Nokia has launched the OZO Player SDK, a cross-platform foundation for creating applications with high fidelity VR video playback. Road to VR spoke with Nokia’s Head of VR Technologies, Tarif Sayed to learn more about the offering.

While VR video portals like Jaunt, Littlstar, Samsung VR, and others offer a single destination from which to stream many different 360 and VR videos, another popular way to distribute VR video has been as a standalone app, offering more complete control over the experience by the creator. For instance, Felix & Paul’s Nomads is a single app which lets viewers watch a 3-part VR video series, and also provides a proprietary interface and supporting non-video content. Other VR apps focus on real-time rendered experiences, but occasionally weave VR video content throughout when advantageous.

Creating such a VR video apps requires a playback engine that knows how to handle the particular type of VR video and audio as provided by the creator. That could range from a 360 mono video, 360 3D, or even 180 3D. Each of those could be using a separate framerate and surround audio format, which means a VR video app needs a playback engine which can handle whichever specific combination of characteristics the content calls for.

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Nokia is aiming to simplify the process of building VR apps which incorporate VR video with the newly released OZO Player SDK, a cross-platform playback engine that’s designed to jumpstart VR video app development by handling the major functions involved in playing back a VR video file in high fidelity.

nokia ozo close side
Content shot with Nokia’s OZO VR camera is naturally well supported by the OZO Player SDK (including the unique audio format), but the SDK will support VR video content shot with any camera.

Despite being part of the OZO brand, the SDK works with any VR video content, not just that filmed with Nokia’s OZO VR camera. The cross-platform nature of the OZO Player SDK will be especially useful for those who want to widely distribute VR apps with VR video across multiple platforms, says Nokia’s Head of VR Technologies, Sarif Sayed.

“When it comes to VR video playback, there’s at least 20 different SDKs [you could find when you search], there’s no universal option. We decided to really go and have a product that solves most of the key issues with VR playback. We introduced [the OZO Player SDK] available for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Gear VR, Google Daydream, and Cardboard (iOS and Android),” Sayed told Road to VR.

The OZO Player SDK comes as both a native SDK and a Unity plugin for those already building VR apps with Unity. PlayStation VR isn’t yet supported, but Nokia likely has it in the works for future releases.

“There’s a lot of things coming in the pipeline to enhance the SDK. But any user who wants to deliver their VR experience now, they can use it to publish on all the major platforms.”

In addition to being widely cross-platform, the OZO Player SDK supports all major video file delivery methods, meaning it can be used to play a local VR video file, stream a cloud-hosted file, or even a live feed, Sayed says, including support for variable bitrate streaming which can automatically adapt quality based on available bandwidth.

According to Sayed, a major advantage of the SDK is support for three major projection formats: Equirectangular, Cubemap, and Lambert, as well as various video formats and framerates; the playback engine can handle 360 video that’s stereoscopic or monoscopic, and 180 stereoscopic video, all up to 60FPS and 4K resolution per-eye. As devices get more powerful, Sayed says the OZO Player SDK will be able to handle 6K and 8K resolutions.

When it comes to audio, the SDK uses an HRTF-based rendering with support for stereo audio, 5.0, 4.0, 7.0 surround formats, and the proprietary OZO Audio 360 format that’s captured with the OZO camera’s eight on-board microphones.

OZO Player SDK architecture
OZO Player SDK architecture

To jumpstart development, Nokia is also making available reference applications on each platform supported by the SDK, so that developers can use them as a jumping-off point for developing apps incorporating VR video content.

Sayed says a free version of the OZO Player SDK is now available, which is fully functional except for a watermark. If companies want to use it to launch an app, Nokia is offering case-by-case licensing options, which includes future updates and support.

“The pricing question took us so long… we couldn’t follow the industry way of charging a yearly fee or per user… part of our mission is to support the industry to grow. We said ‘we’re not going to implement a pricing model that we’ll apply to everyone in the world’ because at this point not everyone knows how to monetize VR. So we work one-on-one to offer flexible pricing models that suit every client,” Sayed said. “Our sales and legal team hate me [because of the work this causes them],” he joked.

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It’s yet to be seen how VR video content will be primarily consumed; while the video portal model dominates the traditional video space, the unique needs of VR could be more suited to a dedicated app model, and we see no shortage of such apps presently in the young VR marketplace. The question is likely to be answered once monetization methods of VR video content become more clear.

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  • Foreign Devil

    I’ve yet to see any video in VR that is good enough quality or experience to pay for. 180 degree 3D comes closest though. . 360 degree and especially 360 3D are currently way too low resolution to be a good experience.

    • Robert Jonsson (A.I. FilmCrew)

      180 vs 360 does not matter. It’s the resolution of the screen that’s sets the perceived resolution. Do you have any example to prove your point?

      • Foreign Devil

        I definitely have examples to prove my point. Do you own an Oculus rift? If so go to the oculus theatre and load up ANY Facebook or Vimeo video that is 360 degree or especially 3D 360 degree. You will see extreme low resolutions. I’ve watched normal HD Youtube videos and the resolution is not a serious problem, so it is not the screen limitations that make it so bad. I don’t have the 1080 Nvidia card but my video card was deemed sufficient for VR and works fine in most VR games, so I don’t think that is the problem.

        • Robert Jonsson (A.I. FilmCrew)

          that’s streamed content, that does not count. In your case it limited due to bandwith. I own rift, vive, gear vr and I use the OZO camera. You don’t see much improvement in detail viewing 4K and higher resolution material in these headsets. You see a slightly sharper picture when you go from 3840×2160 top bottom 3d vs. 4096×4096 top bottom 3D. pixels per inch and resolution of the video is what’s matter.

          • Foreign Devil

            I agree that ultimately the screen resolution is a final limiting factor. However I know I could experience much better quality than I have on my existing CV1. I have downloaded some 3d videos to see if it was a bandwidth issue .. .they were no different. . equally terrible. Perhaps there is some issue with my video card. . because I don’t see other people complaining about this.

          • Robert Jonsson (A.I. FilmCrew)

            It’s not because of your video card, it only affects the frame rate.
            But it depends on what you are expecting, you won’t see the same level of detail compared to a screen that has 4k and only takes up fractions of the field of view.
            In these headsets, vr video is approx the same as watching a 720p movie on a big screen that takes up all of the field of view.

    • Sumeet

      Watch Felix and Paul Videos on RIft.