360 video is coming to Steam and it looks as if Valve are aiming high in terms of the quality they’re aiming to deliver to consumer VR headsets.

There’s an op-ed piece I’ve been meaning to write for some time around the current technical state of play with regards to 360 video. Leaving aside the contentious (and ultimately pointless) debate over whether immersive video content counts as ‘real’ virtual reality – despite all of the format’s technical limitations, I think it has significant potential.

However, after years of writing about so-called groundbreaking 360 camera rigs and the rise of numerous so-called groundbreaking VR video startups, there is still not a single way to consume 360 video on your VR headset at the level of quality which I think would allow that potential to blossom. Not to put too fine a point on it, 360 video quality sucks right now and it’s time for the companies who have planted their flag on this particular patch of VR frontier land to step up and deliver on the promise.

Enter Valve, stage left.

At last week’s Steam Dev Days event, Valve revealed that it was to bring its own solution for the delivery of immersive video content to its content portal Steam. It’s partnering with video streaming specialists Pixvana and Akamai to deliver an adaptive 360 video streaming system that’s capable of delivering what it claims to be 8k-10k resolution video quality via the same bandwidth as a 1080p stream.


“But that’s impossible!” you may be exclaiming, and you’d be right. Pixvana’s technology uses adaptive bitrates for video delivery, depending on the user’s direction of gaze. In other words, it drops the quality of the video stream for the angles you’re not currently looking at. Turn your head to look at a segment and the bitrate is upped to deliver a much higher quality image. This is how the technology achieves the “10k over 1080p bandwidth” claim – and it’s an interesting approach, one which Facebook and others are exploring too.

The system is called FOVAS, short for Field of View Adaptive Streaming, and was developed by Pixvana and is encapsulated in its Open Projection Format, a way to facilitate the above adaptive streaming techniques using existing video compression standards (i.e. AVC / H.264).


You can already get a taste for what Valve’s 360 video service will look like too as Pixvana released a technology preview app onto Steam a couple of weeks ago. I took a look myself to see how the quality claims held up. I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. Indeed, the looping video clips demonstrated very good detail and a refreshing lack of compression artefacts. Once you turn your head to look at another angle, the compressed video outside of your previous viewport was then clearly pixelated and poor in quality before the system upped the bitrate and resolution again with the image becoming pleasingly detailed again. The transition is sudden however and a little jarring, but once it had transitioned there was no doubting it’s one of the best quality streaming VR video I’ve yet seen. One (fairly major caveat) to the above I will add though – everything demonstrated in Pixvana’s app is monoscopic, which means significantly less immersion and significantly less pixels needed to produce pleasing image.

Pixvana Reveals 10K VR Video Player and Publishing Platform 'SPIN'

It’s early days for the application of course, but if Valve’s implementation of the technology can smooth out and quicken those transitions, we may finally see the viable delivery mechanism for high quality VR videos I’ve been searching for. As to when Valve’s 360 streaming will come online, it’s not yet clear. As no press was allowed at the Steam Dev Days event we were unable to glean any more details. We’ll of course update you of we learn anything further.

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Based in the UK, Paul has been immersed in interactive entertainment for the best part of 27 years and has followed advances in gaming with a passionate fervour. His obsession with graphical fidelity over the years has had him branded a ‘graphics whore’ (which he views as the highest compliment) more than once and he holds a particular candle for the dream of the ultimate immersive gaming experience. Having followed and been disappointed by the original VR explosion of the 90s, he then founded RiftVR.com to follow the new and exciting prospect of the rebirth of VR in products like the Oculus Rift. Paul joined forces with Ben to help build the new Road to VR in preparation for what he sees as VR’s coming of age over the next few years.
  • Raphael

    Meanwhile I can’t run DCS World with Mig 21 aircraft even with Gtx 1070 because Vive doesn’t have oculus Asynchronous spacewarp. Not just DCS world of course… need lower settings with any dx11 games and simulations from project cars to elite dangerous. I have no faith in valve to deliver a Vive equivalent of ASW.

  • DiGiCT Ltd

    Sounds intresting, although i share the opinion for VR video not being that great and never will be as good a a true realtime rendered high quality story in VR.
    It is more like looking a prefab recording and limits your feel of interaction witht he content.
    Although it is in many cases better as the normal tv movies as you can look around freely instead of a director view only.
    VR or not is not the question here but rather like or dislike,

  • dashmaul

    Tried the Pixvana stuff and was not happy with that at all. Resolution was still too low, the performance was terrible. (lag and stuttering)
    The only good example of HQ 360 video I know, is the introduction to Oculus video!

    • Dean

      Hello, can i know which camera you used to film in 360?

  • I’d like to read your article:

    ‘I’ve been meaning to write for some time around the current technical state of play with regards to 360 video’

    Also I’d love an honest breakdown of what is the best 2D 360º camera at the moment (for the budget I’m thinking the Nikon)…. but also and more importantly what 3D 360 cameras are there…. I know theres the large expensive GO Pro rig, Nokia have there pricey number… Then there’s the far cheaper Vuse which is available for pre order but the res sounds too low…