Sky has announced that it is backing virtual reality big time with a series of VR shorts. These start with a virtual reality Formula One experience to kick off the new F1 season this weekend.
The broadcaster, which was one of the first commercial backers of 3D in the UK, has confirmed it will be creating a dedicated Sky VR Studio. This will produce over 20 pieces of VR content across the next couple of years.
"Over the coming months, Sky will transport fans of sports, movies, news and entertainment to locations around the world, offering a truly unique perspective on major events," the broadcaster told Pocket-lint as we got to try out the first piece of content.
Sky's first VR film
The first piece of fully immersive VR content is a two minute short film featuring the Team Williams Formula 1 team. It shows them testing in Barcelona.
The short, which isn't restricted to simple point of view camera angle, enables viewers to see the pit lane, team garage and track in 360-degrees.
A second F1 VR experience, Ted's Notebook, takes you on a backstage tour of the pits. It features an interview with Lewis Hamilton amongst others.
Both shorts were produced in conjunction with Formula One management and the Williams team. They will be made available via the Facebook 360 Video platform from tomorrow, Friday 18 March.
The full VR experience will also be available on the Oculus platform, so viewable on the Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift headsets.
Team Williams F1 VR: What's it like?
Having previewed the new footage ourselves, alongside other previously shot bits of VR video, it's clear Sky is still trying to discover what works and what doesn't in this new filming format. It is early days after all.
While some shots work well, such as those taken in the pit during fueling, quick jump cuts and a floating camera can be really jarring at times. It can take a few seconds to get used to each segment.
A second viewing enabled us to enjoy the experience a lot more. It's clear that having a seasoned director, who has been shooting virtual reality content for over five years, helps produce content that is a lot better than just sticking a couple of bolted-together GoPros on a rig.
When we asked Richard Nockles, the creative director at the new Sky VR studio, about shooting a point of view experience he told us that he likes to see VR video more akin to the theatre than cinema.
"You are basically trying to create scenes that the audience wants to explore," he said. "POV is great, and insightful, but we like the ideal of using talent to take the audience to the heart of somewhere they haven't been before. If you were to always film in POV, you lose some of the scene, and so we've found that switching between the two can be quiet interesting."
Virtual reality is in the early stages of development
Neil Graham, the man in charge of the new studio added: "We are at the early stages of our VR development, we are trying to build on the philosophy of trying to bring our viewers closer. It's not just about the view, it's about the feeling."
Later in the year, Sky will look to distribute content through a dedicated Sky VR app.
"Over the coming year, Sky VR Studio will drive the creation of cinematic, fully immersive VR content, producing more than 20 individual films, across a unique range of Sky content – from major cultural events in news to some of the biggest sporting events on the planet," said Graham.
Sky has been dabbling in virtual reality for some time, investing in US VR start-up Jaunt in 2013 as well as creating news footage of the migrant crisis and shooting from the red carpet at the UK premier of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
The company says it plans two other bits of VR content in the coming months. These include a unique perspective on heavyweight boxing, taking viewers inside the ring as Anthony Joshua bids for a world title. The other follows Team Sky as the cycle team set sights on retaining their Tour de France crown.
As for the fears that VR will end up going the same way as 3D, Sky doesn't thing that will happen: "I've never watched a piece of 3D content that has got me as involved as some of the VR films I've seen or we've created," Graham told Pocket-lint.
"3D doesn't transport you, it merely added an extra layer of pretty. That's not the same with VR."
Success or not, what is clear is that although Sky has created a new studio to focus on VR content it is still very early days for the format.
Is 2016 the year of VR?
"Is 2016 the year of VR? Probably not," Nockles added. "It's the year we got to know what it was, but it will probably be 2018 before it really takes off."