Just when you think you start to have a pretty good idea of what AltspaceVR has to offer, they tend to issue an update that debuts a sparkling new feature, such as Slack integration. While this latest update, adequately titled FrontRow, may seem relatively miniscule at first, it’s a bit more nuanced than it looks and a whole lot more impressive than some of the more recent changes.
A few days ago, the CEO and Co-Founder of AltspaceVR, Eric Romo, met me inside of what appeared to be a digital recreation of a comedy club or casual bar setting. Tables and chairs surrounded me with a large stage at the front of the room, where I recognized none other than AltspaceVR’s own Head of Developer and Community Relations, Bruce Wooden, portrayed by what I’ve come to recognize as his iconic avatar. Naturally, he was on-stage miming and telling casual jokes. It was clear this setting was intended to remind me of what it would feel like to attend a comedy show in VR, and for all intents and purposes, it was working.
After a short while, Romo turned to me and started explaining what I was seeing. Behind Wooden there was a projector screen that showed him on another stage, moving and doing all of the same things he was doing in front of me (other than the minor delay due to the livestream, not the tech itself) but he was standing in front of a different audience. While he was performing for that core audience in the main room (or Room #1 as I like to call it) Romo and I were watching a mirrored projection of that performance in our cloned version of the very same room (or Room #2.) As it turns out, that’s the heart of AltspaceVR’s FrontRow technology.
In a press release that AltspaceVR provided to UploadVR, Romo explains that:
“FrontRow allows everyone who attends to have a front row seat. Do you want to have a private party and attend the show with just your friends? You can do that. Do you want to enjoy the show just by yourself? You can do that. Do you want to have the traditional public event experience with 50 new friends? You can do that, too.”
The benefit of this technology rests on a one core foundation: the mirroring aspect means you can duplicate environments so that performers can theoretically have an infinite number of viewers. Sold out shows are a thing of the past when another cloned room that allows for 50 or 100 more people is as easy as the press of a button. This increases not only revenue potential for performers, but increases their reach and the scale of the events themselves.
But beyond the clear impact, it’s incredibly diverse as well. During my demonstration, Romo took me back and forth between the core “Room #1” version of the audience and my previous “Room #2” version of the empty room. In Room #1, a user was positioned at the back of the stage as a camera-person and was live streaming the event. That stream is what I saw back in my first version of the room, so I can understand what the performer is seeing.
FrontRow is so flexible, the performer can choose to filter out audio from other cloned rooms so they don’t get overwhelmed and instead only hear audio from the main room. They can even do the same with the avatars themselves. If I have three cloned rooms with only 10 people each, I can just have the performer see them all together as if it were only one room. But if I’ve instead got 10 rooms of 50 people each, then I can have the performer see only the base room, but still have all viewers watch in real-time.
It’s worth emphasizing that during my demo, there didn’t appear to be a single bit of lag between what I saw, what Romo saw, what Room #1’s audience saw, or anything else. But that is, admittedly, a limited scenario. The press release elaborates a bit more on the technology’s intentions and use cases:
“AltspaceVR’s FrontRow technology intelligently mirrors performers’ avatars to all the audience locations. The performance spaces are automatically added as more and more people join. The performer’s gestures, movements and voice are instantly shared in all the performance spaces. With the VR Call feature, included when AltspaceVR is downloaded from Google Play, users can invite just their friends to enjoy an event in a private space. Users can join FrontRow experiences from a variety of VR platforms including Facebook’s Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and on mobile with Samsung Gear VR. AltspaceVR delivers a front row experience regardless if 40 or 40,000 people attend.”
One of the first applications of this technology will take place tomorrow during the Reggie Watts comedy event.
Everything appeared to work great in my private demo that included a handful of testers, but I’ll be curious to see how well it holds up when there are dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people watching the same event at the same time.