Virtual reality check

October 21, 2020 - Frank Healy

Frank Healy, Product Marketing Manager, talks about how VR is here and 5G will take it to the next level

Live events, if they happened at all, have had to change dramatically in 2020. On April 23rd the American hip-hop star, Travis Scott – or really a giant avatar representation of him – staged a live concert attended online by more than 12 million people within the three-dimensional gaming world of Fortnite. It was not the first concert in that virtual world. Way back in 2019 Marshmello, a DJ and producer, had performed a set within Fortnite watched by more than 10 million fans – but that one was just an avatar musician playing a concert on a virtual stage. A year later however, Scott appeared as a giant and his stage “exploded” as the set began and he – or his giant avatar – danced around within the gaming environment. Things had already moved on since 2019.

Over the past several months, events have moved at least online and increasingly to virtual spaces. Weddings have taken place in “Animal Crossing: New Horizons”, a video game set on a tropical island. Other events such as birthday parties and graduations have found alternative online venues and point to a future where lines may blur forever and the definitions of what is “real” might become unimportant. Meantime, Microsoft announced that its flight simulator game had created a replica of the entire world in 3-D.

For some of us in a less gamified world, headsets or goggles are not needed as software has rapidly evolved. Microsoft and Zoom have both developed virtual collaborative spaces: “Together Mode” and “Teams Together” respectively. The business and tech event organisers have been a bit slower to catch up but are rapidly doing so. After all if 12 million people can be engaged at a hip-hop concert it seems likely that they could be well engaged at an immersive tech event – as much as that is possible for such events.  

So it seems bespoke VR headsets are not required to experience what many might have previously considered a “thing for gamers”. That said, devices like Microsoft’s Kinect and HoloLens bring technology out of two-dimensional screens and into the real world. In the past number of months such devices have evolved rapidly also. The Oculus Quest 2 and other hotly anticipated headgear are bringing usability and reducing effects like dizziness with ever more powerful graphics and sophisticated techniques that know and manage the user’s physical location.

In recent weeks, Amazon has also announced its “controller only” i.e. no console or PC required subscription-based gaming service: Luna. Because the Luna controller connects directly to cloud servers, players can easily switch between screens – such as Fire TV to mobile phone – without additional pairing or configuration changes. Microsoft had already launched its “Game Pass” streaming service for Android phones. Of course Google Stadia had been around for some time.

A next step for gaming companies will surely be more devices that use 5G directly and are not constrained by WiFi. The power of the cloud will already be wherever it is needed. Increasingly, 5G is the only missing link for determined gamers and adjacent B2B2x opportunities. That is rapidly changing. Some will argue that events cannot be truly “live” until the key sense: touch is enabled. That too will be addressed as devices become more sophisticated. Latencies will tumble further as 5G goes live and a more flexible ecosystem of combined partners will enable ever more engaging and immersive services.

At some point in the near future, anyone who wants to float between immersive virtual worlds and real worlds and everything between will be able to do so seamlessly. The idea that the “real” world is limited to that which is physically present nearby will seem strange. Distinctions will simply blur.

A report way back in 2019 by PWC, predicted that VR and AR had the potential to add $1.5 trillion to the global economy by 2030. VR and AR would spur productivity gains in areas including health care, engineering, product development, logistics, retail and entertainment. At the time it might have seemed fanciful to some but if 2020 has proven anything it is perhaps that pretty much anything that could be imagined is indeed possible – at least in a virtual world. This expanded, more virtualised and 5G-enabled universe is rapidly offering up imaginative service, partnership and monetisation opportunities for service providers that a wide range of users will welcome. For active participants in this space, things have gotten very real indeed.



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