Visbit just raised $3.2 million in seed funding with participation from Presence Capital, ZhenFund, Colopl Next, Amino Capital and Eversunny Limited. Changyin Zhou, CEO and co-founder of Visbit, told UploadVR the money will be invested to complete the closed beta of its patented Visbit View-Optimized Streaming (VVOS) technology.
Zhou said this technology is the first to stream and play near-zero latency 360-degree VR videos in 4K to 8K resolution over regular Wi-Fi and LTE for mobile – and eventually tethered VR headsets.
“As a fan of the movie The Matrix, I am a deep believer of the future of VR and have spent a decade studying and researching VR-related areas for my PhD in computational photography and computer graphics,” Zhou said. For VR streaming, “one fundamental problem is the huge data size, which poses tremendous challenges to processing, display and transmission. There was no practical, consumer-level solution to these problems even a few years ago due to hardware limitations.”
With the proliferation of mobile VR platforms like Google Cardboard and the new Daydream View, as well as Samsung Gear VR and others, Zhou believes that now is the right time for VR to go mainstream. The former Google senior research scientist partnered with former TangoMe marketing manager Elaine Lu to co-found Visbit in 2015.
“Increased mobility is a power driver for society’s advancement and VR transportation is the next level of mobility,” Zhou said. “We have set out to revolutionize visual technology. Specifically, we now focus on developing the most efficient way to deliver huge VR data.”
Lu told UploadVR that Visbit’s main goal is to solve a huge roadblock that’s preventing VR from becoming mainstream.
“With most consumers’ initial experiences of VR being 360-degree video content, many are walking away unimpressed due to the inability for today’s networks to deliver high-quality streaming experiences,” Lu said. “The lack of engagement from the end-user side could potentially discourage content creators. This problem is critical to the whole industry. With no comprehensive solutions heading to the market, we have set out to solve this problem before more devices enter the market and more consumers experience a negative first impression.”
To put things in perspective, Zhou uses a standard vision chart that can be found in any optometrist office. Today on existing mobile VR platforms, most streamed videos are delivered at 1080p, which is equal to 6 pixels per degree or a vision of 20/200, which is very blurry.
“If empowered by our view-optimized streaming technology, with nothing else changed, users can immediately view the same videos at a 4K to 8K level, which is equal to 15 pixels to 30 pixels per degree, comparable to a vision of 20/80 to 20/40,” Zhou said.
Zhou also compared viewing a 360-degree video in VR at 1080p to watching a 480p resolution VCD from the old days, while viewing 360 in 4K is like watching it at 720p.
“If viewing 360 in 6K to 8K, users can get viewing experiences comparable to watching 1080p to 4K in regular video,” Zhou concluded.
“4K is the minimum for a quality 360 VR experience,” Lu said. “Today, the majority of consumers are already used to 720p Netflix-grade level of video quality when it comes to video entertainment. If we can’t stream 360 VR video in a minimum 4K level of quality, VR videos as a type of entertainment won’t gain mainstream acceptance.”
Besides VR filmmaking, Lu said 4K is also critical to VR applications. Many of the business sectors that Visbit’s streaming service supports involve consumer decisions based on their viewing experience. Being able to stream at 4K is critical to their decision-making process.
Lu pointed to one of the company’s closed beta partners, Variable Labs, which is working with AAUW (American Association of University Women) to develop a virtual reality application to help train people on salary negotiation. How real the user feels in the simulation impacts the training effectiveness, and streaming also becomes necessary with more and more training videos being added to the app.
“Another beta partner, Cloudwave, is building a travel-related app that includes VR videos to help generate travel leads,” Lu said. “How appealing the 360-degree destination videos are can highly impact the consumer’s purchasing decision. Similar situations happen to many other business sectors such as healthcare, education, real estate, shopping, etc.”
Lu referenced another unnamed closed beta company, which previously had a 300MB app that required users to download the videos to watch. This severely impacted their user acquisition effectiveness. With Visbit’s streaming service in place, their app size was reduced to that of a typical mobile app. Lu hopes to see this change impact the company’s user acquisition once the updated app is released to the market.
That’s the type of difference Zhou believes consumers will experience next year when this platform launches. Currently, great VR content has to go through a long pipeline before it arrives in a consumer’s hand.
“It’s a barrel effect in the fact that the final user experience is determined by the worst part in the VR pipeline, which we see as the data transmission part,” Zhou said. “The launch of our service will greatly improve the 360 VR video watching experience for consumers. With higher resolution, less buffering and smoother rendering, you will finally be able to enjoy a sports game or a concert in VR and feel really present.”
Visbit’s technology is designed to be device-agnostic. Zhou said porting the solution from mobile to desktop VR, console VR or standalone VR shouldn’t be hard. The company has already solved the issues for the most challenging platform, mobile, which has limited computation power and battery.
“At the end of the day, we would like to make our service across all major platforms, no matter if it is owned by Facebook, Google, Valve or Apple, and also across all devices whether they are mobile, standalone, desktop or console,” Zhou said. “We believe this will offer great values to the industry: Publishers won’t have to keep different copies on the cloud; and consumers can enjoy the same great experience no matter where they go.”