What do you get when you cross immersive video with a TV newscast? Belgian news channel VRT Nieuws today released a 360 video that could be the answer.
VRT (Flemish Radio and Television Organization) just completed construction on their new studio, and what better way to show it off to the taxpaying public than letting them right in the doors?
We don’t speak Flemish or Dutch, but this video may give us a glimpse into the future of immersive journalism, complete with eye-catching transitions, on-scene reporting, and the professional pitch and meter of an experienced newscaster—it’s scary how good the news looks.
In particular, the studio has created a scene-to-scene transition which works phenomenally well in virtual reality. It’s difficult to explain how naturally it works unless you’ve actually seen it in VR for yourself (which you can do by launching this link in your YouTube app on Android and then hitting the Google Cardboard button at the bottom right), but it very effectively moves the viewer from one scene to the next.
The clip above (which is an unraveled 360 degree video, so not quite the same as you’ll see it in VR) shows what’s going on. The studio is using a clever combination of green screens to show just a portion of the to-be transitioned video on the wall of the studio (with the male anchor), then they combine a zooming of the new video segment with a transition that brings the viewer into the new space.
The transition itself works very well because signals that the scene is changing as it happens, preventing any jarring sense of sudden teleporation as you would have with a straight cut. It also seems to work better (at least in the context of a newscast) than a fade-to-black because it use parts of the existing scene and parts of the new scene as the blocks that float and eventually coalesces into the new scene. The result is a very gentle transition which is feels visually consistent and conveys what’s happening, it also works well from one on-site scene to the next without the more complex green screen and zoom approach.
Transition effects like fades, swipes, and dissolves came into vogue as the film medium began to mature. Computerized video editing made even more complex effects possible, like a frame that would flip over or fly away to reveal the next shot. At a certain point, it was realized that these transitions can be more distracting than beneficial, and the modern world of film largely consists of straight cuts which are designed to be as unobtrusive as possible.
But the most unobtrusive cut—the straight cut—in regular film may not be the most unobtrusive cut in VR video, where the viewer feels like they are surrounded by the film around them. Perhaps more communicative transitions, like this one pioneered by VRT, might be more effective and comfortable for viewers in VR.
While Immersive Journalism pioneer Nonny de la Peña creates experiences like Hunger in Los Angeles to intentionally confront with the stark realities of the world, we wonder just how the nightly news will adapt these complex themes to their format, or rather how much they’ll pull back as news corporations inevitably enter into the world of Immersive Journalism.
“Humans have long been able to immerse themselves in other worlds, through oral story or novels, painting, photographs, television, cinema and pure imagination. The mind does not travel alone — the body most certainly comes along for the ride,” says de la Peña, co-founder of immersive content studio Emblematic Group.
BBC News Lab, the organization’s innovation incubator, has published several 360 videos, including a long format report on London’s China Town, and handheld footage taken outside the Bataclan highlighting the aftereffects of the terrorist attack on Paris.
How these segments can be inserted—albeit at a higher level of polish—into the familiar news format we see in today’s VRT Nieuws video, is going to be something to watch out for.
Addition reporting by Ben Lang.