In two to five years time, I wouldn’t be surprised if smart glasses will almost replace our smartphones… I think it’s really important for media industries to start thinking about this…”
Devi Kolli is CEO of AiSolve, a tech firm and consultancy that’s been working with technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR).
In a keynote speech at the FastForward conference in Amsterdam today, Kolli gave her views on how these and other technologies could influence the future of the music and media industries.
That included outlining the “true” difference between augmented, virtual and mixed reality technology.
“Often I do find the market and the press are inappropriately using this technology in a context where there are articles written comparing VR and AR, and which is going to have the bigger market size. Every time I stumble across such an article, it frustrates me,” she said. “In my world, in my view, they are completely distinct technologies.”
VR? “It’s just another display platform,” said Kolli, noting that it has a hardware element – a headset – and a software element running on a PC, console or mobile device. She noted the sub-distinction between “immersive VR’ on Oculus VR, the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR, and ‘mobile VR’ with headsets like Samsung’s Gear VR and Google’s Daydream View, powered by a smartphone.
Kolli provided her definition for AR. “It’s not a platform, unlike VR, but it’s a mode of content. It’s content that is displayed onto a device, whether it’s a PC, or a tablet, or a smartphone, or a VR device which has a camera… It only has the software element to it… and the best way to implement AR is to integrate it into a device.”
Mixed reality? “It’s a combination of virtual reality and augmented reality. It’s augmented reality displayed onto a VR device. Not any VR device: it’s a VR device that’s a see-through device. Mark Zuckerberg calls it ‘augmented VR’ which is the best way to describe it,” she said.
“In two to five years time, I wouldn’t be surprised if smart glasses will almost replace our smartphones. We’re almost getting there, but there are a few technical challenges that need to be dealt with… Which is why I think it’s really important for media industries to start thinking about this. We are used to presenting media on smartphones, so what next?”
She later returned to the topic: “With smart glasses, you’re likely to control the content using voice commands and motion gestures and eye tracking, so it’s completely different to what we’ve become accustomed to.”
Kolli also addressed the question of whether these technologies are just passing hype, or whether they are here to stay for the long term.
She said that in 2016, more than 16m AR, VR and MR devices were sold, and predicted that in 2018 this will rise to 60m. “It’s very important that we start realising how important these technologies are going to be, and how mainstream they are likely to get,” she said, pointing to predictions of a $35bn market for AR and VR applications.
“These technologies are not new. They have been around for definitely the last five decades. The reason why they haven’t necessarily been used in real business scenarios is not that they were unproven. It’s that the infrastructures weren’t ready,” said Kolli.
Kolli offered some case studies of how entertainment companies are exploring these technologies, starting with a horror film called Blair Erickson’s Banshee Chapter for Oculus Rift. It’s a four-minute, low-budget film that has been making headlines.
Google Spotlight Stories and Evil Eye Pictures’ ‘Pearl’ also became the first VR project to be nominated for an Oscar, having been released for HTC Vive and on YouTube. And HBO has been working on an Oculus Rift experience for Game of Thrones where fans get to scale the show’s great wall.
In music? Kolli praised SoundStage, a VR music app for the Vive that gets people to arrange instruments in a virtual room, then play them. “An application drives inspiration for other applications in music,” she said.
Kolli also showed off music visualiser InTone; The Weeknd’s 360 video; Harmonix’s VR music visualiser; ‘musical playground’ Playthings; Rommie’s ‘This Summer’ 360 video; Squarepusher’s ‘Stor Eiglass’ video; Mbryonic’s VR Amplify platform for musicians; VR music app Vrtify; VR music rhythm game AudioShield; and the soon-to-launch Rock Band VR game.
“Storytelling is one of the biggest challenges that you will find when you are putting these applications together, and also knowing what should be the run-time and how the application should be designed,” said Kolli.
“AR and VR and MR is not just aimed at gamers. They go beyond gaming… We need to think about how the storytelling should be done, and think about the potential to change the face of media using these different technologies.”
“The harsh reality is that it absolutely is going to take over. VR, whether it’s completely immersive VR or smart glasses vs smartphones, that is going to happen,” she concluded, before calling for more collaboration between the tech and music industries on VR – particularly around its audio quality.
One question from the audience focused on isolation: could VR’s growth risk making that a bigger problem? And might people even go to less concerts if they can watch them in their living room in a headset?
“It is scary to think what is the world going to look like, when everyone is just sitting on their couch and doing things that they should be doing outdoors,” she said.
“But when you look at it from the other side, the benefits are huge as well… How many people can physically attend a gig? There are only a certain number of spaces you can accommodate, but there are hundreds and thousands of others who would love to see that event at that particular moment… I think there will be business models that will address those.”
What is preventing people from buying headsets now? “It is a natural process that any product development will go through,” said Kolli. “The last two years have been spent very much on the device manufacturing side… these technologies are not cheap to start with. Any time you launch a first product, they are going to be expensive.”
“But right now, you already see that the price points are dropping… It’s only a matter of time before these price points drop, and more or less most individuals will start to have some kind of VR device.”