Alexis Macklin is an Analyst with Greenlight Insights covering emerging technology trends at the intersection of VR AR, and the entertainment industry. Follow her: @Alexis_Macklin.

This year, VR video content is growing beyond big brand development, resembling the advancements made in 2016 by the gaming industry. Improvements in cameras and content creation tools are leading the way for further content development. A focus on spatial audio, growing industry recognition, and the coming releases of volumetric and low-cost VR camera solution could bring about much needed advancements.

RYOT's Artist of Skid Row will be featured at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

Growing Industry Recognition
VR is on the rise in the entertainment industry with nominations in top film awards and featured in top film festivals including Tribeca, Sundance, Cannes and the Oscars. The industry is still years off from producing full-length featured films and TV shows, but entertainment companies have started to invest in the medium.

The Tribeca Film Festival recently announced it expanded the VR section from a one-day exhibit to the full nine-day festival. Earlier this year, the Sundance Film Festival also add more VR content and, for the first time, added AR content.

The continued addition to major film festivals and awards validates VR entertainment companies investing in the space. Though this recognition will spur growth, entertainment companies and networks will need a valid distribution channel before full length featured films and TV shows are created. The reality is producing and funding 360-degree and VR entertainment content is more expensive and monetization strategies are still being developed.

Expansion of Spatial Audio
While 360-degree video and fully interactive VR entertainment content will continue to be perfected, audio has been the silent influencer of VR entertainment. Companies have begun populating the expo floor at the VRLA Expo 2017 that focus on optimizing spatial sound.

Featured films, documentaries and TV shows have long used sound as a story telling mechanism, using music to evoke emotion and sound effects to bring immersion.

VR can bring another layer of interaction with spatial audio. VR content developers can place sound to a precise location in a 360-degree experience. The audience can hear different volume of a sound based on the position of the headset. Industry leaders have long identified 3D spatial audio as an important part of VR video experiences and the industry will invest more in this feature this year.

This week alone Nokia as released a new spacial audio editor, and YouTube also announced spatial audio compatibility. Unity 2017 is expected to have more features specifically for cinematic VR, which could include spatial audio.

HypeVR's volumetric VR camera rig. (Photo by HypeVR)

HypeVR's volumetric VR camera rig. (Photo by HypeVR)

Diversity of Professional VR Cameras 
Before 2017, professional VR filmmakers could used Nokia Ozo, apply to use Google Jump or Jaunt, or create a custom rig with high-quality professional cameras. These solutions could cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars, which is a risk for professionals as 360-degree is not monetized. 360-degree cameras also didn't offer six-degrees-of-freedom, producing at most a stereoscopic sphere.

Insta360 announced in January at CES 2017 its first professional 360-degree camera, Pro. The cheapest professional 360-degree camera currently on the market at $3,499, is prepped for live-streaming with instant sharing to social media platforms. The 3D 360-degree camera shoots at 4K x 4K at 100 FPS, making it competitive to Nokia's Ozo at a fraction of the price. The camera is a compelling solution, but the best feature of VR immersion: six-degrees-of-freedom.

It is demonstrated how to edit a video shot by Facebook's Surround 360 x24 camera in Unity. (Photo by Facebook)

It is demonstrated how to edit a video shot by Facebook's Surround 360 x24 camera in Unity. (Photo by Facebook)

Recently, Facebook announced in partnership with OTOY two cameras: Surround 360 X24 and X6. These cameras brought volumetric video capture in once camera. Because the video captured is 3D, creators can put in 3D objects into the scene through a gaming engine such as Unity. This could bring a level of interactivity to realistic VR videos which has not been fully done before.

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VR entertainment and video content still has many improvements and advancements to come, but 2017 could be the biggest development year for the sector.