Streaming video is the default method of consuming video content nowadays. YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo and Netflix, they all rely heavily on streaming content, pushed on demand to billions of users worldwide. The new trend is 360 video, an immersive way to view entertainment, educational programs and of course commercial content.

The Oculus Go, a product sold by Facebook, rates among the best VR headsets for this type of content. It’s pretty easy to stream 360 video to the Oculus Go headset, the technical specifications are ideally suited for more passive experiences. Let’s delve a little deeper into the world of streaming video, and explore the origins of this clever little VR headset.

What does streaming video mean?

There are two ways to distribute content online; as complete files that have to be downloaded in advance to the playback device in order to be used, or as a file that is downloaded from an online location to a device elsewhere. A ‘stream’ is a file that is hosted elsewhere, only the part that is currently viewed is loaded in real-time. There’s a small buffer in case of an internet connection slowdown, the device only saves a small segment of the complete file.

Not all types of content are suitable for streaming purposes, audio and video are particularly effective in this regard. For audio Spotify is an example of this technique, for video Netflix is probably the most recognizable example. An active internet connection is required in order to stream 360 video to the Oculus Go or to another device.

Advantages of streaming:

  • The playback device does not need a lot of available space, 360 video content in high resolution can take up a lot of disk space.
  • The presentation will start almost instantaneously, after just a few seconds of buffering the presentation is ready for playback.
  • Because the content is not saved locally the author and/or distributor retains control over the production. This prevents data theft and allows the producer to create updated versions of the presentation.
  • With the right software it is possible to broadcast the same presentation to several headsets simultaneously for a shared cinematic experience. This can be achieved locally or even online with participants located in various countries.

Disadvantages of streaming:

  • An active internet connection is required to view the content.
  • It is not always possible to stream in the highest resolution.
  • Not all devices are suitable for real-time unpacking of large files.
  • If buffering is not optimal the audiovisual quality can be affected

There are several benefits to both streaming video and locally stored videos, the preferred method depends on the practical application.

Evolution of mobile virtual reality

Facebook, or more accurately Oculus VR, was a pioneer of the current day virtual reality boom. In the mid-nineties a few companies made some valiant but ultimately poorly conceived attempts at creating a true virtual reality headset.

The monochrome Virtual Boy headset released by Nintendo is the definitive proof that VR only works if the technology is up to par. That all changed when a young man by the name of Palmer Luckey launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. His small VR headset project became an overnight success. Soon after the launch of this company Facebook bought the startup for an enormous amount of money.

The first VR headset that Facebook officially launched was a PC accessory, a fast gaming computer was required to power the headset. Internally a project named ‘Santa Cruz’ was tested, a non-tethered device that would allow full movement without wires. This prototype was slightly altered and was recently released as the Oculus Quest.

The Google Cardboard

Meanwhile Google released a completely different take on virtual reality. The Google Cardboard was a fordable smartphone cradle made out of rugged paper, with two plastic lenses as the most advanced technology in this ‘device’. This simple yet inventive product turned any smartphone into a virtual reality headset.

Google would later release an upgraded version of the Google Cardboard named Daydream. However, due to the lack of hardware and software support the Daydream platform has not taken off the way Google had envisioned.

Thanks to YouTube it is easy to stream 360 video to Cardboard, the ubiquitous video platform rates among the best streaming platforms for 180 and 360 content.

Samsung Galaxy Line

Samsung wanted a piece of the action and developed their own ‘Cardboard’, but this time made out of durable plastic and with a proprietary hardware connection to their own Galaxy line of smartphones and a few other mobile products. The hardware was created in-house, but the software was developed by none other than the aforementioned Oculus.

The Samsung Gear VR became an overnight success, not only with consumers but especially for commercial use. It is pretty easy to stream 360 video to Gear VR, just download a compatible app, select a video and view. The only real downside when you stream 360 video to Samsung Gear VR is the high price of a compatible Galaxy smartphone. The ‘phone in a cradle’ design also leaves a bit to be desired.

Last step

The last logical step in the evolution of mobile VR is the Oculus Go. Facebook has always been a company that ‘borrows’ their best ideas from other companies, and their second virtual reality headset is no exception.

They took their existing Oculus Home platform that runs on the Gear VR, then commissioned the large mobile hardware company Mii to create an all-in-one VR headset with specifications that are virtually identical to the Galaxy smartphones that Gear VR was designed for. The result was a standalone headset with all the advantages of the Samsung product with none of the disadvantages.

The only thing missing is the option for a SIM card, making telephone calls is not an option. One other limitation is the lack of expandable memory, but more on that later.

Why mobile VR excels at video content?

The graphical power of a PC virtual reality headset is mostly limited by the processing power of the host PC or gaming laptop. Some truly remarkable VR games are available on the Oculus and Steam platform, but the user is always tethered to a computer with a cable.

There are advancements being made, but even with inside-out tracking there’s still a need for a power cable. The total cost of a computer with a VR headset also prohibits general use. Mobile solutions are relatively cheap, very portable and above all user friendly.

You can stream 360 video to Cardboard for instance. Just place any modern smartphone in the cradle, select a presentation and you’re done. This is the same when you stream 360 Samsung to Gear VR, but this time a compatible device is required. If you rather stream 360 video to Oculus Go that’s very easy, for absolute control a Kiosk Mode is recommended. Read more about this mode below.

Are mobile VR devices suitable for streaming?

Basically all mobile VR headsets are either mobile phones or they are based on mobile phone hardware. That means built-in wifi, bluetooth and internet capability. Not all devices support a SIM-card, that means streaming over 4G or 5G is not an option for all devices.

The mobile nature of these devices makes them very well suited for all sorts of wireless communication, VR video is no exception. The most significant limitation is the battery capacity. Expect an operating duration that will last a couple of hours before recharging is required..

Cardboard VR

his device can literally be a piece of cardboard, it can also be a third party plastic cradle for a smartphone. The main advantage is the universal design that allows for most smartphones to be used as a 360 videoplayer. The foldable cardboard version is often used as a promotional item with optional logo and/or corporate colors.

The 2.0 version features enhanced comfort and a capacitive touch button for limited interaction.

Stream 360 video to Cardboard

The easiest way is regular YouTube. Any user can place the smartphone in the Cardboard cradle, launch YouTube and select any 360 video. Alternatively a company can push content to a device using a specific URL. The playback quality can’t be guaranteed because the technical specifications of the hardware may vary wildly.

Samsung Gear VR

This is a plastic cradle designed specifically for the Samsung Galaxy line of smartphones and a few other Samsung devices. There is an additional software layer created by Oculus that provides a specific environment for virtual reality applications. This device was often used as a standalone portable VR headset until the arrival of the similar Oculus Go.

Stream 360 video samsung Gear VR

In order to stream 360 to Samsung Gear VR there are several options:

  1. Download the YouTube app and select a video.
  2. Download another videostreaming app from the official App Store.
  3. Use sideloading to load a custom app and stream from there.
  4. Force the system in Kiosk Mode for vr headsets and configure the appropriate settings.

The quality of the presentation is reasonably reliable with some differences depending on the smartphone that is used.

Oculus Go

In layman’s terms the Oculus Go consists of the internal technology found in smartphones, sealed in a VR headset which operates on Android, with Oculus Home for the user interface. Most applications for the Go can also be found in the Gear VR store, but the more controlled environment gives the Go a slight advantage in terms of technical abilities.

The highlight of this device is the user friendly operation, which combined with the ability for side-loading content makes it a great option for corporate use.

Stream 360 video Oculus Go

You can stream 360 video to the Oculus Go in the same way that is possible on the Gear VR, due to their very similar hardware and software. However, the closed system of the Go provides a bit more certainty of the playback quality.

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Streaming in Kiosk Mode

This is an advanced feature that could be beneficial in certain circumstances. Kiosk Mode forces specific limitations on the device, for instance exclusively displaying a specific presentation or disabling the hardware buttons on the device.

You could also force a specific video stream to appear. You can control one device at a time, or create a virtual cinema. This will mostly be used for professional purposes, at events, to inform prospective buyers, and other applications.

Frequently asked questions

What about the battery life?

For all portable virtual reality headsets the Achilles Heel seems to be the battery life. You can expect a couple of hours of continuous use before you need to recharge the device. In most cases it is possible to use an external battery pack to extend the duration, or connect the headset to an outlet. But this requires cables, and in particular the outlet option really diminishes the freedom of movement.

What about 6DoF video?

6DoF stands for ‘Six Degrees of Movement’, which means the user can move around freely in the virtual space. Most 360 degree content is shot in 3DoF, that means the viewer is standing or sitting in a fixed position, and can only turn on the spot. This is usually satisfactory for VR video, it is also more comfortable for the less experienced viewer.

Is the footage in 3D?

That depends on the source material. If the film is shot with a camera equipped with a (double) 3D lens, or an animation is rendered in stereoscopic 3D, then yes, the footage can be viewed in 3D. All VR headsets allow for 3D video. However, not all formats are supported. There’s up-down content, side-by-side content, it depends on the application if the footage is displayed correctly.

Can you hear the sound?

Sure, it is almost guaranteed that the VR headset with have built-in speakers and usually a headphone connector. The video must of course have audio embedded in the presentation to hear the sound..

Is local streaming possible?

Yes, although this will be a more niche application. You could store the content on a seperate network drive and share this with the VR headset. However, this is not a standard feature in most videoplayer software. Consult a dedicated agency for more about this specific application.

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