Gregg Young on VR and AR

In this interview we talk to Gregg Young, VR and AR expert at VRT Sandbox. Gregg explains the difference between AR and VR, and reflects on the trends and achievements in both fields.

 

Introduction to AR and VR

Hello, Gregg! You are a VR/AR expert at VRT Sandbox. Since when and how did you get that role in VRT Sandbox?

I started working at VRT in the Immersia TV project, this is a European project under the Horizon 2020 fund. This 2-year project is all about 360-video, multicam 360-video and sending the 360 footage to different devices. Together with other colleagues at VRT we are representing this technology on the news floor and with other VRT brands. This is how I slowly became member of VRT Sandbox. Since then we started to do a lot of VR and AR projects at VRT Sandbox as well.

Gregg Young with a VR/AR hologram.

What are VR and AR? Can you tell me what the difference is between the two?

Very briefly, VR stands for virtual reality and AR for augmented reality. There are a lot of semantic discussions around these topics from professionals in the field. In general, you can say that in virtual reality you enclose yourself, you step into another virtual world. In augmented reality, you put a layer on top of the real world with virtual objects. For instance, in augmented reality you can guide someone through the real world. In virtual reality, you become invisible and you step into a totally different and new world.

When was the first time you got in touch with AR/VR?

I’ve been experimenting with audio-visual technology throughout my entire career. I remember when the Kinect came out, we hacked it and we started filming volumetric videos with it. Then, when the virtual reality boom started with the first version of the Oculus VR headset, a hackathon was organised in Amsterdam at the IDFA Doclab event. At the hackathon, we wrapped 360-video around a sphere using Unity, for me that was the first time I started experimenting with virtual reality.

How did your AR/VR passion grow since the beginning?

I think it has always been there, as a human we like to escape reality. A lot of virtual reality evangelists, including myself often refer to it as the holodeck of Star Trek. This is a virtual reality room which represents a staging environment and where you can escape reality and step into the virtual world. All the little baby steps that we are taking now are bringing us closer to the world of the holodeck.

 

Trends and achievements in AR and VR

What are the current VR/AR trends? Which future challenges will VR/AR face in the next coming years?

I think 2018 is going to be a very exciting year for both virtual and augmented reality. In virtual reality, there are a lot of exciting things coming. For instance, new headsets with a better resolution, inside-out tracking and higher resolution screens. A lot of new steps are being taken in innovative exploration as well, lightfield is one of them. Magic Leap is the company taking the lead in this, everybody talks about them right now, but we still don’t know what exactly they are doing. Something that I’m really looking forward to are the Haptic Suits, these suits make you feel the impact when virtual reality characters that hit or touch you.

With augmented reality, we are currently at the breakthrough. The big thing right now are the single user experiences that will have to become multi user experiences. Now you can look through your AR headset or phone and see a virtual object in real life, but someone else doesn’t see the object you see.  A multi user experience will allow different people to see the same virtual object while watching through different devices.

What is your strongest achievement with VRT Sandbox?


At VRT we have virtual reality ambassadors who try to bring this new technology, that is not yet widely adopted, into the production pipeline so it can get distributed to the audience. This is our biggest achievement so far. We are invited by the European Broadcast Union to participate to the VR/AR user group and that is quite unique. It means a lot of people see VRT as a frontrunner in virtual and augmented reality. To be able to bring this kind of new technology to thousands of end users is a great achievement for us.

Which VR/AR dreams do you want to achieve within the next two coming years?

There are a lot of exciting AR projects we are focussing on at this moment. Together with VRT Sandbox we work with a lot of start-ups who are also in the field of VR/AR, we really want to be part of this community. I think our biggest dream at this moment is to make this community bigger and step by step make VR and AR available to mass audiences.

Thank you for your time, Gregg!

Watch our video on YouTube and get in touch with Gregg on LinkedIn.

Research and Innovation in Animation

Animation is a dynamic sector which is flourishing and rapidly changing in terms of technology and audiences. It is a concrete example of collaboration, innovation and creativity. It is an industry which opens up great opportunities to the animators but at the same time financial limitations often lead to technological weaknesses and consequently, less competitiveness in the market. These aspects are presented below in an interview by our colleague from the European Coordination of Independent Producers (CEPI) with Philippe Alessandri; Philippe is Chairman of Animation Europe, the pan European Association which includes animation producer association within the EU, also active member in CEPI.

Liana Digka: How has digital innovation improved the quality of animated series and permitted to relocate production in Europe by increasing the productivity of the animation studios?

Philippe Alessandri: In the 90s, when I had my first contact with Animation, Asia was the place where the animation work was sub-contracted because of the low-cost services. The production was based on traditional means such as hand drawing and camera shooting. At that time, two French companies invented a digital system in order to produce animation electronically. It took 10 years for this technique to be completely accurate and to get enough well-trained artists to use it. With this technique the productivity increased and European production companies became more competitive vis-à-vis the Asian ones. This production optimisation combined with the tax incentives adopted by some European governments made it affordable to relocate production in Europe.

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From the ORF to Radiodays Europe: innovation in Vienna

Blogpost by Sarah Geeroms

I leave well in time to make it to Österreichischer Rundfunk (ORF) at 9:00AM. The Austrian public broadcaster is located outside the city center, but luckily, public transport in Vienna is well-organized. My contact person Karl, who is a member of the Technical Direction department, welcomes me upon my arrival. We meet at the online & TV center, that has about 1900 employees (out of almost 4000 in total). The radio station, where Karl was working for 20 years, is located in the city center. Just like VRT, ORF is going through an architectural transformation. Within a few years, all of ORF services will be grouped on the same location. TV and Radio will then be subdivided per program.

ORF has two large TV channels and two interest channels (culture and sports). They do not have a children’s channel, as they find almost all of their content in Germany.

Within their own country, there’s almost no competition: ORF has a turnover of 1 billion €, that’s huge!

COBIT 5, the framework for ORF’s innovation strategy

Karl tells me that innovation is divided across different departments and coordinated by two people from the general direction department. Yet, it turns out that it is Karl in particular who tries to bring in innovation. Karl explains a lot about their innovation strategy and how they built it based on COBIT 5. The COBIT 5 framework is a business optimization and growth roadmap that inspires innovation and fuels business success (http://www.isaca.org/COBIT/focus/Pages/delivering-disruptive-innovation-using-the-cobit-5-framework.aspx). He shows me how their process focuses on both internal and external stakeholders, taking into account the general media landscape. It seems that innovation at ORF can theoretically be found at every level, although they also struggle with trying to reach everyone and make changes to the existing structures.

After this interesting debate, Karl guides me through the ORF buildings, where I notice that literally everyone knows Karl. He introduces me, amongst others, to ORF’s most innovative man named Patrick. Patrick has developed a compact 100 seconds newscast in a format suitable for online and smartphones. A total of 18 daily “ZIB” programmes bring viewers the latest news from Austria and the rest of the world. The latest addition is a format suitable for smartphones. This daily ZIB100 news broadcast is sent to more than 45,000 subscribers via WhatsApp, “Zeit im Bild” utilises the WhatsATool solution from atms: http://tv.orf.at/highlights/orf3/zib100_start104.html

Afterwards, Karl also shows me how they monitor social media, which happens in a meeting room with a simple camera with audio linked to Patrick’s computer for immediate recording of social media videos (without the need for extra people or systems).

WeXelerate, 9000 square meters of open innovation

After lunch, we drive to WeXelerate, where we will meet Vanessa. During our trip, Karl proves to be an excellent tour guide.

WeXelerate is a startup and  innovation hub that aims to connect startups and established corporates with each other: https://www.wexelerate.com/  They organize 2 batches a year that last 4 months and include 16 cooperate partners (including ORF) in 5 different verticles, of which media is one. They believe that the true added value for startups lies in receiving feedback from various project partners.

ORF pays WeXelerate a yearly sum for screening media startups from an average of 200 startups. This screening includes a financial background, etc. Their collaboration was established 1 year ago, after ORF itself had tried to enter into partnerships with startups but proved to be unsuccessful. Thanks to the current collaboration, the first implementation is nearly completed and there are two other successful projects up and running.

We discuss our models and whether a collaboration could be set up, taking into account the existing contract between ORF and WeXelerate.

On Saturday, I was able to explore Vienna, which is such a beautiful city to discover! It does surprise me that smoking is still allowed In Vienna. Even worse, it turns out that one of the largest current political parties has won purely for the sake of smoking in cafes and restaurants. Unbelievable, right?

Post-convergence radio

On Sunday, I speak at the post-convergence radio workshop, which is part of Radiodays Europe (https://www.radiodayseurope.com/ ). The workshop showcases different aspects of radio’s technological development, such as upcoming hybrid radio solutions.

I tell the audience about our VRT Sandbox model and why such a model may be relevant to other broadcasters. The responses were positive, and first contacts were made. This was a great workshop day with a splendid organization of MediaRoad colleague AER (http://www.aereurope.org/ ).

After some additional meetings and a nice dinner with VRT radio colleagues, my trip in beautiful Vienna ends. Home sweet home!

Sarah Geeroms works as Project leader at VRT Sandbox International, and leads MediaRoad’s Sandbox Hub helping media organisations in Europe to establish innovation incubators and to connect with start-ups.

Robot journalism – Shall we be afraid?

Should we be afraid of robot journalism? Belgian journalist, Laurence Dierickx, has just dedicated her thesis on this question at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB). The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) asked her to share the result of her research which highlights the ability of robots in producing objective, accurate and comprehensive news stories, however, they may not be as readable those written by real journalists. Here is her article and we guarantee you that this one was not written by a robot.

 

Automatically generated content in the natural language (General Architecture for Text Engineering), which is a branch of the natural language processing (NLP), has been widely deployed in Europe when the French departmental elections took place on 22 March 2015. During the election coverage, more than 30,000 has been produced by robots by Le Monde in partnership with the Parisian start-up Syllabs.

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The challenges of fake news and the role of public service broadcasters in communicating Europe: the intake from EuroPCom 2017

Written by Luciano Morganti & Heritiana Ranaivoson

EuroPCom 2017

 

On the 9th and 10th of November 2017, the 8th edition of EuroPCom, the European Public Communication Conference, was held at the Committee of the Regions in Brussels. More than 1000 communication professionals attended the conference which has become, few years since its inception, the ‘must-attend’ annual event for communication managers and experts from local, regional, national and European authorities, as well as, in the most recent editions, academics, researchers and practitioners in the broad field of public and institutional communications.

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Media Honeypot and YLE introduce us to the cold north

Blogpost by Sarah Geeroms

A visit to Media Honeypot (http://mediahoneypot.com/ ) and YLE, the public broadcaster, brought me to Helsinki.

Media Honeypot started on Wednesday with an opening night. Colleague Judy from BBC was there too and that made the entrance a little easier. I spoke with many people, including the EBU technical committee who went to Helsiki to attend Media Honeypot and for their meeting Friday at YLE. They all turned out to be friendly, interesting people from across Europe. I could not resist and took the opportunity to ask if I could pitch my project to their group that Friday. Check! It was late when we arrived at the hotel again and I could start preparing this unexpected presentation.

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This was The Sandbox Hub – Cycle 1

Blogpost by Sarah Geeroms

I am thrilled! Today, Thursday February 8th our Sandbox Hub officially starts. If you know that many broadcasters are already working on media innovation, but that their expertise and learnings are not systematically shared, then you will understand why the creation of our Sandbox Hub is a milestone. In doing so, we are building a European network on media innovation, sharing our (innovative) knowledge and giving local startups a stepping stone to scale faster and more efficiently in Europe.
France TV, Swedish Radio and BBC are the first to join our network. We have therefore invited them to a two-day immersion at VRT Sandbox.

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Current Digital Single Market challenges for the Radio sector

Written by Vincent Sneed

The radio environment is neither audiovisual, nor music-only: it is an environment where sound-only usage / non-retail prevails. Most of the listening is still done by reception of broadcast content. As this mode of transmission enables one-to-many access and can influence listeners, national governments grant licences to radios allowing them to broadcast. However, radios have to be present on a multitude of platforms to maintain their audience.

The internet as we know it now was born in 1995… when radio was already everywhere, mobile, simple-to-use, interactive, cost-efficient and complimentary. 80% of the EU population on average listens to radio for at least 2 or 3 hours per day, as shown by national audience measurement (as regularly shown by data collected with AER national Members). For commercial radio, these features are all based on a very efficient model: terrestrial broadcasting of free-to-air programmes, funded (almost) 100% by advertising.

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Visiting France Télévisions, our first international Sandbox

Blogpost by Sarah Geeroms

France Télévisions was the first official partner to confirm its participation in our Sandbox Hub. By joining the MediaRoad project, it is clear that they’re committed to innovation.

As we will be working closely from 2018, I wonder how our French colleagues are approaching innovation today. So I travelled to Paris for a short two-day immersion at France TV where I meet Frédéric, my Sandbox Hub contact, at the station. After this nice reunion and with the necessary updates over lunch, we start our program in the offices of France TV. You can virtually visit the offices of France TV via this link: http://www.francetelevisions.fr/lab/projets/visite-virtuelle-francetelevisions

The accelerator, a first test
France TV has worked together with startups several times in the past, even though this was not done in a structured way until 2015. Since then, France

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Televisione 4.0

Written by Alberto Messina

The digital transformation in the TV world

The Televisione 4.0 event, held on November 23rd at the University of Salerno (Campus in Fisciano), brought together leading Italian media players (RAI, Sky, Mediaset, Publitalia, RTL 102.5) to better understand the future of television.

The way people like to use content is changing and future media players will have to systematically deal with user interaction data analysis to create new experiences and take full advantage of new platforms and standards. In this context, the conference identified and focused on the real protagonist of this future: the user. The discussion highlighted some of key topics that will be crucial for the future developments of television. 

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