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Apple just bought a VR firm – here’s what it could do with it

After months of rumours and speculation, Apple has finally confirmed that it has completed its acquisition of NextVR.

The tech giant is being predictably tight-lipped about how it plans to operate and integrate its latest acquisition, stating only that “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”

But we do know that NextVR has a lot of experience in the field of live events and upscaling video streams. Taking this into account – along with the fact that Apple is heavily rumoured to be working on a mixed reality headset – here’s what we might see from the company in the not-too distant future…

A VR upgrade to Apple TV Plus

Even though Apple has been completely shtum on how it plans to use the VR tech, a lot of people (mainly nerdy journalist types) are speculating that the company could be on the brink of merging VR with its current TV offering.

Related: Everything we know about the Apple VR headset

NextVR relied on a stereoscopic 360° special camera rig to record live 3D events, so presumably Apple won’t be able to retroactively turn its shows into VR experiences. And at the time of writing, film and TV shoots have completely stopped because of Covid-19 distancing rules.

But this pause in filming does mean that Apple has plenty of time to consider whether or not its practical to shoot an entire series in VR. The company could choose to film future episodes on the stereoscopic cameras, then create an app that would allow users to link their subscriptions with a VR headset.

It’s a little early to call it (and that camera set-up is both costly and bulky for studio filming) but who knows, we might one day be treated to 3D versions of Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon on The Morning Show.

Immersive live viewings with 6DoF

Back in early 2018, NextVR announced that it was going to make its sporting live events feel even more realistic by using a new kind of tech. This tech, called Six Degrees of Freedom, allows viewers to shift their perspective in a VR experience and move their line of sight. Basically, you can move forward and backwards, side-to-side, and up and down. It’s a small tweak, but it makes the whole experience feel a little more immersive.

Unfortunately, only a few events were filmed using the new tech before business started to go downhill for NextVR. And Apple hasn’t confirmed if its going to take up the mantle and continue with the tradition of streaming live sports in VR.

Related: Best VR headset 2020

However, given that it might be a while before fans are allowed to gather in crowds in a stadium – and a lot of us are desperate for that live experience – it makes sense for Apple to provide some kind of alternative in the form of a VR experience. This might not even be limited to sporting events, but could also cover music and theatre too.

Previously, NextVR had a deal with the NBA which allowed the company to create a live VR stream of the basketball games. But Apple could take this in a bold new direction and cover a proper sport – like football.

Better pictures and stable image quality

The above is pure speculation (and a little bit of wishful thinking) but it seems fairly likely that Apple will take advantage of NextVR’s patented technology for upscaling video streams and stabilising VR experiences.

NextVR has over 40 patents, which may be the real reason behind Apple’s acquisition. Nestled among the patents relating to 3D recording and VR streaming are a handful of patents for upscaling images and stabilising movement.

This could mean that Apple is simply grabbing these ideas so it can use them in its own designs for a VR or AR headset. The company could even choose to hone in on just the visual upscaling technology and completely ignore our VR hopes and dreams.

However, this seems unlikely. Apple has been mulling over the prospects of AR and VR for a while, with the first rumours of an AR headset emerging in 2016. And Apple CEO Tim Cook has even gone on record to say that he’s excited at the prospects of AR.

So even if we don’t get the full blown VR recorded drama and live 3D sports streaming from Apple in the future, it wouldn’t be surprising if the company had plans to use the finer elements from these patents in an upcoming VR product.

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