Sky announces big push into virtual reality, launches Sky VR Studio

Live VR filming is also in the pipeline

Sky has revealed that it has started making some of its programming in virtual reality, teasing that we will see up to 20 pieces of VR content this year.

The first bits of VR filming will be released by Sky on Friday and feature a pits-eye view of Formula 1 testing in Barcelona, just in time for the start of the season.

Sky has been looking into virtual reality for some time now. It invested in Jaunt VR back in September of last year and has been filming shots in VR since. The most famous of which was behind-the-scenes footage of The Hobbit which was shown at the film's premiere last year.

Sky is now taking its VR commitment further with a dedicated virtual reality production unit, called Sky VR Studio and headed up by executive producer Neil Graham.

Pits-eye view

Techradar was given early access to Sky's first batch of VR clips on a Samsung Gear VR and it's impressive. Sky isn't opting for static VR shots, but actually offering movement. Some of what was filmed was taken by a journalist walking around the pit area, getting close to the car action, other shots were on the car itself.

It's a strange, exhilarating feeling being plonked on the top of a F1 car as it is going full-speed around the track - it takes a few minutes to get used to but is really immersive.

Sky VR

Another piece we saw was a lot more grounded - it showed off how virtual reality can bring you closer to places you may not actually want to be, but should experience them.

We found ourselves in the middle of the jungle camp in Calais, watching a Sky News report that focused on migrants trying to live in the squalor. It was impactful, adding an extra depth to the news clip.

Interestingly, none of the footage was shot in first person. You are close to the action but not the action itself.

Sky's VR Jaunt

Speaking at the launch, Neil Graham, executive producer, Sky VR, explained that because of Sky's investment in Jaunt, it meant he had early access to VR cameras and this lead to the first VR piece, which was filmed in New Zealand.

"When we got the prototype camera, I quickly spoke to Warners and everyone involved and we quickly managed to experiment with filming a documentary on The Hobbit," said Graham.

Sky VR

"We had an opportunity where we could show the film a week later at the premiere of the final Hobbit movie.

"Seeing Andy Serkis and Peter Jackson put on the headsets was fantastic. It was at this point where we knew we needed to explore this area."

Sky VR Studios

With the proliferation of the camera technology and the headsets now available, it meant that Sky had reason to invest in a proper production unit with internal and external people.

One of those who have been brought in, is director Richard Nockles who is so dedicated to virtual reality that he has even shot the birth of his second child in VR.

Nockles is already a VR veteran, filming in the medium for the past six years, and is the in-house director for Surround Vision in London.

"Richard will be joining as VR creative director which means we can create new content for VR," explained Graham.

"Sky is uniquely placed and we are always been looking at new ways to get content out there - we have access to movies, TV and sport, and we need to populate VR with mind-blowing content.

"We have set up Sky VR Studio and have resources on post-production. We are training people up and have four dedicated VR operators - we will compete and work with the major players."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Content Team Lead

Marc (Twitter, Google+) is the content team lead for Future Technology, where he is in charge of a 14-strong team of journalists who write many of the wonderful stories that end up on TechRadar, T3.com and T3 magazine. Prior to this he was deputy editor of TechRadar, had a 10-month stint editing a weekly iPad magazine, written film reviews for a whole host of publications and has been an integral part of many magazines that are no longer with us.