have and collect metadata which could be valuable for showing additional information for viewers. They simply don’t have an effective way to show it and that is what AR can deliver.

Surely hardcore sports fans are used to near 4K quality; wouldn’t they expect this amazing new tech to be at least as good?

That is true, but the overlay doesn’t need to be as high quality as the first screen. The bar has not yet been set for the quality of the second screen so the expectation is lower than with the first screen.

Does the market have realistic expectations of AR?

Chris: The market doesn’t yet have much in the way of expectations. They either have no view whatsoever or some understanding that the tech exists but no real sense of what that will look like. When people see a truly interactive second screen experience on an existing environment it is currently all happening through the screen of a phone, which doesn’t give the most amazing experience possible. There are no expectations about what that experience will be like with AR glasses so for 99% of people there will be a real sense of wonder and amazement the first time they have that experience.

What will the future of AR look like?

Chris: There is a mass market out there now in various guises. When it comes to video, the question remains whether we will be pumping video through AR or is it, by its very form factor, not going to display video itself but instead augment it through a panel. Or is it going to be a 3D model?

Our AR demo proves the technology but not necessarily the myriad of use cases. That’s very much a work in progress, and only by engaging directly with content owners and broadcasters can we get a sense of what’s really possible, and relevant.

It is not about watching 3D video, but instead adding value to 2D video, which is not going anywhere anytime soon. We are creating a new interaction mechanism and new way of enjoying things.

If you were to guess the first AR application, what would it be?

Adam: I think sports is the most compelling use case. Sport is continually innovating. If you look back to the early days of OTT, sport was one of the main drivers. Not only that, but sports fans love data, which means a far higher pool for immersion and engagement. Take Formula 1 as an example, which is driven by a lot of fine tuning and unique differences between how the cars are setup, when to change gear etc. Small variables such as that lend themselves to a more interactive and engaging experience.

I agree, sports is the number one use case for AR. Not only is there a demand for that level of data, but that level of data already exists. The trick now is just creating methods to present it. If we take the Formula 1 example again, one AR app could easily be reskinned for every Formula 1 track around the world without too much input.

What type of sports coverage works best in AR?

Adam: Any sport where the action is dispersed over a big area makes this sort of app compelling. Take the Le Mans track for example which is so long there is even different weather in different areas of it. It is also about giving the viewer the data they are interested in. If you think about a typical sports commentary, how much is actually relevant to the viewer? My guess is perhaps 40 – 50%.

Following on from track-based sports, there is also huge potential in arena-based sports. There is very little that can replicate the experience of being in an arena, but AR can do that. It is already possible to setup an arena and track and tag all players. The main question is do we do that know and accept the players will look more like ten pin bowling pins until we can model them properly.

How much info is too much?

Chris: Is it enough perhaps to see where the players are in a game of football when we can’t watch the game live?

There is also the issue of accessibility. Some people cannot go to the game, or perhaps cannot see or hear the action. AR has the potential to make it more accessible to them.

Would you watch sports in AR?

Chris: I love watching motor racing but normally that would be by myself at home. Where I see the real potential is when I find myself in a pub with a bunch of mates watching some form of sports event. If we were all interacting on a data level using AR, I think that would be a valuable user experience, without detracting from the social element.

Adam: It depends on the type of sports. I think this sort of interaction is great for in the pub watching football or rugby with your mates (or American football and hockey the other side of the pond). I am with Chris in that I enjoy watching Formula 1 (but prefer endurance racing, such as the Le Mas 24h) but that isn’t something most commonly watched in the more social setting.