BBC reveals IllumiRoom style immersive video tech

The BBC has been working on its own version of Microsoft's IllumiRoom technology, a seven year project that creates immersive viewing by projecting wide-angle content around a central display. The technology, which the BBC describes as "surround video", has been simmering in the broadcaster's R&D labs since 2006, division director Alia Sheikh says, and in fact has already been used to film a live-action movie.

Just as Microsoft fashioned a dual-recording camcorder that can simultaneously capture a regular shot for the central screen, and a wide field-of-view counterpart to project around the TV, the BBC created a similar rig using a huge fish-eye lens. That secondary content is projected backward from the viewer, reflected off a curved mirror, and onto the walls and ceiling.

"We already know the human eye has much better vision in the center of your focal view, for things like detail, and colors, and shapes," Sheikh explained of the concept behind the system, "and in your periphery you're much more concerned with things like movement."

However, while Microsoft's IllumiRoom research uses Kinect to interact with objects in the room, creating a digital 3D map of furniture and then animating it to match on-screen video or gaming, the BBC's system is a little less advanced. The projection system the BBC relies upon makes no differentiation about the surface it projects onto, and there's no real-time processing taking place.

That fits in more with the BBC's primary purpose of its unnamed system: for more immersive multimedia consumption, rather than something interactive like games. Nonetheless, the team has found that – with some careful planning of shots – it's possible to create a far more interesting viewing experience that's arguably less gimmicky than 3D.

For instant, while filming the 2011 movie Broken, they discovered that the "surround video" was much more successful when characters were running toward the audience, with the camera tracking back, rather than when following them.

More recently, an animated short called Kill Mode has been created to demonstrate the BBC tech, which will be shown off at the Sci-Fi London Festival this coming weekend. There's no talk of commercializing the system at this stage, however.