New technology launches are frequently accompanied by excited cries of it being a game-changer!, a revolution!, the next big thing!, the biggest thing! The excitement and media frenzy, though, often seems to represent the pinnacle of new-tech awareness. The fun so often fizzles out after early adopters have splashed their hard-earned cash on some gadget or other. 3D TV is a great example of a technology which just failed to excite enough consumers for long enough. A lack of content and the usability challenges of 3D glasses killed it before mass use of 3D TVs really took off. Your author was delighted to find a non-3D TV for a substantial saving compared to its 3D-compatable stablemate. Will Augmented Reality (AR) be any different, we wonder?
What is AR for video?
AR gives the possibility to view the real world augmented by computer-generated additional information, such as video, audio, textual or even olfactory experiences. The goal is to experience the augmented components as an immersive, ‘real’ component of the physical world.
So far, we have seen few applications for AR video entertainment products, but this intriguing corner of our market is home to what feel like endless possibilities to innovate. We should keep our excitement under control, of course: for many types of content it is difficult to imagine an AR scenario which would actually add to the consumer experience. Gimmicks can be dull, off-putting and only serve to weaken the viability of new technologies. Narnia overload onto a winter scene in your back garden, anyone..? No, nor me.
AR for Sports
However, I strongly believe that sports represents an attractive AR use case. My imagination gets more lively when I contemplate its application both within sports venues and in the home. The ability to overlay player or team stats, or even to move around a virtual field starts to introduce the potential for a far more immersive and compelling experience.
As competition for sports rights continues to increase, with new entrants such as Amazon and Facebook bidding for rights, we will see an increased desire to add value to that already eye-wateringly expensive content. Sports packages are often expensive, therefore addding interactive elements such as Virtual Reality (VR) and AR will be crucial for helping to increase value and ultimately keep hold of those subscribers.
The battle for sports rights will continue to play out over the coming years. Initially, we will see the players such as Netflix and Amazon going after the smaller, niche sports, which are cheaper than obtaining global rights of mainstream sports. It will likely be several years before the competition really hots up with OTT providers going after those sports, but existing rights holders should already be thinking about differentiating to ensure that they are ahead of the game.
The really interesting thing about AR is that it will mix real life social interactions with computer generated graphics. It will free people from their VR worlds, and allow them to look up from their smart phone screens. It has the added benefit of making the experience more personal to each viewer without completely removing the social interaction – after all the core content will still be the same, meaning that viewers watching together will still cheer the same goal.
Whilst I believe that AR has a big potential for the future of sports entertainment in particular, the technology is not quite there yet. As well as being immature, the current technology is also far too expensive for widespread adoption. It is already beginning to change however. The technology in essence has been available for years, but over recent years has become much better and much cheaper, so that we can start to imagine the possibilities for real consumer applications.
As that technology continues to mature, the industry will be faced with the usual challenges that comes with innovation – fragmentation and performance. AR devices will emerge using different operating systems, SDKs and interaction paradigms. Creating content that works across all of those will not be simple. From a performance point of view, it will be crucial that the live video can be perfectly synchronized with the AR interaction elements.
That said, the main thing that makes AR and VR different to 3D is the device requirements. You don’t have to have a VR headset, a mobile phone and cardboard device gets you a pretty decent experience that already adds some level of value. AR is the same, you only need a companion device, something most people already have. A headset takes it to another level, but is definitely not required in either scenario.
The Future for AR
Although it will be several years before we can really see the impact of AR, I believe that it will be a game changer, but it won’t be worthwhile for all types of content or all usage scenarios. I believe that in the context of premium video entertainment, sports will be the main driver. This will lead to some interesting use cases with other live content, such as events and concerts.
It is important to understand, however, that AR is not a viewing mode, but instead it is a way for people to interact with computers. There will be video related use cases, but in the long-term it will also engulf all current video use cases simply because AR will be the platform we use to consume all content. In the mid term, I personally look forward to seeing some interesting scenarios, such as holographic video.
If you want to see what is possible right now, come and visit us at IBC to check out our AR prototype.