Historic live VR broadcast of the 2017 Eclipse with CNN

When CNN approached us about streaming the 2017 Eclipse in live 360 / VR, we were initially a little skeptical. The nature of 360 video dictates that proximity to the camera of your subject is usually very important, and there isn’t much further away than the sun. Going live from 7 locations without Internet access was another significant challenge, and there would be many other challenges too.

Fortunately we were won over by the smarts of the team at CNN, who had a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve, understood the incredible challenges involved, and understood why our Mini EYE cameras, StitchBoxes and switching workflow might be perfect for the job.

Within 24 hours of our first call we were working together at our workshop in LA, to test a number of key challenges – remote control of exposure over satellite, the use of interlaced video, and some tricky signal processing issues. With those challenges solved, CNN went from concept to broadcast in under 4 weeks.

The scale of the broadcast for a live 360 event was unprecedented – 21 cameras in total, including twelve 360 cameras, twelve live stitching systems, 100 people in the field, on-air talent, picture-in-picture, and a mind-boggling 40 satellite links. There were also four live 360 car cameras, supplied by sponsor Volvo, going live in VR from inside a moving vehicle, 5 ‘corona’ cameras (tracking the sun with long lenses and filters), and if that wasn’t enough… a live 360 helicopter camera, going live in VR in flight, with a reporter.

The broadcast was a success for CNN and its client Volvo, with an unprecedented 5.7 million tuning in to the live VR stream, representing the most watched live VR experience in history. Viewers tuned in both on CNN properties (2.9 million starts) and Facebook (2.8 million).

Needless to say we are proud to have been involved, and excited at the possibilities of some of the challenges we solved. For example we can now confidently say that using our Mini EYE cameras, StitchBox™, and Blackmagic based switching workflow, it is possible to remotely control Mini EYE camera features such as exposure, white balance and shutter angle, over a satellite link via space.

Archive link to the broadcast (Facebook 4K 360)

If you have a technically challenging live 360 project, feel free to drop us a line.