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

VLC embraces the web and plans an IMDb competitor

VLC embraces the web and plans an IMDb competitor

Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Next Up. This week, we're taking a look at all the things coming to VLC in the next couple of months, and are baffled by the realism of Epic's new digital humans.

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The Big Story

Here's what's next for VLC

Open-source video player VLC turns 20 this month. VLC has been downloaded more than 3.5 billion times, and some of the encoding software developed for it has been powerting much of modern-day streaming media. I recently caught up with lead VLC developer and VideoLAN foundation President Jean-Baptiste Kempf, who told me about the role Duke Nukem 3D played in VLC's origin story, the hundreds of legal threats VLC has received over the years, and the VideoLAN team's half-baked plans to shoot Bitcoins to the moon.

Curious yet? You can read all about it on Protocol.

Kempf also told me about plans for VLC's future:

  • VLC 4.0 is finally getting released this year, complete with a new UI. "We modified the interface to be a bit more modern," Kempf said.
  • As part of that overhaul, VLC is also starting to integrate more online content directly into the app. "But we're doing it in a very VLC way," he said. Instead of just giving everyone the same catalog of videos, VLC is getting extensions to pull in third-party content. Still, Kempf left the door open to eventually also add ad-supported videos that could offer some financial support to the project.
  • VLC is coming to the web. The app long had a web plug-in, which worked similarly to Flash — and just like Flash, isn't supported by most modern browsers anymore. Now, the VideoLAN team is working on a new version that is powered by Webassembly and JavaScript. "You basically run VLC inside the web page, so you could play any type of movie right inside your web browser," Kempf explained. "We're not there yet. But it's getting closer."
  • The VideoLAN team is working on something that is internally being called the Moviepedia Project, which Kempf described as a kind of IMDb competitor, complete with community editing, Wikipedia-style.

In addition to these products and features, the VLC team is also putting a major focus on making VLC more secure. "People have stopped installing software on their machines," Kempf told me. "What they install is a web browser, a video player, an office suite, probably a PDF reader. Maybe a photo reader. And that's it."

Browsers and office suites are made by huge companies with lots of staffers working on security, so media apps are an obvious attack vector. "If I'm a bad guy, I'm going to find the PDF reader and the media player," Kempf said. The VideoLAN team wants to respond to this by sandboxing VLC to make it harder to attack an entire system with manipulated media files. "[It's] a very difficult project that we believe is important," he said.

Overheard

"I remember when I introduced the Apple industrial design team to VR [with Project Syria]. At first they sat coldly in [the] back of [the] room. After the experience they cried, hugged me and promised they wanted to work together. I never heard from them again." VR pioneer Nonny de la Peña, responding to new reports about Apple's VR ambitions.

"I am not a cat." Sorry, I couldn't resist, but it's just so good.

A MESSAGE FROM BLUESCAPE

Bluescape

82% of leaders will adopt a hybrid-first model in 2021. Preparing the organization for a more complex hybrid workforce introduces complexities that can impact productivity and the employee experience. Explore 5 Steps to Building a Hybrid Workforce to help you develop your return-to-work plan.

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Watch Out

Digital humans are getting unreal

Fortnite and Unreal Engine maker Epic Games has built a new service to create digital humans that is, well, just a bit unreal. The MetaHuman Creator is a web app that lets you assemble a digital human simply by picking eyes, skin color, hair and other attributes, much like customizing an avatar for a video game. It's hard to describe how real the results look, so instead, I'd implore you to head over to YouTube and take a peek at the announcement video.

The MetaHuman Creator can be used by multiple team members to collaborate on a digital human, and the results can then be downloaded to be used for animation and motion capture in Unreal. Anyone who'd like to tweak even further also gets access to a Maya source file.

Creating a digital human can take less than an hour with this new tool, according to Epic, whose VP of digital human technology, Vladimir Mastilovic, touted it as a way to significantly lower barriers of entry to the animation and visual effects industry. "Up until now, one of the most arduous tasks in 3D content creation has been constructing truly convincing digital humans. Even the most experienced artists require significant amounts of time, effort and equipment, just for one character," he said.

Creating digital human assets is also just part of democratizing this kind of technology. The other side of the coin is the rapid advancement of mobile capture technology. In fact, Epic already has an iPhone app that you can use to facial capture. The company announced this week that MetaHuman Creator assets will work together with the app, making it possible for you to animate your digital human in real time with little more than an iPhone and a computer running Unreal.

Epic will make the MetaHuman Creator available in the coming months. Folks interested in the technology can already download a sample project, and sign up for early access.

Or you can just head over to YouTube and watch another sample video.

Fast Forward

  • TikTok is launching on smart TVs. The service will first be available on Android TVs in France, Germany and the U.K.
  • Apple has put its hardware boss in charge of its AR/VR efforts. SVP Dan Riccio is now leading the group that is building a mixed reality headset.
  • Apple's VR headset may have a $3,500 price tag. The device is supposedly mixing AR and VR, and is said to come with a swappable headband. But $3,500???
  • Pluto TV has launched in France. The Viacom-owned video service plans to go live in Italy later this year.
  • Sketchfab's CEO on 3D scanning with the iPhone. Alban Denoyel is trying to 3D scan one object or place every day. Here, he shares his experience. (Check out my interview with Alban on Protocol if you missed it.)
  • Amazon is building a wall-mounted smart display. The device is reportedly doubling as a smart home control center.
  • On Protocol: Q&A with Vimeo CEO Anjali Sud, who talks about the rationale behind turning the former arthouse video site into a SaaS company.
  • iHeart is making 3D audio podcasts. The radio service is betting on binaural audio for a new slate of exclusive podcasts.

Auf Wiedersehen

A couple of months ago, Google added a "Family Bell" feature to its smart speakers that allows consumers to set recurring audio reminders. It's been a godsend for remote schooling, alerting our kids five minutes before they have to get on Zoom every morning. However, our youngest one got tired of the same announcement every single day, so I have been customizing it whenever I get a chance. Some mornings, the speaker tells the dog to go to school. Sometimes, it tries to speak German. And the other day, it asked: "How do you reprimand a smart speaker?" The answer? "Not OK, Google."

A MESSAGE FROM BLUESCAPE

Bluescape

82% of leaders will adopt a hybrid-first model in 2021. Preparing the organization for a more complex hybrid workforce introduces complexities that can impact productivity and the employee experience. Explore 5 Steps to Building a Hybrid Workforce to help you develop your return-to-work plan.

Get White Paper

Thanks for reading — see you next week!

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