Swedish MSO Com Hem is testing its newly developed Play VR platform in an attempt to integrate its TV service with a virtual reality environment. Viewers using Com Hem Play VR enter a virtual living room where they can select from programs on a screen while sitting on a sofa. The platform is designed for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.
Viewers can also see which of their friends is online depending on the device (via Steam for the Vive, and Facebook for the Oculus) and can invite the friend's avatar to join them on the sofa.
It is still very much an experiment though, according to Fredrik Hallstan at Com Hem AB .
"We have a division, Com Hem Labs, that regularly experiments and tests new ways of watching TV," he says. "We realize it will take time for virtual reality to take off but we need to develop solutions to address customer needs so we are ready when it does."
Hallston points to a recent app Com Hem developed for smart watches, saying that linear TV viewing is slowing while OTT is growing. "People are watching in new ways so we have to evolve," he says.
The Com Hem initiative comes on the heels of quite a lot of recent activity in the VR area. For example, at NAB earlier this year, Viaccess-Orca , Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT) and VideoStitch presented results from tests they conducted with Sky Italia for a virtual reality experience based around a basketball match. During the French Open tennis tournament in May, Eurosport offered Eurosport VR, its VR app offering daily highlights, and France Télévisions offered VR coverage of the entire tournament. Earlier Eurosport and Discovery had created a 360-degree film representing Bode Miller's point of view as he skis the Beaver Creek course. The Discovery app has been downloaded 700,000 times and delivered 30 million streams.
OTT heavyweights such as Hulu LLC and Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) have been offering VR libraries, but even smaller players are getting involved. Megogo, an east European VoD service with 40 million monthly users, offers "3D movies with a virtual reality mode" to Android devices, with an iOS application forthcoming.
Still, there is a clear wariness among major broadcasters and operators about predicting a revolution. For example, Fox Sports offered VR streams from the US Open golf tournament, but made it clear it was complementary to its HD coverage, and aimed at better understanding how VR coverage is best delivered in terms of camera angles, cutting between shots and using graphics etc. The broadcaster was also keen to start developing a library of VR content for the future.
Com Hem's Hallstan echoes the same sentiment, saying that: "This is a proof of concept only. Today there is very little VR content available, so once you select the program you want to see, it is not 360 degrees." However, he claims the VR environment makes viewing television more like an IMAX experience because of the way the "living room" is set up.
He also expects that real VR content will come in time, and says Com Hem must be ready to deliver a high-quality VR service by then.
Com Hem Play VR will be unveiled at the DreamHack Summer 2016 event in Jönköping, Sweden, between June 18 and 21.
The operator delivers TV, telephony and high-speed internet access to 2 million Swedish households.
— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation