360 Video & Virtual Reality (VR) in JW Player Part 2 : Getting Started

In Part 1 of our 360 Video / VR blog series, we presented an overview of the current state of 360 Video / VR technology and the industry.  We also announced support for 360 Video and VR in our HTML5 player and native mobile SDKs.

In this post, I’d like to add more detail around our new JW Player VR and 360 Video playback features with our HTML5 VR Plugin and native VR SDKs, which provide a smoother more performant experience for your iOS and Android apps.

In addition to the ability to watch spherical 360 Video on desktop/mobile browsers and your native Android and iOS apps, with JW Player these platforms will also support immersive live-action VR experiences with popular headsets such as Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard, and the upcoming Google Daydream View.

I’ll also discuss why JW Player is committed to supporting 360 Video, where our solution works best for publishers, and what’s coming in the future.

360 Video & VR in JW Player

So why is this latest incarnation of VR going to be different from all the previous attempts?  Several reasons were suggested at a panel discussion hosted by AOL Build, “The Future Possibilities of Virtual Reality”:

Advances in hardware & software to avoid motion sickness

More content & storytelling (Why 3D TV failed)

Large investments in R&D by tech companies like Google, Facebook, HTC, and Samsung

Advertising in 360 Video and interest from brands

These factors help indicate that 360 Video playback will become a requirement in the future for all media players, and we are dedicated to supporting digital publishers as they experiment with and adopt these new technologies.  Thus it was important for us to be thoughtful and evaluate exactly what JW Player's approach would be to support 360 Video & VR.

High-quality 360 Video production, for example, still has challenges to overcome. The cost of production-quality 360 cameras, added complexity with stitching & editing 360 Video, and overall production time to name a few.  But initiatives like Google Jump and 360 Video production companies like KonceptVR are lowering those barriers to entry and helping publishers create 360 Video content.

We also appreciate that YouTube and Facebook have made it so easy for publishers and amateurs alike to upload their 360 videos to share with the rest of the world. These platforms have become popular destinations to watch 360 videos, of both professional and amateur quality.  Of course, there are benefits to complementing a social presence with an owned and operated strategy where you control the user experience and keep the ad revenue. What if you want your own branded mobile app or website to deliver that same immersive live-action VR experience to your audience?

JW Player HTML5 VR Plugin

Our goal at JW Player is to enable video publishers to simply and easily stream 360 Video and live-action VR on their own mobile apps and websites alongside their traditional videos.  This point is key for us - viewers should be able to access 360 videos in the same player where they are watching traditional videos - not have to jump to a separate player experience.

Offering support for 360 Video in desktop & mobile browsers was a natural first step towards this goal, so we built the JW Player HTML5 VR plugin. It supports "magic window" mode for both desktop and mobile web, and leverages the emerging WebVR API in order to support devices with a gyroscope, including immersive mobile web VR experiences for popular VR headsets like the HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR, and Google Daydream View.

JW Player VR SDKs for Native Apps

But one challenge with mobile web and VR is that slow performance and lag can result in VR sickness.  It was soon clear that 360 Video for VR was better suited for native mobile apps than mobile web. In order to provide this immersive, performant, and optimized mobile experience, we prioritized building the native JW VR SDKs for Android & iOS in addition to our HTML5 VR plugin.  Try it out or read more about it here!

Thus, as production challenges for 360 videos are overcome and your 360 Video library begins to grow, we aim to provide a simple and easy solution for publishers to stream their 360 videos across all owned & operated platforms.


JW Player VR/360° Video Features

Up to 4K resolution

Adaptive bitrate streaming

Live streams

Monoscopic & stereoscopic support

Gyroscope motion support

"Magic window" viewing

Customizable UI

Upload and stream 360° videos in JW Platform

Native iOS & Android support

Latest Chrome, Firefox & Edge desktop & mobile browsers

Compatible with HTC Vive, Gear VR, Cardboard, and Daydream VR headsets for live-action VR

What’s Next in 360 Video & VR?

360/VR is one of the biggest areas of exploration in the video industry for content creators, ad networks, media publishers, and business applications.  360 Video technology and standards are rapidly evolving, both on the production and playback side. We are encouraged that: 360 cameras are becoming more available to lease & use; stitching algorithms are getting smarter and faster; production costs are trending in the right direction; and companies like Google are making an effort to support VR experiences natively in newer, faster, VR-optimized phones like the Pixel to provide even more realistic immersion experiences.

VR is already evolving toward incorporating viewer interactivity such as hand held controllers, wearables, and hotspots with gaze selection.  Perhaps It’s only a matter of time before innovators start exploring Ernest Cline's future vision of VR in his novel “Ready Player One” where virtual reality is drawn directly into the retinas and full-body haptic suits are the norm.

What’s Next for JW Player in 360 Video & VR?

Here at JW Player we see 360 Video as a potential complement to many of our other products, such as supporting 360 Video ads, 360 analytic heat maps, live streaming with our new JW Live service, 360 video on OTT devices, and integration with our recommendations engine. These are all on our roadmap for supporting 360 Video at JW Player.

Perhaps the most impactful feature we are looking forward to releasing is the ability to embed 360 Video with a single line of code from our JW Platform and play traditional and 360 videos together in a mixed playlist. JW Player will detect if a 360 Video is being played and switch modes automatically.  We strongly believe that it’s not worthwhile to build a dedicated 360 Video player, because 360 is an attribute of the video, not the player.  We believe in building one player that will play all of your content, including 360 Video and traditional media.

360 Video will become a core tool for storytelling whenever the subject inspires curiosity, empathy and emotion, and publishers can be confident that their audience will be able to play -- and experience - the content.

Indeed, AR and Mixed Reality will continue to evolve and to change the landscape of storytelling as publishers transition from experimentation to production of the next generation of VR & 360 Video entertainment in order to create inspirational experiences in an immersive virtual world.

Watch this space for more thoughts on 360 Video

In the next post of our 360 Video / VR blog series we plan to dive deeper into the technical landscape for 360 Video playback and the challenges we observed, including cross-platform and browser support, stability, and head-mounted displays.  Stay tuned for that post later in November.  In the meantime, if you want more information or to evaluate our 360 Video products, contact us.