Alphabet Inc. Brings VR Video Closer To Reality On YouTube

  • Alphabet Inc. announced that YouTube now supports spherical, 360-degree live video streaming and spatial audio.
  • Live 360-degree video streaming brings together two developments of strategic importance - live video streaming and VR.
  • Live 360-degree video streaming is a "gateway drug" between video and the new era of immersive virtual reality.

Alphabet Inc-A (NASDAQ:GOOGL) announced that its massively popular YouTube video sharing service now supports spherical, 360-degree live video streaming. After making support for spherical video available in YouTube in March 2015, the tech giant is now extending the possibility of full 360-degree immersion to live broadcasts. Alphabet is also introducing support for spatial audio in YouTube.

"Whether it’s a sporting event or a concert or even a family gathering, all of us have had the feeling of wanting to be somewhere we couldn’t," said Neal Mohan, Chief Product Officer for YouTube. "But these days, virtual reality and 360-degree video can help get you one step closer to actually being at those places and in those moments. Today, we’re taking immersive video even further with 360-degree live streaming on YouTube."

Spherical 360-degree video is a more interactive form of video, halfway between traditional video and Virtual Reality (VR). Spherical videos, which allows viewers to look around in a video, just like in real life, can be produced by combining multiple video cameras or using special spherical video cameras able to capture 360-degree video. If the video is being broadcast live, the impression of "being there" can be quite powerful, especially when coupled with spatial audio - directional audio that fades with distance, just like real life sound.

"Starting today, we’re also launching spatial audio for on-demand YouTube videos," added Mohan. "Just as watching a concert in 360 degrees can give you an unmatched immersive experience, spatial audio allows you to listen along as you do in real life, where depth, distance and intensity all play a role."

Support for live 360-degree video streaming can be seen as an initial move to bring together two ongoing developments that Alphabet considers of strategic importance - live video streaming and VR.

Concerning the first development, Alphabet is working on a new live streaming app called YouTube Connect, which will be available on both iOS and Android devices, to compete directly against Facebook Live and Periscope, the streaming video services of the company's competitors Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and (Twitter (NYSE:TWTR).

Concerning the second development, Alphabet is expected to release this year a new VR headset with new Android VR technology, which will be a successor to Cardboard - a simple, low cost, and surprisingly successful head mounted VR viewer, powered by any smartphone, with a stereoscopic display and on-board accelerometer.

But the company's ambition in the VR sector extends to high-end devices as well. According to credible rumors, the Internet giant is already working on future stand-alone VR headsets that don’t rely on a smartphone, computer or game console. The new developments show Alphabet’s growing interest in VR and indicate that the search giant intends to compete head to head with Facebook, which started shipping the much hyped $599 Oculus Rift headset in March.

Alphabet Inc. is also targeting Augmented Reality (AR) headsets like Google Glass. It seems plausible that new Alphabet devices would be capable of "mixed reality" AR applications, which fit perfectly in Alphabet's existing business strategy since life-like virtual ads delivered through next-generation interface devices could represent the future of advertising.

The Verge notes that live 360-degree video streaming is a "gateway drug" between what most people watch today and the immersive era of virtual reality that is just getting underway. Last week Facebook unveiled its plans for expanding live-streaming and its own design for a 360-degree camera. While Facebook doesn't support the combination of live and 360-degree yet, both companies are developing completely immersive entertainment that transports the viewer to another place or another world.

TechCrunch notes that Alphabet is opening up YouTube's “Live API” to camera manufacturers and independent developers. Video creators without own equipment will be able to experiment and produce content at YouTube Spaces in major cities worldwide.

"What excites me most about 360-degree storytelling is that it lets us open up the world's experiences to everyone," concluded Mohan. "What were once limited experiences are now available to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Are you ready to never miss a moment again?"

It appears that both Alphabet and Facebook are betting on and racing toward the intersection of live video, VR, and AR for immersive entertainment. The competition between the two tech giants is likely to result in waves and fast developments. The market will be big enough for many competitors, which is reassuring for investors in both Alphabet and Facebook.

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