With an Official Pavilion on Show Floor and Dozens of Exhibitors, Panels, and Media Pieces, the World’s Largest Broadcast Convention Paid Much Attention to Virtual and Augmented Reality
At over 103,000 attendees, nearly 1,900 exhibitors, 187 countries represented, and over 1 million square feet of convention space taken, the annual National Association of Broadcasters Show (NAB) in Las Vegas is a preeminent event for global content creators, and was held this past week. A smorgasbord of technical and creative movers, shakers and money makers exploded upon the convention center with a frenetic energy that could only come from an industry in the midst of a transformative revolution. And no topic was at the heart of such a revolution and on the top of minds more than virtual and augmented reality, which had an unprecedented presence at this year’s show.
NAB attendees this year could visit a special section of North Hall designated as the “VR/AR Pavilion”. The pavilion featured 28 VR/AR industry exhibitors, a mix of up-and-coming technical and broadcast players in the space as well as established brands like Kodak and Nokia exhibiting their full-fledged foray into nascent 360° capture technology. Beyond the pavilion, however, there were glimpses of VR/AR in many other exhibitor booths, including those of GoPro, RED Digital Cinema, and Epson (who’s been working on augmented reality for over 5 years, according to Product Manager Eric Mizufuka).
Michael Kintner, owner of 360Heros, a company founded in 2012 specializing in camera rigs for 360° video production, explained the skyrocketing interest in VR at NAB over the past few years. “This is our third time at NAB. Our first year, 2014, was not much more than me going around with a gen-one rig getting people talking,” Kintner said. “Now, the top ambassadors of the show have visited our booth, I led a panel on 360 production at NAB Live, and we have a corner of the pavilion. It’s amazing.” 360Heros debuted both its 360 Helios spherical rig for Blackmagic Micro cameras and its new Plug-n-Play product line, featuring injection molded, modular rigs available for 6-, 7-, 10-, or 24-camera configurations at this year’s show.
The VR/AR Pavilion wasn’t limited to exhibitor companies – a sizeable portion of the pavilion was dedicated to exhibiting the medium of VR itself. In partnership with NAB Show, VR content players Kaleidoscope and Jaunt sponsored a full VR demo area equipped with 30 Samsung Gear VR headsets, four HTC Vive setups, and three Oculus Rift setups that was packed the entire four days of the show, with demo requests exceeding capacity.
“Even with this crowd of mainly media professionals, there is still a lot of education needed regarding VR production and consumption,” Kaleidoscope VR co-founder and CTO Michael Breymann explained. “It’s important this core community begins to understand the wide variety of VR and AR experiences and technologies out there, and that VR is a lot more than just 360 video.” Breymann believes one of the main responsibilities of those within the VR community who are championing the technology in this early stage is to empower VR creators to produce the best content possible. “With so many people who have yet to try it, it’s important that the first VR experience of as many people as possible is a good one,” Breymann said.
To that end, Kaleidoscope partnered with leading VR producer Jaunt and Wevr’s Transport platform to showcase some of the space’s premiere titles, including Mad God, a stop-motion short by master animator Phil Tippett and Wevr’s TheBlu: Encounter from 2015.
Others championing VR at larger brands echoed the sentiment that educating the market and empowering high-quality content creation is critical at this stage where VR is just beginning to penetrate retail. Jim Geduldick, cinema and photo marketing manager for GoPro, said, “Our first responsibility, even before selling gear, is to educate the masses. That’s why I’m so passionate about advocacy and educating our users in the professional market.” Geduldick believes the company’s new Omni six-camera spherical rig is the most competitive offering on the market at its price point which he described as a “complete end-to-end VR production solution with stitching” at $5,000 USD. Even though the product is admittedly targeted toward the professional market at that price point, Geduldick explained that a certain amount of the rigs will undoubtedly end up in the rental market, making the technology accessible to a wider base of content producers.
The show contained a full 19 VR/AR focused panels and sessions, covering topics ranging from the technical (light fields, broadcast automation or 360° audio, for example) to the comprehensive (like VR journalism and state of the VR industry). One such panelist, Gregg Katano, chief business strategist at Unofficial Cardboard, a mass producer of Google Cardboard inspired viewers responsible for some of the largest branded viewer campaigns to date, said it was the first NAB he’d been to in ten years. “VR gave me a reason to come back to NAB,” Katano, who has prior experience in visual effects, said. “It’s inspiring to see the growth of VR at this show from a handful of exhibitors to a full pavilion. I’ll definitely be back next year.”
Katano went on to explain that the number one priority for Unofficial Cardboard is the saturation of viewers, plain and simple. “It’s important that as many people as possible have their first VR experience as soon as possible, and cardboard viewers are the easiest, most cost-effective way to achieve that.” Select sessions are available on demand at nabshow.com and NAB has two other annual conferences in Shanghai and New York, both slated for later this year.