MediaKind VR activity under close inspection by top rival

A spot of vendor politics came our way this week as Dutch virtual reality software developer Tiledmedia revealed it was sent this Faultline Online Reporter article from the tail end of last year by a fierce rival of MediaKind. As a partner to both the unnamed company whose interest was piqued and MediaKind, two expert video technology vendors, Tiledmedia was keen to get in touch in an attempt to inject some optimism into our otherwise skeptical coverage of the VR market.

Rightly skeptical, we should add, given the regular influx of overinflated VR forecasts, although we have always reiterated that there is light at the end of the tunnel for VR headsets – just that hitting the mainstream is not something we see happening in the near future.

Of course, Tiledmedia founder and chief business officer Rob Koenen disagreed. “There is quite a bit happening at the moment with VR360. Obviously I can’t name names but telcos are wanting to do live VR events. We are working with telcos on 8K projects and have been surprised at how good it looked,” said Koenen, speaking to Faultline Online Reporter this week.

Unconvinced, we mention that most of today’s commercial networks struggle to cater for a single 4K video stream, let alone the kind of bandwidth required for a live 8K VR360 event. But that’s where Tiledmedia’s secret sauce comes in. The company addresses bandwidth issues by stitching VR360 or panoramic video titles as input, then splitting these into tiles, encoding it and then packaging it up for CDN delivery. For its software streaming library to operate, it requires specially packaged containers of VR360 or panoramic content to be placed on a CDN.

But Koenen elaborated a little on techniques used in the Magenta VR project with Deutsche Telekom and MediaKind that were not revealed in the original press release. After identifying that it was taking far too long to fetch new tiles from the CDN when headset users were turning their heads, Tiledmedia and Akamai worked together to pre-fetch tiles for storage at the network edge for easy access when required. Of course, the technique is much more complex than this and we have booked in for a demo with Tiledmedia at NAB in a few weeks, so keep an eye out for a follow up.

“From a network perspective, this event was extremely scalable. Everything ran off Akamai using simple http2 requests. Akamai and Tiledmedia made some optimizations for the peculiarities of viewport-adaptive streaming, but everything was distributed using Akamai’s standard CDN,” said Koenen.

One of the critiques brought up in the original coverage of MediaKind’s multi-channel 6K 360-degree live basketball match with Deutsche Telekom back in December, was that scaling this out would be a struggle. “Scalability is the least of our worries,” said Koenen, “the biggest challenge today is production. Everyone can do 4K but for any higher resolution I’d say there is no proven workflow yet.” Koenen is optimistic the kind of workflow he’s talking about will emerge in about half a year.

The event he references, for those who don’t have time to click the link above, used MediaKind’s virtualized software-based encoders for powering the 360-degree live encoder, hosted on Google Cloud and available to users of Deutsche Telekom’s Magenta VR app in Germany, while Magnum Film handled production and on-site acquisition. Tiledmedia’s involvement was what really caught our attention in the first place, using its ClearVR SDK to support low latency streaming with some intriguing techniques at play.

The Deutsche Telekom Magenta VR project took Tiledmedia and MediaKind (née Ericsson Media Solutions) an arduous 18-months to complete. Koenen admitted this was a very long time indeed but was not aware of any technical setbacks from the MediaKind side and certainly none from his company. We remain convinced that 2019 will not be the year of VR, but we are quietly hopeful early signs of the technology going mainstream will emerge in 2020.