How VR Could Transform TV News

Fake news or just virtual?

Key Takeaways

  • The line between news and reality could blur with the use of VR sets for TV shows. 
  • A design firm has released a digital news studio that lets guests visit the set virtually as avatars. 
  • Softroom developed the concept with help from renowned video game company Epic Games.
Concept images for The News Pavilion.


TV news programs increasingly are using video conferencing to host guests, and now you could be seeing virtual visitors on your favorite show. 

Design consultancy firm Softroom has designed a virtual reality (VR) news studio intended to blur the boundaries of the traditional studio. The News Pavilion uses a booth where presenters and guests can gather around a table in VR. The software could blur the line between news and gaming, experts say. 

"People are used to using VR for entertainment and not to gather information, especially breaking news," Kathleen M. Ryan, a journalism professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, told Lifewire in an email interview. 

Game Show?

The virtual news studio developed by Softroom looks like a video game, and there’s a reason for that. The company says it developed the concept with help from renowned video game company Epic Games

The News Pavilion contains a news booth area, where the presenter can physically sit at a desk. A pavilion with video walls surrounds the studio so that cameras can film the newsreaders in live time, and the video output is displayed live onto the LED walls. Remote guests can be digitally inserted onto the set. 

"I believe that VR TV studios like this can be good for journalism as they can make it easier for journalists and other broadcasters to explain and illustrate complex topics more clearly and intuitively," Nick Jushchyshyn, the program director for VR and immersive media at Drexel University, told Lifewire in an email interview. 

The Weather Channel, for example, uses this same technology to illustrate the effects of a storm surge or tornado winds, Jushchyshyn pointed out. 

"An average person may not intuitively picture in their minds what a 10-foot high surge of dirty seawater would look like and do in their neighborhood by just hearing the words, but through the use of a VR TV studio, the event can be shown live and interactively in the safety of the studio, without even sending a crew into a storm," he added. 

Virtual TV studios are likely to grow in popularity, Jushchyshyn said. Until a few years ago, this technology was so expensive that it was only available to high-end professional broadcast studios, but the software and hardware costs have come down to the level where corporate, academic, and even personal video studios can use it.

"In general, after a greenscreen studio has been put in place and VR sets are in use, it’s faster and less expensive to 'build' and use new studio sets and props digitally than in the real world," he added. 

Choose Your Own News Show

Virtual reality technology could open new ways for viewers to experience the news, Ryan said. For example, you could see a story from multiple angles by wandering behind the desk or observing alongside the weather person. Viewers also could decide to watch stories in a different order, or get a chance to "anchor" and "produce" a newscast themselves.

Concept image for The News Pavilion.


"However, it’s not enough to do technology simply because we can—we should figure out if the technology advances the story or the audiences’ understanding and experience," she added.

Ryan has done research showing that augmented reality and immersive online technology offer viewers more information than VR. 

"For our respondents, VR is more like a game—something that’s fun to experience but not really very good at transmitting information," Ryan said. "While the technology could be a great add-on to already-produced news’s unlikely to supplant the evening newscast. It’s been too closely tied to gaming." 

Immersive technology will fundamentally change journalism, predicted DJ Smith, co-founder of the virtual reality company The Glimpse Group, in an email interview with Lifewire. 

"Reporters have always had the ability to frame a picture in a way that best suits their storylines," he added. "The classic example is a reporter can make a crowd of people look very large or very small, and all that matters is how far away the camera is when the picture is taken. Integrating VR into a studio is much better because the reporting is more accurate and compelling."

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