Sky Worlds: the (next-)best way to see football – and more
About SKY Immersive
Sky UK has a long track record in pioneering immersive services. Already in 2016, it launched Sky VR, one of the first applications and services of its kind. Sky VR included VR360 content, adventure games like Britannia VR as well of volumetric captures with icons like David Attenborough and world boxing champion Anthony Joshua.
Live, High-Value Content
Well before the Corona pandemic struck, Sky had realised that the best way for fans to experience sports – if they can’t attend in person – is to still make them feel like they are present. Present in the stands, among other fans, and with friends. In the form of a high-quality, immersive, and social VR experience. Sky issued an RFP for Transcoding and DRM for Live, High-Value Content in May 2019. Sky received several proposals and Tiledmedia won the order after a thorough evaluation. Next, Tiledmedia integrated ClearVR with Sky’s VR delivery chain, working with Sky’s application partner LiveLike VR / Cosm. The first end-to-end tests with Premier League football happened a few months later.
Following initial testing, Sky Worlds launched on the Oculus Store early November 2020, slightly delayed by COVID-19 which halted football and VR production. The first match was Leicester City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers. Fans could choose from 4 camera positions around the pitch with immediate camera switches. The experience immediately received great user reviews in the Oculus Store and on Twitter.
Right from the start, Sky’s goal was to make the VR experience social. Sky Worlds launched Watch Zones for co-viewing after a few matches. The Watch Zones feature allows up to 4 people to enjoy a game together, while chatting about the match using a low-latency voice connection.
With production becoming “business as usual”, it became straightforward to add other sports. Sky added coverage of the Vitality Netball Superleague end of April ’21, and more sports will follow.
To ensure a truly social experience without spoilers, Sky Worlds added user sync after the first few games. With user sync, friends can cheer and be disappointed together, as they see the exact same events at the exact same moment.
In spring 2021, we added seamless camera switching with continuous audio. In addition to the swift camera switching, it also eliminated buffering. After the user chooses a new camera, the “old” camera keeps playing for a short moment while the new feed is retrieved by the app. The switch then happens quickly, completely frame-accurate, while the audio switches over without the user hearing even a single drop or hiccup.
At the same time, we introduced smooth catch-up to make the user sync even more seamless. Smooth sync allows the app to recover from short buffering moments by slightly adjusting play-back speed, without the user ever noticing.
Mosaic for Even More User Choice
Sky Worlds launched a new feature called ‘Mosaic’ in Summer ’21, first using it with the exciting Extreme-E rally sport. Mosaic gives viewers instant access to many camera positions in their headset. In the case of Extreme-E, users are seated inside a spacious world map, with a large TV screen and 4 smaller screens to both sides of it. Extreme-E fans can choose to see any of those 8 feeds on the large screen, with instant switching. The offering includes all on-board cameras and the broadcast feed, where all these feeds play live as thumbnails. Users also get the broadcast audio signal, with expert commentary.
The same Mosaic concept is used for The Hundred, a colourful, new Cricket format played on summer nights. In this case, users don’t sit in a static virtual environment – rather, they get an immersive, UHD view of the grounds with the Jumbotron and Mosaic front and centre. Again, the user can select which of the feeds they want to see large, while listening to the broadcast commentary. The broadcast feed, or one of the special cameras, such as a stump cam or a helmet cam, all while virtually sitting in the stands. While it’s obviously best experienced in a headset, this YouTube video provides an impression of the experience.
Starting with Football season 21-22, Sky is offering the same format also for football matches. An Ultra-High Definition (UHD) camera records the entire pitch, and users can watch the game unfold beneath them from the stands, and in front of them on the Jumbotron. Still with that broadcast audio and again with multiple cameras to choose from. Fans can also move the Jumbotron around, or turn it off altogether.
Always Something to Enjoy
To make the Sky Worlds app relevant all day, every day, Sky made its popular Sports Channels available on a giant virtual TV set in an (also virtual) lounge. App users can choose from 11 Sports TV channels, dedicated to the English Premier League, Golf, Rugby, Cricket, NFL, and more. The 12-channel line-up is rounded out by Sky Arts.
The Sports Channels obviously represent high-value content as well, and they follow the same secure publication path as the live football matches.
This includes secure contribution to ClearVR Cloud, which adds DRM protection and publishes the streams to the CDN for viewing in the app.
Users can watch these sports channels together using the same Watch Zone feature that is available during live football matches.
Monday Night Movie Night
Every Monday night, Sky Worlds offers a movie in a virtual cinema environment. Like a real cinema, movies (often Sky Originals) start at a scheduled hour. Similar to the live matches and the TV channels, users can co-view in a Watch Zone. Sky Worlds Movie Night relies on scheduled, synchronised play-out of the pre-encoded, DRM-protected content. ClearVR Cloud adds the DRM, and the ClearVR SDK enables scheduling the content play-out and keeping users in sync. After processing the movie, ClearVR Cloud stores the content on Sky’s CDN. Sky can now schedule play-out as often as desired by simply adding an item to the user interface and serving a start time-aware manifest file.
Sky Worlds benefits from the following ClearVR Features:
- Efficient delivery of high-resolution VR180, live and on-demand
- Highly scalable live distribution of viewport-dependent (tiled) VR180 and VR360; compatible with existing CDNs; no need for per-user processing
- ClearVR Cloud transcoding for multiple parallel live cameras
- Immediate and seamless VR camera switching during live matches
- Continuous audio and video during camera switches
- End-to-end protection of all content in Sky Worlds (VR180 and 12 Sports TV channels; live and on-demand)
- Single SDK for all video playback, live and on-demand, VR and rectilinear
- Global Sync with seamless catch-up powers Watch Zones
- ClearVR player robust to temporary network glitches
Here is a concise overview of Tiledmedia’s deliverables for Sky Worlds:
- ClearVR SDK
- Unity SDK for integration with Sky Worlds Oculus App, jointly developed by Sky and Cosm
- SDK handles all video playback in Sky Worlds: live and on-demand; VR and rectilinear TV feeds, VR and Mosaic
- SDK handles camera sync and global user sync
- ClearVR Cloud
- Tiled transcoding for 4 tiled broadcast-grade VR180 cameras, synchronised
- Tiled transcoding of VR180 match highlights for on-demand viewing
- Transcoding of Mosaic and VR for decoding by a single decoder, with synchronised VR and broadcast camera feeds
- Adding DRM for live and on-demand content
- ClearVR Cockpit
- Managing ClearVR Cloud transcoders during live matches
- Managing tiled transcoding of on-demand match highlight clips
- Contribution and Distribution Integration
- Secure contribution of camera feeds from Sky’s Master Control Room (MCR) using SRT
- Secure contribution of linear TV channels directly from Sky’s AWS cloud edges
- Egress of transcoded feeds to Sky’s AWS CloudFront and Akamai distribution infrastructure
- End-to-end Security
- DRM-protection of all content, live and on-demand
- Secure, encrypted contribution from Sky’s Master Control Room to ClearVR Cloud
- Integration of Widevine-based DRM with Sky’s authentication systems
- Project Support
- Tiledmedia is an integral part of the project team that works on expanding, enhancing, and improving Sky Worlds with exciting new features and content.
If you are interested in more information, please contact us.
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