LENS was founded in Sydney by Yan Chen and Travis Rice, Americans with backgrounds in Hollywood visual effects, technology, motion picture production, and experimental fine arts. In working with cutting edge artists, Rice kept returning to visualizations of the future from science fiction, which came together as the VR world emerged. Chen, fresh off running the digital pipeline for “Happy Feet 2,” had created a video streaming platform for a video-on-demand company in Australia. The core thesis for the new company LENS was the coming of a new format for film consumption – immersive VR cinema.
In 18 months since founding, they have built a streaming infrastructure and VR distribution platform supported by three core pillars:
▪ TORII: Proprietary video encoding for digital content (TV, mobile, VR, AR) that provides high resolution streaming at double the speed and a quarter of the cost of industry leaders.
▪ LENS: VR Streaming platform supporting live video, DRM, advertising, custom portals and a payment gateway on all existing VR devices. Scalable, White-label and AR ready. LENS Immersive is an online streaming content delivery system, specific and unique to virtual reality hardware, including, but not limited to, Sony Playstation VR, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard VR.
▪ PIONEER AR/VR Studio: Executive production, development and acquisition of new format, AR and VRPlus content.
They hope to increase resolution to 8K in the near
future. At present, they have a 16-20 month lead in the distribution of VR in resolution and price. They are in search of mainstream studio and content library customers with VR or other high resolution content to distribute utilizing the platform “white-label” basis to launch their own VR and/or other high-resolution content stores and networks. To illustrate their vision of high-resolution VR cinema, they have launched their own content studio and have produced the first episode of a proposed VR series called “Remember”.
Global vision includes Canada
Through one of its seed-stage investors based in Canada, LENS located its development team in Waterloo, Ontario, headed by Canadian David Fedirchuk, who also leads the company’s international business development effort. They have found Waterloo to be a strong center for engineering and R&D talent. To capitalize on the fast-growing Chinese VR market, LENS is establishing a joint venture in China as part of the company’s Series A investment strategy. Having teams located in different time zones across the globe also enables 24-hour operations to maximize efficiency.
The team believes that much of the VR content in the market is still in the “test phase.” LENS is focused on creating content that people come back to on a regular basis, just like television. To get the level of viewer involvement, LENS is developing a hybrid VR/cinematic content form they call VR-plus that incorporates techniques from the decades of cinema like soft focus, close-ups, editing, and other things that are difficult to achieve in the VR paradigms that have emerged to date. During production, they shoot both 360-degree and conventional cameras and blend them in post-production. Other camera formats can also be integrated, including stereoscopic 180, and even smaller than 180. The finished VRPlus production delivers two pieces of marketable content – one is VR video, from which perhaps 80% of the content can be formatted in traditional 16×9 rectangular media and distributed through conventional channels.
Theirs is a very different content vision, then, focusing on “cinematic VR” or “immersive content” rather than either 360 video or VR game-type content. They mix live action content shot with actors on location and sets with computer graphics and visual effects type imagery. The live action is captured with a range of cameras, including conventional digital high-res, 360 spherical, 180 stereoscopic, and even less. This minimizes the amount of stitching in post-production. They wind up with a processed 360 VR version, as well as a 16×9 linear show that includes extracted shots from the 360 segments.
This hybrid approach is needed until VR consumption catches up with VR demand, which is fueled by the need to sell headsets. “We are trying to build towards that crossover point where VR and traditional format television start to have some kind of axis that they are both operating on,” he said. “We want to bring what happens in television and film into the VR space.”
Partnerships and Future Needs
LENS’s entry into China has stimulated a series of meetings with many technology partners. They are in conversations with major technology partners about a set top box and some TV manufacturers and mobile phone manufacturers about supporting the TORII codec and LENS platform. They’ve had meetings with China-based casinos, who actually run a form of televised e-Sports for various forms of casino gambling.
On the technical side, LENS is focused on its own IP, which is central to its business and growth. Given their focus, they do see a need for a high end stereoscopic 180 or 360 camera at the level of a RED camera, which is dependent upon the evolution of sensor technology, but this is not a focus for their company. Growth will ramp up following Series A with new hires in Waterloo, Sydney and China and a focus on sales and business development. They have no plans to expand to Silicon Valley. They feel that the center of gravity in VR is China.