Virtual reality (VR) was one of the most buzzworthy topics at the CES event earlier this year, and both telecom and television industries are experimenting with its potential. One of the challenges any new technology faces is interoperability, where development initiatives by individual companies can go off in different, incompatible directions. This results in format wars and expensive integration efforts, and often stalls progress and consumer adoption.
Well, that's not going to happen with VR. At least that is the hope and mission of the newly formed Virtual Reality Industry Forum (VRIF), which was officially launched just a few weeks ago.
Telco Transformation caught up with Paul Higgs, officer and treasurer at the VRIF, to get more insight into the objectives of the organization and its current status.
Telco Transformation: What is the VRIF, and why was it created?
Paul Higgs: VRIF started about a year ago, in 2015. Initially, it came out of discussions between the DTG [Digital TV Group] in the UK and various commercial entities, and centered on a desire to avoid fragmentation in the development of virtual reality. We have seen this happen in the past, where different entities develop different technologies or approaches and then it takes time to agree to a common, interoperable approach.
Historically, technology has developed but there are challenges when you go to deploy it. We've seen that with UHD, for example, and they have now created the UHD forum to fill any holes and create deployable technology. We know there is a lot of development going on in the area of virtual reality, and we want to avoid delays in being able to deploy it -- avoid gaps between the development of technology and the availability of deployable technology.
TT: Can you describe the creation of the organization -- how was it formed?
PH: It started with conversations within the DTG, but also with other entities. They were seeing development and wanted to get their members' opinions on VR. But they found that members had different opinions, so they started to look more widely, expanded the pool of people and companies. This developed into the VR Interest Group, which had no formal structure but just brought together constituents that had a stake in the development of VR. Eventually they decided there was a need for an industry group of this sort to develop specifications and drive interoperability.
TT: Who are the members today, and how is it organized?
PH: We started the formal process only in October  so it's all very new. Companies like Ericsson, Huawei, Technicolor, Intel and Qualcomm were the founders. Developing such a group takes a lot of effort -- it includes developing a charter, bylaws, etc. -- and these companies have the experience having developed such initiatives in the past. It took them three to four months to get it in place and then officially launch at CES 2017.
There are 28 companies signed up at the moment, and everyone has "skin in the game" -- they are involved with developing or using VR technology in some way. Companies like DTS, Dolby, Fraunhofer are also involved with partner activities and contributing to the discussion.
TT: What are the key issues/areas that the VRIF will be concentrating on?
PH: It's still early days to really commit to a specific focus. But device interoperability is certainly a very important goal. We need to create content that can be viewed on the maximum number of devices with the fewest format challenges. A lot of this will depend on how the content is encoded and passed through the delivery pipeline. There are lots of technologies and standards bodies involved in between, and our goal is to try and reduce, simplify these so that interoperable services can be deployed relatively easily.
We also have to look at the creation of VR content. It's a different experience [from linear 2D TV], and we need to create guidelines for the right way to create content for VR.
Next page: Device interoperability