HBO gets into VR with investment in OTOY

HBO is getting into virtual reality, too. Amid the ongoing craze for VR videos, which has seen streaming rivals like Netflix and Hulu rolling out their own VR content, HBO and Discovery announced this morning they’ve taken an equity stake in a company called OTOY, which specializes in rendering complex 3D environments using cloud-based servers. Or, as OTOY claims, the investment will help it to produce “original holographic content” for its new stakeholders.

Wait, holographic content? Well, the company is more likely here referring to its technology that allows for the development of real-time, lifelike 3D environments. CEO Jules Urbach previously talked about building a Star Trek-like holodeck experience – meaning a real-time “holographic” environment that can change and shift with the way the person is looking, that’s both pre-rendered and streaming.

For example, while some content could be pre-rendered and saved to a device, like the background in a scene, other changes could be made on cloud servers then streamed to users. This would give the virtual environment a more life-like feel.

OTOY to date has been working to create technology that speeds up the rendering process when it comes to creating VR and AR video, making this possible. The company claims its GPU-based renderer is faster than traditional methods. In fact, OTOY previously said that its tech can speed up rendering time by anywhere from 10 to 40 times faster. That means scenes and environments can render in real-time, and the rendering can be handled by remote servers, including Amazon’s AWS. (A more detailed explanation is available here.)

OTOY says the new funds will be used to develop “new entertainment experiences” to consumers which will appear across TV, mobile, web, as well as emerging wearable technologies, including virtual and augmented reality.

Jon Stewart is already working with OTOY on new content for HBO, thanks to a previously announced four-year production deal. The deal sees Stewart working with OTOY to produce short-form digital content refreshed on HBO NOW several times throughout the day.

In addition, OTOY will also develop new AR and VR experiences for DiscoveryVR, the network’s VR platform available today on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

Though consumer interest in VR is relatively new, OTOY has been working in this space for years. TechCrunch first wrote about the company back in 2008, for example.

The company has a number of notable advisory board members, including Eric Schmidt (executive chairman of Google’s new parent company, Alphabet), Samuel J. Palmisano (former chairman, CEO and president of IBM), Ariel Emanuel (co-CEO, WME | IMG) and economist George Gilder. Major shareholders also include Autodesk and Yuri Milner.

Otoy’s valuation is more than $300 million, and the company has raised $101 million, according to VC Experts, as cited by The New York Times. HBO was the lead investor in the round, an extension of a 2014 financing that raised as much as $37 million, the report said.

“HBO prides itself on being at the forefront of entertainment, both in the exceptional content we produce, and in the ways we bring that content to consumers,” said Michael Lombardo, President, HBO Programming, in a release. “OTOY has a roadmap for the future of entertainment and technology. Their creativity and drive perfectly aligns with HBO’s. We couldn’t be more excited to invest in OTOY and to work together on original content and amazing experiences for years to come.”