Recently there was another great chance to experience live music in VR when NextVR and Live Nation sponsored Galactic, Robert Randolph and the Family Band and Con Brio.
There were many similarities to the Thievery Corporation show in December, but several differences as well. My thoughts below — if you saw it, I’m interested in your opinion.
First, it was a fantastic surprise to enter the experience and see the House of Blues in Boston, Massachusetts. This is a venue that I’ve attended dozens of times and holds great memories. Looking up I expected to see the familiar disco ball hanging from the ceiling, but it wasn’t there…in its place was a set of generic lights. No worries — Con Brio already had my attention. From the perspective from the side of the stage I could clearly see the lead singer’s fancy footwork- something I never would have seen, much less fully appreciated, when standing in the audience. It did seem as though the musicians seemed even smaller than the previous concert. From what I’ve heard from VR filmmakers, it seems this is a technology limitation related to the proximity of the cameras. Fortunately, it did seem an adjustment was made after the first band causing the artist to be a bit larger.
This show also seemed to have a smaller field of view. At first it was distracting, particularly the branding image hiding the camera at the nadir (bottom). Over the course of the evening there were adjustments to nearly 180 degrees for more comfortable viewing.
That night there were three bands recorded instead of one — which was a long time to be in the headset, but the downtime did allow for modifications between sets. For example, the cameras on the front and sides of the stage were re-positioned based on the band’s set-up. There were still five cameras- one balcony/sound board, one behind the drums and the remainder on the side and front of stage. For the first bands, the two empty drum sets were clearly visible. However by the time the headliner came on the camera was directly behind Stanton Moore’s drums- allowing for am immersive experience watching his percussive magic.
In prior music VR experiences I had never seen more than one band play- so I was interested to see what would happen between sets. During the break the view was looking at the stage from the area of the sound board. A computer generated sign listed the next band and sponsors as well a view of the audience. The break gave me a chance to look around a bit more and to my delight, the familiar disco ball was hanging from the ceiling as I looked up! The sound of the audience was audible, but not so loud that any single conversation could be understood — it felt comforting, familiar and inclusive. Given the long pause between bands, this could be a great opportunity in the future for interviews or other related content.
Taking a break from the headset during the 30 pause, I checked social media. It was at this point that I realized that several of my friends were in the audience in Boston and watching the same show. How amazing! We spent a few minutes texting back and forth during the beginning of Robert Randolph and the Family Band in order to determine his location on the floor. It isn’t easy to clearly see the audience past the 5th row, but I could catch a glimpse of my friend from time to time. It was really fun to experience the same show at the same time- while we were 3000 miles apart. And yes, I did gloat a little that I could see Stanton Moore playing drums, from behind the drum kit. As concerts in VR become more social, the appeal to see music in VR will certainly become even greater.
Regarding the sound, there was a single sound source that, while clear and comfortable, was a little disconcerting as the views change from camera to camera. As one point the singer encouraged everyone to scream and, since perspective at that point was in the audience, but the screams weren’t surrounding me, presence was broken. Recently Tim Gedemer, CEO of Source Sound gave a talk on the the complexities of sound capture for VR — over time technology improvements should enable an easier match with perspective.
Speaking of technical challenges, there were several streaming issues during this event and at times that the view was more pixelated than during the December show. Obviously bandwidth continues to be a challenge for live streaming. That said, there were still times of immersion deep enough that when my cat walked by me, his tail it startled me. I also still involuntarily clapped when the musicians encouraged the crowd to clap even though there was no one to hear me.
There was one other unexpected and very exciting moment of the concert. Prior to the headliner going on stage the band appeared backstage. Even though it was only roughly one minute, it was great to feel the energy of the band before they played. This is another differentiator that will set apart VR concerts from those in real life. Looking forward to more moments like those!