For filmmakers and game designers, virtual reality technology has created a quirky playground of the imagination where characters can actually run into themselves at a bar, and where viewers’ eyebrows can be made invisible to widen their views of the sky.
Meanwhile, more practical folk are creating the technical tools that make it easier for dreamy non-programmers to bring their visions to life. And they’re building the publishing infrastructure to make creative VR videos available to viewers around the world.
One of those behind-the-scenes infrastructure companies, Visbit, announced this week that it has expanded the reach of its VR video publishing service, in part by integrating it with San Francisco-based video game creation platform Unity. With its editing, art, and design tools, Unity has become a home for many creators of VR videos.
Sunnyvale, CA-based Visbit has also acquired the ability to extend its VR video streaming capabilities to two additional VR headsets, Google Daydream View and Cardboard for iOS. The startup already serves Samsung Gear VR and Cardboard for Android headsets.
In addition, Visbit is offering a new Web player that VR video creators can add to their websites so they can show off their work there. The Visbit system works with most major desktop and mobile browsers, the company says. VR artists can also create mobile apps to stream their videos hosted by Visbit.
Visbit has raised $3.6 million in seed financing from investors including San Francisco-based Presence Capital; Beijing-based ZhenFund; Colopl VR Fund, a venture investment firm in Tokyo; Palo Alto, CA-based Amino Capital; and Hong Kong-based Eversunny Limited.
Founded in 2015, Visbit set out to solve a problem that CEO and co-founder Changyin Zhou says is still stifling the growth of the virtual reality field. VR artists, advertisers, and others are creating high-quality videos with advanced VR cameras, but those data-rich productions can overwhelm the capacity of mobile devices and their Wi-Fi or LTE connections. This can result in incomplete, pixellated images. Also, as VR headset wearers turn their heads in a virtual landscape, there may be a time lag before they see the new vista they turned toward.
By late 2016, Zhou and his co-founder Elaine Lu were testing a solution. Visbit selectively whittles down the amount of data it sends to a mobile device at any one moment, by reducing the resolution of the virtual spaces in the periphery of the viewer’s gaze. But it sends a high-resolution image of the space in the viewer’s direct field of view, where low-res fuzziness would be noticed.
Visbit says such tactics make it possible for Visbit to stream 360-degree VR videos with at least 4K resolution and little lag time—or latency, as it’s called in the field. The company, which had been testing its services in a closed beta, has now opened up to sell subscriptions to its software suite. It’s free for limited use to people who want to try it out; professionals can choose among higher paid tiers for subscribers. Users upload their VR videos to Visbit, which processes them for streaming and hosts them on company servers.
Zhou says Facebook has similar technology for its own VR activities, but Visbit is like a telecommunications utility, open to all users.
In addition to making it easier for VR video creators to distribute their work across multiple formats, Visbit provides subscribers with analytics so they can track factors such as the number of times a work has been viewed. That feedback, along with Visbit’s ready-made distribution channels, could stimulate the growth of the VR industry, Zhou says.
The startup’s next goals include extending its publishing capacity to high-end headsets such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Visbit might develop a mechanism at some point to allow its subscribers to collect payments from viewers of their videos, Zhou says. But building out the publishing platform is the current priority.
“We focus on the core delivery first,” Zhou says.
Photo courtesy of Visbit.