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What do Coldplay, Stevie Wonder and the Imagine Dragons all have in common? The answer, and well done if you got this right, is that they have all had recent live shows broadcast in virtual reality.
Music fans with VR headsets like Google Daydream or Samsung Gear VR have had the chance to feel like they were at these shows without ever having to leave their couches. Underground dance streamer Boiler Room has been experimenting with something similar for VR clubs. Earlier this year it transmitted a DJ set via headsets from Berlin, for example.
We are starting to see these offerings for two reasons. Improvements in the computing power and display resolution of smartphones have enabled them to support VR with little additional equipment – the Google Cardboard, a head-mounted case for phones, can be purchased for as little as £5. Affordable 360° cameras are also easily available, and the likes of YouTube already support 360° video, facilitating the creation and sharing of VR content. Once the stuff of specialists and simulation training, VR looks ready for lift off.
VR concerts and other live events appear to be a very attractive commercial proposition. Audience members unable to attend a show can experience it from the best seats in the venue, while artists deliver a rich performance to a wider audience. As a market, it could could easily become comparable to the way in which cinemas have become very successful at remotely transmitting events in the past few years.
But hang on. Before anyone gets too excited, my team at Edinburgh Napier University sees a couple of major problems with this type of VR event offering. Not only might it hit ticket sales for the live show itself rather than growing the audience overall, it could also diminish the user experience.
A live performance is about so much more than what you see and hear: it’s the feeling of excited people crammed into a space; the smell of beer on the floor; hamburgers wafting from a nearby trailer; the warmth on your skin when the sun comes out. It’s also about the way members of the audience influence what happens by interacting with the performers. These things can hardly be emulated by remote VR.
With this in mind, I’ve been involved in a series of studies looking at using VR headsets within actual events. Instead of simply providing an experience from the home, it becomes about enhancing an experience you are having anyway.
Testing VR at Napier. Augusto Esteves