Young woman wearing augmented reality glasses touching screen with hands
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Will your next TV really be a $1 AR app?

Protocol Next Up

Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Next Up. This week: the future of TV screens and new clues on Sonos' upcoming voice assistant.

Will your next TV really be a $1 AR app?

When Mark Zuckerberg used Meta's Connect conference last week to paint a picture of the future of the metaverse, he suggested that AR and VR devices and services will fundamentally change the way we live, including the way we watch TV. "Lots of things that are physical today, like screens, will just be holograms in the future," Zuckerberg said. "You won't need a physical TV, it will just be a $1 hologram from some high school kid halfway across the world."

TVs as virtual objects that you buy in an app store as opposed to buying from Amazon or Costco: That's a fascinating idea, but one that also raises a whole lot of questions.

  • Zuckerberg may have primarily used the example as a way to underscore that the metaverse will enable a new creator economy, in which people can create holograms instead of physical goods. The metaverse will "unlock a massively larger creative economy [...] than what exists today," he told investors last week.
  • However, the notion of TV as a hologram app also competes with a bunch of other visions for the future of TVs. Samsung for instance has been building modular TV sets, and LG envisions that we may one day all have physical TVs that can appear and disappear on demand, thanks to rollable displays.
  • And then there are startups like Light Field Lab that build holographic displays, with the idea of one day making full-fledged holographic TVs.

TVs capable of rendering holograms vs. holographic TV apps: What's it gonna be? I called up Light Field Lab CEO Jon Karafin this week to get his take.

When it comes to people using terms like holograms without actually talking about holograms, Karafin is known to be a bit of a myth buster. "The things that you're seeing today in this AR/VR ecosystem are, at the end of the day, stereoscopic," he told me.

  • In short, AR glasses superimpose stereoscopic renderings of 3D objects over one's view of the real world, whereas holographic displays create true 3D holograms with real depth. "That is a very different experience," Karafin said.
  • However, he conceded that advanced waveguide displays may be able to create 3D imagery that's good enough for many applications, perhaps even whatever futuristic content Netflix will stream in a decade.

The bigger difference could be how you use these types of displays: Things you put on your face are by nature very personal, whereas TVs are there for everyone to view together. "We are creating a shared experience," Karafin said. "These AR and VR experiences are much more of a single-viewer experience."

  • Someone could develop a shared AR TV experience, and just have everyone put their glasses on for family movie night. But the idea of everyone staring at the same empty wall to watch a show together does sound a bit strange. "It calls into question the individual experience" of AR and VR, Karafin argued. "Why would everybody do the same thing?"
  • Karafin also pointed out that there's another flaw in Zuckerberg's suggestion: Even if AR glasses ultimately do away with the need for physical TVs, it's hard to imagine that there will be a single TV app running on them, as opposed to many different apps made by many different media services, much in the same way those services have all developed their own apps for mobile devices. "It's not TV as a singular app, it's an entire ecosystem," Karafin said.

Of course, Karafin has a vested interest in a future that includes actual display hardware. However, he also acknowledged that this doesn't have to be an either-or scenario, much in the same way existing technologies often haven't replaced their predecessors. "People still watch television," he said.

Much of that still happens on TV screens, and video viewing on phones and tablets has been largely additive. "That's similar to what we will see in the future for holographic displays as well as head-mounted AR and VR," Karafin said. "They're not mutually exclusive, and they shouldn't be, because they are very much specific to the application."

Overheard

"Setting out to build the metaverse is not the best way to actually get the metaverse." — Meta Reality Lab consulting CTO John Carmack, contrarian as always, during his annual Connect keynote.


"TVs were just not available." — Roku CEO Anthony Wood, being frank about his industry's Q3 supply chain challenges.

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Leak suggests a Sonos Voice Assistant launch is imminent

Sonos may be getting close to the launch of its own voice assistant: Code traces found in the company's mobile app suggest that the company has been preparing the launch of "Sonos Voice Control," an assistant focused on playback and device control. A Sonos spokesperson declined to comment.

The code snippets were posted this week by a Reddit user, who was also able to unearth the assistant's icon: a speech bubble not too dissimilar from the one used by Amazon's Alexa assistant.

  • Those images also suggest that the assistant can be activated in addition to Alexa, making it possible for Sonos owners to invoke either assistant by using specific wake words. The same doesn't seem to be true for Google Assistant, with the images suggesting that the two assistants won't be able to be activated on the same device.
  • Google has long insisted that technical issues prevent it from running Google Assistant in addition to another voice assistant. Sonos executives have rejected that claim, and alleged that Google's voice assistant policies are anti-competitive. The issue took center stage at a recent antitrust hearing, during which a Google representative signaled that the company may be willing to change its tune over time.
  • In addition to the interoperability issues, the leak also shines a light on some of the features Sonos Voice Control will be supporting: Users will be able to launch and control music playback and volume, change which speakers music is playing on and check the battery level of portable Sonos devices.

Sonos began working on its own voice assistant when it purchased Paris-based Snips in 2019. Sonos Voice VP Joseph Dureau, who previously served as the CTO of Snips, recently joined Protocol's Future of Voice event, where he said that the company wants to offer people the ability to use multiple voice assistants similar to the way they already use multiple music services. "We think that you should be able to switch from one assistant to the other," Dureau said. "That is something that's dear to our heart."

This story first appeared on Protocol.com. Read it here.

Fast forward

On Protocol: Roku will kick porn channels off its platform in March. A new ban on private channels means that Pornhub and other adult companies will have to find new ways to get onto Roku devices.

Meta may be building a smartwatch. Rendered images of the device were recently discovered in Meta's AR mobile app.

Pinterest is making a QVC-style shopping show. Pinterest TV is set to launch Monday.

On Protocol: Meta buys VR fitness service Supernatural. The acquisition was announced a day after Facebook rebranded as Meta.

On Protocol: Meta retires the Oculus brand, teases its next-gen VR headset. And no, it's not called Quest Pro.

Amazon Fire TVs get a TikTok app. TikTok is expanding its big-screen footprint in North America, and the partnership is supposedly exclusive (for the time being).

Auf wiedersehen

Happy belated Hallyween, everyone! Can you guess what my costume was? Tweet your answers @jank0, and feel free to show off your own costumes while you're at it!

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