Starting today, Insta360 8K Live Software is available to broadcasters everywhere.
History was made at this year’s NFL Pro Bowl, the annual all-star football game. But rather than a record-breaking endzone run, it was a VR football experience that made this year’s game special.
A team from Verizon, Radiant Images and Flight School Studio pulled off the world’s first 8K 360-degree live broadcast of an NFL game. The feed was integrated into ESPN’s live broadcast and projected into a dome 200 miles away in Miami. To make the historic broadcast possible, the team used Verizon’s 5G network and two Insta360 Pro 2 360 live streaming cameras.
The other key piece of the workflow was the newly launched Insta360 8K Live software. After testing and refinement at the hands of teams like Radiant Images, this professional VR live streaming software is now officially available to broadcasters everywhere.
Using Insta360 8K Live, broadcasters can stitch and broadcast immersive video in 8K, or insert high-res, reframed video feeds into a traditional SDI broadcast in real time. The NFL broadcast was among the first applications of this VR live streaming software, demonstrating its groundbreaking potential at a time when COVID-19 has underlined the need for new ways to enjoy live events.
“What got us really excited about this project was all the applications that it’s going to inspire in the future. Along with immersive broadcast, the ability to take a 360 feed and reframe it live and plug those individual shots into a traditional live TV broadcast is huge,” said Michael Shabun, VP of Marketing and Business Development at Insta360. “Broadcasters are realizing what a game-changer it is to have a professional 360 cam as part of their live coverage.”
We sat down with Michael Mansouri, co-founder of Radiant Images, to learn more about how this team of innovators achieved this VR football experience. Read on to find out what their workflow entailed and how you can realize your own 8K VR live streaming project.
1. VR live streaming the game with a multi-cam setup
VR live streaming the Pro Bowl from Orlando to a dome in Miami over 200 miles away using 5G was a new challenge for Mansouri. “To us, it’s very challenging because no one has ever done this before, in this scale, in this kind of resolution, with this distance — and all on 5G,” Mansouri said.
The team decided to use two Insta360 Pro 2 360 live streaming cameras to film the game—one as a goal post cam and one mounted on the skycam.
“We needed a 360 live streaming camera that’s very, very small, lightweight, can stream high resolution, easily communicate back and forth, and was very reliable,” Mansouri said.
The Insta360 Pro 2 camera weighs only 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds), making it easy to mount in a variety of positions for unique angles and shots. This versatility was important because Pro 2 and ESPN’s traditional TV camera had to share the same skycam. For the entirety of the game, the Insta360 Pro 2 captured 360-degree footage in crystal-clear 8K.
2. Stitching 360 live streaming camera feeds with Insta360 8K Live
The biggest challenge with live broadcasting 360-degree footage is stitching the video feeds captured from multiple lenses together at full quality in real time.
With the new Insta360 8K Live software, six video streams from Pro 2’s six lenses can be stitched in real time in 8K quality. A dynamic stitching algorithm analyzes content in real time to optimize stitch quality and placement, ensuring the feeds are merged seamlessly. The 8K Live software is also ready to stitch together Insta360 Titan’s eight individual video feeds.
Insta360 8K Live outputs a 2D HDR VR live stream in 30 fps, using RTSP/RTMP/RTMPS protocols and H.265 HEVC codec. It also enables simultaneous recording during a live stream so you can save footage at full quality for future playback or post-processing.
To use the software, broadcasters simply connect Insta360 Pro 2 to a server PC with an Ethernet cable or router that supports Gigabit Ethernet transmission. During the Pro Bowl broadcast, the team connected the skycam-mounted Pro 2 with a Gigabit Ethernet cable, then converted it to fiber to connect it to their remote server PC about 1,000 feet away. The team’s server PC’s were also equipped with two RTX 2080 Ti graphics cards for optimum image processing.
Shabun explained one of the biggest challenges for Insta360 with this project was “developing a way to transmit and convert our signal into SDI, which is something that broadcasters demand. But our engineers worked hand-in hand with Radiant Images and other leading broadcast industry professionals to develop a workflow in time for the Pro Bowl.
Mansouri valued the close collaboration of Insta360’s team of engineers in helping to pull off the project. With the Insta360 8K Live software, two Blackmagic 8K Pro DeckLink cards and software to connect the dots, Pro 2’s signal was successfully converted into a standard SDI output for broadcasting.