BBC R&D

Posted by David Johnston on , last updated

Over the past 2 years BBC R&D, in association with our colleagues elsewhere in the BBC, has been looking at the production process, technology, costs and measurement of creating compelling content with Virtual Reality. These projects have been written about extensively by our colleagues and summarised by our Controller, Andy Conroy.

We’ve shared our learnings on Producing VR Content, Factual Storytelling in 360, Designing Subtitles for 360° Content and the difficulties in porting content to multiple similar, but disparate, platforms amongst many other areas.

Today we’d like to talk about a new venture in R&D, Reality Labs.

What is Reality Labs?

Reality Labs is a new work stream that we’re running within R&D. The aim is to carry on the fantastic work we’ve done with virtual reality recently and extend that into other sectors. The blurring between the real and the virtual has been an ongoing strand of work in BBC R&D for decades and we’re looking to continue that success.

Initially we’ll be moving forward with near term research projects in Virtual and Augmented Reality and how they could form part of the future of the BBC and the global media landscape. We’ll also be investigating the use of them in current and evolving production workflows to help the broader BBC create current forms of content in new ways and understand how they could create new forms of content in the future. We’re also keen to look a little further over the horizon at what might be possible in 5 years and start to lay the foundations for this.

BBC R&D - 360 Video and Virtual Reality

BBC R&D - 8 Tips for Producing VR Projects

BBC R&D - Factual Storytelling Tips for 360 Video

Open Standards & Best Practice

BBC R&D is committed to supporting and furthering open standards and sharing best practice from our experiences. As part of this we’ve been heavily involved in the development and codification of Web Audio through W3C. More recently we dipped our toe into WebVR with Rome’s Invisible City VR. At the time the WebVR standard was in early development without cross platform support or a robust way to degrade gracefully or be enhanced progressively. Since then there’s been a lot of work within the W3C on the standard and projects like A-Frame have matured, facilitating easier content creation. The Web forms a core part of the BBC and we think WebVR could be part of that. Some of our focus for the next 12 months will be on the viability of the web as a platform to deliver content to our audience. The broad reach and accessibility of the web is appealing and we’ll be keeping you updated on that as we progress.

We also plan to look at how the BBC Global Experience Language could apply to VR, AR and other forms of spatial interfaces. How our audiences discover and interact with our content forms part of their overall experience and we’d like to start understanding how we can apply this to new technology.

Both of these pieces of work would be much harder without the partners we work with, both internally and externally.

Woman trying a VR experience, wearing a VR headset

Image above (cropped) by damienwalmsley on Flickr, cc licence.

Partnerships

As Eleni Sharp outlined in her recent blog post Next Generation Partnerships, BBC R&D has a long history of partnering with organisations, from other broadcasters to academic institutions. More recently, through initiatives like Connected Studio, we’ve developed new ways of working with creatives agencies, start-ups and technology companies to access expertise and talent we don’t have in-house. We’ll look to leverage these relationships for our ongoing work in Reality Labs, particularly as it’s such a fast moving sector - we can’t possibly keep up with everything!

We’ll also be cementing the great relationships we have with creative teams across the organisation as well as the experts in strategy, marketing and audience measurement.

Tooling

Content doesn’t fall from the sky - fortunately for our production teams! We use hardware and software tools to craft the amazing content that the BBC and partners create. It’s no surprise that, given the press and hype around VR & AR, there’s a plethora of tools available for creating this kind of content. One of the things we’ll be doing over the next year is looking at what is available and creating pilot content in collaboration with the BBC creative teams. This will allow us to assess how well they fit into existing BBC workflows and what changes could be made to the tooling or workflows to make creating content easier and for good value.

As part of this we recently launched BBC Taster VR, an iOS and Android App, based on technology from our partner EEVO which allows our production teams to create lightly interactive 360 video experiences with immersive audio.

Augmented Reality

“the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion”

Virtual, augmented, mixed. Lots of terms that boil down to one thing, fooling our brains into believing something that doesn’t exist, does. It’s a magic trick that’s been discussed for millennia but became industrialised with Radio, TV & Cinema. Without getting too far into the weeds on the various nomenclature and distinctions we want to take a view of the current technology and see how it can work for the BBC. We’ve recently had an open call related to the upcoming BBC Two show Civilisations. In April our Director General Tony Hall announced a new partnership between the BBC and major cultural organisations, Culture UK - we’re really interested in how this technology can help our audience experience the great content the BBC and partners create and our work in AR will be a key part of that.

Content

As well as all the research outlined above, we’ll be continuing the work of looking at how we can create content for the existing hardware and platforms. Primarily this will be through our relationship with the aforementioned VR Hub and the showcase output that they’ll be creating. There’ll be times when we want to investigate and research a specific element of content creation that won’t be covered by the slate of work that our partners are working on, though. In these cases we’ll be working with the creative industries to make our own content to evaluate and further our own research. Following on from the award winning collaboration that created We Wait, we’ve been working with our friends at Aardman to do just that.

A scene from a virtual reality trial - a user's hands in virtual reality move towards a box with a face mask emerges from within followed by a trail of pink smoke.

How strange. What could it be?

We hope to be able to share a bit more about this, and other content, in the near future. Stay tuned!

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