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Protocol Next Up
Defining the future of tech and entertainment with Janko Roettgers.
Image: Illuminarium

Now live in Atlanta: Headset-free VR with 3 billion pixels

 image of woman walking in front of safari projection

Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Next Up. This week: Atlanta's Illuminarium features advanced Panasonic tech for glasses-free VR-like experiences, and Google TV will have celebrities recommend movies and shows.

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The Big Story

The technology behind Atlanta's Illuminarium

A new events space in Atlanta is promising to offer VR-like experiences without the glasses: The Illuminarium, which opened its doors Thursday, uses 360-degree video projection mapping across an 8,000-square-foot event space to immerse attendees in a virtual safari, complete with the ability to walk up close to lions and other wildlife.

"We want to democratize the world's most extraordinary experiences," said Illuminarium EVP of technology and content Brian Allen at an event this week. Illuminarium aims to open additional spaces in Las Vegas and Miami in the coming months, with plans to expand to other cities in the U.S. and internationally after that.

And it really does seem immersive. "Wild," as Illuminarium's first ticketed experience is being called, makes use of haptic floors, binaural audio, 360-degree projection mapping and even smells. "We aim to bring as much technology to the experience as possible," Allen said.

  • The company partnered with Panasonic for its video projection needs. Atlanta's Illuminarium is using around 50 of the company's professional 4K projectors, for a combined projection of more than 3 billion pixels.

But there were some challenges. The two companies, which began working together in late 2019, soon realized that Panasonic's existing lens lineup wasn't quite up to the task — so Panasonic developed a new custom short-throw lens optimized for Illuminarium and similar spaces.

  • Illuminarium wanted video to completely surround its attendees. That works well on paper, but in reality, event spaces have sprinkler systems, HVAC pipes and other barriers. And during the construction of the Atlanta space, the ceiling had to be raised 5 feet, throwing set designers another curveball.
  • The solution was a short-throw zoom lens that allowed for more flexibility, while also making it possible for audiences to walk up closer to the action without having to deal with their own shadows. "It allows us to move our projectors closer to our media surface," Allen said.
  • Development on that lens began shortly before the pandemic hit the U.S. "The good news was: We had a little bit more time to be creative," recalled Panasonic themed entertainment solutions manager Joe Conover.

Illuminarium plans to follow up "Wild" with "Space Walk," something the company bills as a "mind-blowing journey through our Solar System." And the two companies aren't done adding new tech to Illuminarium's space, either.

  • Panasonic recently developed a solution for high-speed mapping and tracking that could add new layers of interactivity to these kinds of experiences.
  • "It makes the experience that much smoother, that much more realistic," Allen said, adding that he could envision Illuminarium using it to one day offer personalized experiences for each and every attendee.

Big venues like Illuminarium seem like the perfect candidate for advanced projection mapping, but Conover told Protocol that there may be other opportunities for this technology as well. One example: Empty mall storefronts could become immersive entertainment spaces, ready to rent out to small groups of friends who want to experience live 360-degree telecasts of music festivals together without having to travel to far-away concert venues. "We will see these smaller spaces," he said. "Entertainment in the future is different."

Overheard

"We have a 100-day plan." —Jack Dorsey, promising during a live Twitter Spaces conversation that we'll see a closer integration of Tidal with Square and its Cash app soon.

"We have some techniques we're working on for Magic Leap Two to provide for a better outdoor experience." —Magic Leap CEO Peggy Johnson, hinting at a previously unannounced feature of the company's next headset.

A MESSAGE FROM ZOOM

A survey of 12,000 employees by Boston Consulting Group found 60% of respondents want flexibility as far as where and when they work. As the world plans to safely reopen businesses, educational institutions, health care facilities and government entities, we are focused on innovating across our platform to support their needs.

Learn more

Watch Out

Google TV is getting star-studded recommendations

Don't know what to watch? Laverne Cox is here to help. The "Orange is the New Black" star has been tapped by Google to launch a new "Watch With Me" feature on the company's Google TV platform.

  • Starting Thursday, the company's Chromecast with Google TV device will feature a row of movie and TV show recommendations curated by Cox on its home screen, complete with an interview in which she explains what these titles mean to her.
  • If you're wondering: Cox's curated watch list includes movies like "The Color Purple" and "Moonlight," as well as shows like "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" and "Breaking Bad."
  • Google has plans to add other curated watch lists from "entertainers, artists and cultural icons" over time, according to a company blog post.

Companies aligning themselves with celebrities to hawk their products is nothing new, but there's something intriguing about the idea of curating watch lists this way. Most smart TV platforms and streaming video services rely on a mixture of AI and editorial curation to recommend new things to watch. The results can be more or less helpful, and ideally improve over time.

What's often missing is an editorial point of view. Sure, platforms may occasionally tap into cultural and even political issues by highlighting Black voices or LGBTQ content. But you won't ever really find anyone who tells you why you should watch a movie, or why a show moved them.

And it's not just movie recs. Think back to your college days, when college radio DJs surprised listeners by playing loud punk songs after soothing ambient tracks. Surprises like that don't happen very often anymore.

  • The closest equivalent to this was probably the Boxee Box, a long-defunct streaming device that featured three editorially curated videos on its home screen every day.
  • In true New York hipster fashion, the Boxee team picked a very eclectic mix of obscure music videos, artsy Vimeo fare and the occasional movie trailer for those spots.
  • All of those recommendations were being served up by the device via the feed of a Boxee staff-maintained Tumblr blog, which is still publicly available online. I just checked it out again, and was immediately sucked in by a clip of Henry Rollins, a barcode band and a Bob Ross music video. Really makes you wonder why these guys didn't win the video wars, doesn't it?

Perhaps a better analogy for this day and age would be Spotify, which has long realized that content discovery needs both AI-driven personalization and strong opinions. The company's playlists have been key to its success, and some of the more popular expert-curated ones have in fact launched successful artist careers.

Spotify also shows that playlists can be delightful even if they're not popular. We all like to share, and everyone has that friend who always knows which of the latest shows are must-watch TV. Wouldn't it be great if you could give that friend some space on your TV home screen, and discover some of the gems that the algorithms would have missed?

Fast Forward

  • Peloton is an entertainment company now. The workout company is about to open a broadcast studio in London, after spending $50 million on its New York studio.
  • On Protocol: The story of JW Player, which serves videos to over 1 billion people a month. It started as a designer's side hustle, and became one of the biggest forces in online video.
  • VRChat just raised $80 million in funding. This brings the total amount raised by the social VR company thus far to $95 million.
  • On Protocol: Discord has acquired Ubiquity6. The AR startup was about to launch a new video chat app.
  • Amazon is telling Fire TV app developers to add touch functionality. The company has struck a deal with Jeep to bring Fire TV to touch-enabled in-car displays.
  • Google cuts rates for publishers who support TV devices. Video apps that support Android TV, Google TV and Cast will only have to fork over 15%, as opposed to the usual 30% cut.
  • Facebook will sell 8 million Quest 2s by October, according to an analyst. VR may already make up 3% of the company's total revenue.
  • YouTube TV's 4K tier costs $20 extra per month. Remember when people called these services skinny bundles?
  • LG TVs integrate with Facebook's Portal TV set-top. Interesting partnership, considering that Portal runs its own smart TV apps.
  • Netflix is expected to reach nearly 67 million subscribers in Europe this year. A good chunk of the growth could come from Eastern Europe, according to a new report.

Auf Wiedersehen

Remember the ongoing legal fight between Sonos and Google? Last month, expert witnesses for the two companies testified via video, and transcripts of those testimonies were published a few days ago. I won't bore you with all the details, as much of it comes down to semantics around networking technologies and similar issues. However, one thing stood out to me: Questioned why he bought certain Sonos speakers in the past, Google's expert declared: "As part of my work and research, I have, I would say, an unusually large collection of speaker products, and I've purchased them to evaluate their acoustic performance, compare them to others, and so on." All I could think was: That's exactly what I tell my family!

Thanks for reading — see you next week!

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