While Facebook acquires Oculus Rift, other companies eye the software that gives matter to the virtual world.

The social media mogul’s impressive and unexpected $2 billion acquisition of Oculus Rift, the crowdfunded creator of the much anticipated virtual reality (VR) headset, had VR enthusiasts and early investors shaking heads, clenching fists and banging out diatribes across the web. Nonetheless, the move brought VR hardware—and knowledge of the reality of virtual reality—that much closer to the public. The news created VR dilettantes out of consumers displeased with 3D TV. It made the race towards VR offerings that much more heated, and lit a fire behind some of the more sluggish companies.

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To keep pace, British Sky Broadcasting Group (Sky) invested an additional $400,000 in California startup Jaunt, creators of panoramic 3D videos. This recent investment brings Sky’s financial interest to $750,000, adding to the $350,000 investment the group made late last year.

Jaunt provides the tools to film 360 degrees. Once the video is produced, viewers wearing VR devices like the Oculus Rift headset are given an immersive 3D experience that transcends the traditional 2D television screen.

On their website, Jaunt claims, “Unlike anything you’ve ever seen, we’re creating an entirely new means of storytelling, a completely new art form. Entertainment like nothing you’ve ever seen.”

With open eyes and suspended disbelief viewers can sit sideline at a World Cup final, hike high into the Himalayas or even enter a war zone.

The company provides both hardware and software means to create cinematic VR experiences. 360-degree cameras capture images on all sides. Computational photography algorithms convert the recorded video into an integrative experience. An industry-standard compatible format let’s editors edit videos in the comfort and familiarity of their chosen program.

Again, Jaunt says, “The emerging consumer VR industry provides the mechanism to travel to virtual worlds.  We aim to put realism back into the virtual reality experience, lending an uncanny sense of presence never before possible with any other technology.”

Let’s hope this brazen aim holds up.

Previous attempts to bring 3D entertainment into the home fell short of satisfying as few films were made in the necessary format. You can watch Spiderman 2 in 3D only so many times (I’m going with once). But the immersive depth of a 360-degree experience will, I suspect, beget fresh interest and discovery with each viewing, over again. Thus the need for an immediate wealth of content is less vital than it was for 3D TVs.

There are a few more issues to address in the shift towards 360-degree broadcasting.

The investment in software over hardware raises some questions regarding compatibility. It’s in the interest of Sky and similar broadcasters to transmit these 360-degree videos to anyone with a VR device. However, that requires compatibility between the hardware and Jaunt’s (or whomever’s) software. As more tech companies consider the VR route, companies like Apple, Microsoft and Sony are bound to try develop a device of their own, and I wouldn’t put it past them to require unique specs and obstacles to compatibility. It’s reassuring though that Jaunt features both the Oculus Rift headset and the Samsung Gear VR on their website.

There are also the practical obstacles to filming. Traditional cameras hide the production crew behind the lens, depict just what’s in front and allow for selective filming. The cameraman (or his producer) decides where the camera should point and what to report. But a 360-degree camera reveals everything. The production crew is no longer “behind” the camera, but becomes part of the story, part of the visual spectacle. The selective choice of the camera operator becomes secondary. Only his presence—and not his direction—is required. The viewer then becomes the visual operator as the cameraman himself fades into the realm of an apparatus.

As with any great technological leap, we’re sure to see some loose threads as developers and providers iron creases from the production process.

This isn’t Sky’s first investment in video-related start-ups. In addition to the December 2013 Jaunt investment, the group invested $1.9 million in Roku, a video streaming platform that lets you stream anything from PBS to NHL games. Roku received a cumulative $45 million in investment in 2012 and is making strides around the globe.

Sky also invested in 1 Mainstream, a digital media platform with the aim to “eliminate obstacles for content providers to create compelling, ala carte, HD channels and apps.” They continue, “…we are at a tipping point where HD quality video can be streamed to your TV without any reliance on cable and satellite video technologies…Think of us as a company that is helping make that vision a reality.”

With these combined investments Sky positions itself at the forefront of VR development as one of the most innovative and progressive broadcasters.

Image credit: Jaunt

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