NBC Left Field reimagines video journalism with VR technology

Merging news reporting with technology

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Inspired by the gaming world, NBC built its own Mixed Reality camera rig for producing linear videos that capture a Virtual Reality experience.
Inspired by the gaming world, NBC built its own Mixed Reality camera rig for producing linear videos that capture a Virtual Reality experience.

While arguments rage about the relevance of Virtual Reality (VR) for news audiences, we spend our days huddled up and surrounded by a tangle of wires in a New York co-working space, where we focus on quite a different way to deal with reality.

We are the team behind a series of Mixed Reality (MR) explainers for NBC Left Field — a fever dream of brightly colored infographics hand-drawn live in VR, but viewable without a headset because we’re using VR to create the graphics for linear video.

This initiative started as a desire to merge news and cutting-edge technology, then culminated in a deep dive into practical possibilities for newsrooms to utilize VR.

We already had some experience developing news stories for VR, but we were frustrated that only audiences with access to a headset could watch them. We wanted to reach more people and began wondering: How could we use VR to express ideas to people outside the headset?

Our answer to that question is Google Tiltbrush, a VR program that enables drawing in 3D space. While experimenting with it, we also wondered: Could we film someone drawing in real space? Could we use this to tell stories our audience would want to watch? And could we make them look really good?

NBC’s Left Field uses special equipment and Google Tiltbrush to produce Mixed Reality content that audiences can experience without the need for a Virtual Reality headset.
NBC’s Left Field uses special equipment and Google Tiltbrush to produce Mixed Reality content that audiences can experience without the need for a Virtual Reality headset.

There were already examples of people experimenting with MR online, mostly in the gaming world. So we looked to them and set out to build our own MR camera rig using a standard-issue FS5 and an off-the-shelf HTC Vive kit. The concept behind MR is to put a Vive sensor on the camera, which will render a virtual camera view that mimics the exact movements of the real camera. By compositing both views together, we can let a linear video audience observe the experience the VR user is having.

It wasn’t an easy process because documentation online is limited, and it involved some coding on our part to get all the elements aligned. Once the setup worked, we thought long and hard about how best to use this tool. Top of mind was data visualization, a vital component of news, but also an area where it’s hard to stand out from the crowd and aesthetics have been heavily influenced by tools like After Effects.

Part of the reasoning for using MR for explainers was to offer the audience something they’d never seen before. We began to push the boundaries of an ordinary data visualization. Being able to present information and then dissect and annotate it formed the basis of our “back of the envelope” explainers.

The freedom to draw and illustrate allowed us to include cultural and historical context. Along the way, we discovered the power and authenticity of the “presenter as illustrator,” which means the ability for a personality to come out through doodles and handwriting.

From a production standpoint, it’s had quite a reach throughout the newsroom. Beyond the videos, we have also set up a system that allows producers to draw their own graphics and film them from within the headset. The producer becomes the graphics person. This self-service graphics component is one of many effects from the main experiment.

Looking ahead, the ability to export 3D models of each drawing has fascinating implications for the world of AR. VR continues to improve and increase its reach, and we are excited to see what will happen as the technology develops. In the meantime, we are thrilled to be capitalizing on the opportunities VR provides not just to consume content, but also to create it.

This article was first published on INMA website. 

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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