Blackmagic Design has announced that SoftBank Corporation has built a streaming workflow around ATEM Constellation 8K live production switchers and Teranex Mini converters for 4K VR live streaming via its VR streaming service VR SQUARE.
SoftBank Corporation, a major Japanese telecommunications company, offers the VR SQUARE application, which gives customers the ability to have a variety of VR experiences. With VR SQUARE, viewers can enjoy VR content, such as live concert videos and original content from popular idols, as well as theatre performances, sports and other content in a variety of genres, all via smartphones.
“SoftBank’s VR service, VR SQUARE, was started with the concept of creating a service suitable for the 5G era of high capacity communications,” said Eiji Koyama, Service Planning Department of SoftBank.
SoftBank is collaborating with other companies as a technology partner to install VR streaming systems at theatres and other venues where various live performances are held. To create VR images, cameras and switchers are used for the right and left eyes, and images from both eyes are stitched together. SoftBank installed ATEM Constellation 8Ks for switching, Teranex Mini HDMI to Optical 12G for converting HDMI camera output to optical fibre and Mini Converter Optical Fiber 12G for converting optical fibre to SDI to send camera feeds to the switchers.
“We have permanent installations of this system at the AKB48 Theater in Akihabara and the PayPay Dome in Fukuoka. When AKB48, the idol group, holds a large scale concert at a bigger venue, we bring the portable version of this system and operate it there,” Koyama explained.
Koyama continued: “At permanent venues, we make it easy for on site staff to operate the system. We set up cameras and send camera feeds to the ATEM switcher with the right eye and left eye synchronised, then the images are stitched with the ATEM switcher and sent to the server. This can then be viewed in VR by using the dedicated VR SQUARE app.”
Kazuo Igarashi, Manager of the Content Promotion Section of SoftBank’s Service Planning Department, said, “When we started this VR streaming project, we used to set up portable tables and have about 10 staff members for the operation. However, the process of setting up and taking down the equipment each time was time consuming and made it difficult to conduct multiple streaming jobs. We needed to make the system more compact, and that’s how we came up with our current style.”
Igarashi continued: “For 4K VR streaming, we needed a switcher that could handle 8K and had enough inputs and outputs. Plus, we needed to make the whole system compact, so we wanted something that fit in a 19 inch rack that allowed us to operate it via software, not the big control panel. The ATEM Constellation 8K met these requirements, and its affordability was also a big advantage.”
SoftBank also appreciates the stability the ATEM Constellation 8K brings, which allows VR SQUARE to handle a large amount of VR streaming with hundreds of events each year. For example, The AKB48 Theater, where the system is permanently installed, hosts many performances by the idol group AKB48 each month, and VR SQUARE handles more than 250 other performances annually, including concerts at large concert halls, such as Nippon Budokan.
“We do a lot of streaming every year, and the ATEM switcher has been trouble free and very stable,” said Koyama. “We operate a combination of remote and on site operations for VR streaming. At the AKB48 Theater, the cameras are already installed permanently on the stage, so on site operations are minimised. Once the system is turned on at the venue before the live stream, our operator remotely checks the video on the server. The operator then remotely controls the start and end of the live stream.”
In VR streaming, all cameras are installed in fixed positions, and the camerawork and switching required for conventional streaming are replaced with the viewer’s perspective, allowing them to make the operation more automatic. Igarashi stated: “As the cameras are positioned much closer to the performers than the audience seats, you can feel more immersed. It’s also possible to watch the concert focusing on your favourite member of the group, so our customers feel high satisfaction.”
“We currently stream in 4K, but in the case of VR, what the viewer sees is only a portion of the 4K image, so streaming in even higher resolution, such as 8K, would be more suitable. We would like to continue developing our service for better quality,” Koyama concluded.