NextVR’s eponymous VR video service never fully took off with users, despite offering 360-degree video access to select concerts and sporting events, including NBA games, WWE wrestling matches, and NHL highlights. But Apple apparently saw value in the company, and following weeks of speculation confirmed today (via Bloomberg) that it has acquired NextVR for purposes unknown.
Based in Newport Beach, California, NextVR was an hour south of Los Angeles, where many of Apple’s TV+ operations are located. While Apple isn’t confirming the specific reasons for the deal, it’s quite likely that the NextVR team will become involved with future TV+ initiatives, enabling Apple to expand the breadth and/or literal depth of its video offerings. Apple TV+ currently offers only 2D videos, and no sporting or other live programming, though the company has been working on a mixed reality headset with an AR focus.
Mixed reality streaming has become increasingly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering users at home the opportunity to participate in live events that they previously might have attended in person. Many of NextVR’s streams came from sporting events that have been postponed or canceled due to coronavirus concerns, but the technology will no doubt be useful when future events are rescheduled — with or without social distancing in place.
NextVR’s platform used VR to offer front row access to live events, relying on 360-degree cameras to let users move around a small area of 3D space with six degrees of freedom. While using a VR headset, the feeling of “presence” at the events distinguished the company’s panoramic, stereoscopic 3D streams from conventional 2D video, though the company also offered 2D smartphone access to get its viewership numbers up. NextVR also planned to support AR devices, but ultimately didn’t launch its service for any AR platforms.
The company was reportedly struggling in 2019 as a funding round fell through, well before the novel coronavirus led to the cancellation of sporting events that it was scheduled to cover live. One report in April suggested that Apple might value it in the $100 million range, though it’s unclear how much of NextVR is being acquired beyond its personnel and IP such as camera and video upscaling technologies. NextVR’s online schedule of upcoming events ended in April, with various live 3D VR NBA games listed as canceled or “to be determined,” and nothing listed for May 2020 or thereafter. As of today, the company’s website now says only that it’s “heading in a new direction,” with no further details on its plans.