At the Vendée Globe, interpersonal communication is becoming more immersive than ever

The Backstage Virtual Tour solution has been tried and tested in real conditions and offers a fresh new spectator experience for events, combining 360° immersion, interaction and live viewing. This innovative technology was provided by IDVIU — a star of the video world.

“We were looking for a solution that combined three key parameters: immersion, interaction and live streaming.”

With restrictions in place due to the health crisis, the Vendée Globe reinvented itself this year, transporting spectators as close to the action as possible — right to the pontoons and on deck. The viewing experience has become more interactive and immersive, driven forwards by Orange Events’ expertise in connectivity and knowledge of innovative players in the audiovisual content ecosystem.

Pushing the boundaries of video performance

IDVIU is one of these players. The company as it is now was founded in 2015 under its current name, and has worked with Orange on video technology for several years. In particular, it has developed Orange TV Player and Orange TV services, as well as OCS applications. Internationally, IDVIU is focused on designing its Secure Video Players as well as streaming and VoD (Video on Demand) infrastructures, counting Disney and Fox among its clientele. These Secure Video Players are now used by more than 500 million users around the world. “In 2015, IDVIU launched an R&D entity dedicated to VR, before helping create the French think tank Uni-VR the following year”, said Co-Founder and Chairman Rabah Guendouz. “And so we set ourselves up on the 360° VoD market, before then investing in the 5G sector. This is how the concept of interpersonal communication through a 360° app came about, bringing with it the major challenge of reducing encoding and stitching latency—for 360° image recomposition—to below a second.” The possibilities of 360° images are therefore expanding and have multiple uses, such as for meetings and conferences, or events such as the Vendée Globe.

A live, interactive and immersive service

In its quest to find a solution that could offer complete and optimal 360° immersion for the general public, Orange Events called on the expertise of IDVIU. The two partners combined their core skills—connectivity and video technologies—and prepared the ground with their experiments with an 8K 360° camera live at Roland-Garros. Their ideas were further developed at the Vendée Globe. “We were looking for a device that would combine three key parameters, namely immersion, interaction and live streaming”, said Eric Cluzeau, Director of Performance and Strategic Development at Orange Events. “Previous experiments with 360° capture did not cover all these elements — at the Tour de France we were not live, and at Roland-Garros we were lacking interaction. The Backstage Virtual Tour solution, which has been tested in real conditions at the Vendée Globe—several times at the start and the end of the race—has risen to the challenge remarkably.”

The key to immersion — techniques

Immersion offers users the chance to experience a live broadcast, via an app, that has been captured in 360° — meaning they can explore locations for themselves. In a virtual room, viewers can interact with the presenter and participants, and the event is broadcast live on social media.

In terms of the hardware involved, the device is lightweight: The presenter is equipped with a pole fitted with a smartphone that is connected to a 4K/5K 360° camera, and thus can move freely. IDVIU has achieved a real feat of technical engineering when it comes to the software. “We have been doing low-level work on video overlays to create a new generation of codec, with latency below 200 ms. Any higher than this, the delay between sound and image is perceptible to humans”, said Guendouz. “The results are significant when we consider that almost a full second is needed for the stitching process alone when 360° capture is completed by conventional methods.”

A solution full of promise

The application was initially designed with Android platforms in mind, but is expected to extend to the iOS environment in the near future. The service may even be expanded further down the line to include functions such as the introduction of remote control technology to integrate interstitial content such as synths into the world of 360. IDVIU is ultimately working on the implementation of a functionality to allow viewers to transition from spectators to actors, from live viewing to interacting.

The Vendée Globe was just the beginning: “The solution we tested was a beta version but it enabled us to substantiate the idea that we want to work towards”, said Cluzeau. “We intend to market it later this year — for all Orange Events customers and across all sectors, not just in the field of sport. And we expect to see it become available on the new 5G networks.” Full-scale testing on new mobile networks is expected to take place in the spring, outdoors at Roland-Garros and indoors at VivaTech.

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With 5G, XR experiences increasingly inclusive and accessible to all

Live streaming has become increasingly widespread. With the addition of 5G, this service can be dramatically improved at all levels, including image quality, download times, interruptions and lag. Faced with today’s generations’ enthusiasm for live feeds, researchers are now working to adapt live streaming TV so it can be done on the go. The Goal: Lag-Free Live Streams Getting closer to what’s happening live is one of the main challenges in the field of live streaming. Yet, streaming over the Internet using Wi-Fi or 4G still results in a lag of 30, 40 or even 50 seconds on tablets or smartphones. This lag will particularly hit home for any soccer fans who have ever heard their neighbor watching TV and cheering for a goal they haven’t seen yet. It also affects participants in time-limited interactive TV game shows and televised broadcasts by figures of authority in relation to announcements, alerts or disasters, for example. Ensuring service continuity, particularly when faced with high demand, is another challenge of live streaming. At Orange Innovation, researchers are therefore thinking about how they can make improvements in the field of TV streaming on the go, using a combination of 5G, video streaming technologies (multicast, low latency), network bandwidth allocation (network slicing) and edge computing. Their work has primarily focused on mutualizing streams; a key way of saving bandwidth. Dominique Thômé, Product Manager Innovation Data TV, explains that “Unlike unicast technology, which broadcasts streams as many times as there are simultaneous connections, multicast should allow a single stream to be broadcast to thousands of people connected to a large 5G zone. This mutualization prevents bandwidth loss and, consequently, service interruptions from network congestion. Another advantage, which is of great importance to Orange, is that it consumes less energy and therefore contributes to the transition to a low-carbon economy.” Recognizing the Know-How of Carriers Experiments carried out in the Orange laboratory have yielded interesting results. A real-time readjustment of video quality to prevent network saturation resulted in each customer being able to watch TV with only five seconds of lag, confirming the feasibility of 5G live streaming on the go. In fact, faced with ever-increasing volumes, some broadcasters are beginning to turn to carriers to broadcast their TV streams. They need players that are able to transmit this huge amount of data while ensuring optimal quality, in order to avoid any latency problems. Thibaut Mathieu, Director of Innovation for Interactive & Multiscreen Services at Orange says that “Our pioneering approach toward 5G live streaming highlights the valuable role that network carriers play, right at the heart of the system, compared to OTT players (“over the top,” such as the Tech Giants), both in terms of technology and business. We will be able to get involved in data transmission, with optimal mutualization technology that will save money and energy.” These technologies are consistent with Orange’s CSR commitment, both in terms of carbon footprint (lower energy consumption) and inclusion (broadcasting the right information at the right time). More than Just Entertainment The challenge goes far beyond the traditional TV broadcasting market itself. In the context of the health crisis, brands have been quick to understand the value of live streams to generate sales and are starting to venture into “Live Shopping.” Originating from China, this large-scale approach to teleshopping consists of an online event where presenters, influencers or personalities showcase products live to a digital audience who are able to order products or ask questions. Live Shopping is attracting more and more brands around the world. “With hundreds of thousands of people connected at the same time, its large scale will certainly create capacity issues” says Thômé. “This is another case where mutualization will ensure quality of service.”

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