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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.
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. This made camera switches are not only instant, 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.
The next innovation will launch shortly. It will give Sky Worlds users a completely new way to view Motor Sports, using rectilinear (“16×9 HD”) feeds in a unique VR experience. Tiledmedia will power this through a new ClearVR feature – it’s so new that we haven’t come up with a proper name for it yet :-). Stay tuned – we will update the use case when this is live.
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.
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:
Here is a concise overview of Tiledmedia’s deliverables for Sky Worlds: