Virtual reality (VR) is not only one of the industry’s hottest buzzwords, but the technology promises to drive the future of immersive experiences. Without question, a lot of recent buzz has focused on the development and deployment of head-mounted displays (HMDs).
While that attention is well deserved, the ultimate key to unlocking the potential of next-generation immersive entertainment may require looking beyond the HMD to enable a more “social” immersive experience.
We caught up with Danny Vossen, Director of Strategy, Business Development and Marketing for Connected Home at Technicolor, to discuss the current state of the market, near-term opportunities and why collaboration and synchronization are essential to architecting the future.
Vossen: Sure. The fact that HMDs are not yet widely available and you have to put a significant amount of money on the table – along with the fact that wearing them isolates you from your environment – opens the door to other VR use cases. The HMD experience might be okay for things like gaming experiences, but it may be less so when watching entertainment content like a movie or sports game. This is something you typically watch with your family and friends.
At Technicolor, we strongly believe in social interactions, where people in a home environment – like in a living room – still see each other and interact with each other while enjoying immersive experiences. This social dimension of immersive experiences can also be explored with people in different geographic locations.
Vossen: If we are thinking about the use case for video or entertainment content that could be enjoyed by the whole family, you could have someone who is watching through an HMD while the rest of the family is able to view content from a variety of perspectives, including the eyes of the person wearing the HMD, over the TV set.
Different members of the family could direct the HMD user by pointing out an important item that the HMD user is not paying attention to. This could add an important dimension to experiencing a piece of content with the family is watching on the TV from the sofa as well. They can talk with each other in the meantime and they can point to look in that direction.
Later on one can imagine adding augmented reality (AR) elements in these use cases as well. For example, augmented 3D elements can come out of the TV set to enhance that experience for the whole family. That is [only] one use case.
But it can go beyond pure entertainment content: think about learning with immersive elements and collaboration tools. If you want to take a course at home, you could create some kind of virtual collaboration room in which you can have truly meaningful interactions with fellow students.
Another use case that I like very much revolves around exploring your next family holiday location together. This cannot be done if there is only one person watching through an HMD, but if you can turn on a television set and watch 360-degree videos to evaluate potential locations, a shared immersive environment could be an exciting way to choose where you want to go.
Vossen: It can be a set-top-box, but there is a role to play with the gateway as well.
The key function that needs to be taken care of with CPE is the flawless synchronization of all these experiences.
If you have people watching on multiple devices – an HMD, a TV, a tablet, or even something that is projected on the wall – this actually has to be completely in sync to get a good user experience. Imagine for example that you are using the audio stream of the television sets to be heard by all of the people wearing the HMDs. If there is a disconnect, it can take people off the common immersive experience.
Networks are critical as well. Obviously when you are talking about things like latency and bandwidth requirements, they have to be handled either in the home or in the network. There has to be a very good synchronization and communication between what happens in the network and what happens in the home.
The gateway and the set-top box – mainly the gateway – will play a crucial role in the caching strategy. How this performs will determine the quality for how things render and execute the compute activities that must take place at a very local level where latency can be a very big issue. The key issue is synchronization and having the needed speed, computing power, and graphics power in the home to support all of these use cases.
Vossen: The network traffic will obviously increase big time, but we can manage this in an intelligent way. Things, for example, can be cached locally, stored locally, buffered locally in order to make sure that the infrastructure can handle these kinds of use cases.
I think bandwidth, in the longer term, will not be a big issue. I think also compression technology will mature more and standards will surface. This will help the video stream being delivered to the home. But the in-home network is extremely very important – and the Wi-Fi in the home will have to perform at much higher levels. I think it is something we will need to monitor very closely.
Technicolor is working very heavily to get Wi-Fi into the home to perform at the highest possible levels.
Vossen: At IBC, we are demonstrating how one of our existing set-top boxes can be converted to support immersive experiences. This is a prototype that we have developed, and it supports the first use case I described. It allows families to watch immersive content together in the home environment – so someone is watching on the Gear VR, other people can follow it on the TV set and/or a tablet. This is an early proof of concept of what we see as the evolution of this box to support immersive media.
Together with partners – as well as with our internal development resources – we are adding additional use cases that leverage the skills, talents and resources of Technicolor Production Services, Connected Home, and our Technology groups.
Further[more], Technicolor is reaching out to our industry partners to join our various divisions in opening the Technicolor Experience Center in the US, which was announced in August.
This will actually be a pretty good space to start collaborating; to get products through the development phases so that they are ready for market as quickly as possible.
The Technicolor Experience Center will also be a place for us to start experiencing and showcasing the latest technologies and start building processes, relationships, technologies and content. This is very much a place where we are inviting partners to collaborate with us to see what is possible today and what will be possible in the future when it comes to immersive experiences.