I livestreamed a virtual reality version of a concert on Friday (July 31). It was both cool and disappointing, but the vodka maker Absolut made it worthwhile. Instead of an animated world, I watched a live concert in 360 degrees. Eight floors below me stood Bob Moses performing for an adoring crowd of 450 of his devoted fans, but I still got to see the action up close.
I experienced this concert from the comfort of an air-conditioned rooftop terrace, thanks to a new app and cardboard headset produced by Absolut Reality. Although I would have preferred to be among the fans at the exclusive concert below, it was still nice to control the volume from the comfort of my smartphone and not be stuck in the heat, drenched in sweat.
Absolut Reality is the first iteration of Absolut Labs, a new venture from Absolut Vodka that is determined to push the limits of nightlife. The alcohol brand was established in 1879, but its vision is firmly set on the future. To that end, Absolut Reality took on an auspicious challenge, to become the first company to livestream an event in 360 degrees via an app to anyone no matter where they are in the world.
Throughout the event, Bob Moses was simultaneously filmed by several cameras on stage and around the area where he was performing, including a drone that took establishing video before his set began.
For one special camera set up on stage, the company used six GoPros meshed together to form a hexagon. The Rubik’s Cube-looking device was on a pole, allowing the app viewers to get a 360-degree view of the band and crowd. The footage is then live streamed to the free Android and iOS app. You could watch the concert in 360 degrees from the app itself, but if you really wanted to feel connected to the music, the cardboard headsets were the way to go.
Once the concert began, I could toggle between live stream or VR mode under settings in the Absolut Reality app. VR Mode created a splitscreen on your smartphone's display. After that, I simply had to place my smartphone in the headset horizontally to view the band rocking out. Absolut Reality gave away 5,000 limited edition Bob Moses Google Cardboard to fans around the world for the event. However, the live stream was far from perfect.
In a room full of tech journalists, the company made sure we knew that this virtual experience was only a beta test, that the app might not even work as planned. The app worked perfectly for the first 5 minutes, but then the screen and music froze with Bob Moses’ hands stuck in the air. While this could have been caused by the poor signal from the Wi-Fi, the tech has still a way to go before becoming close to replacing that of a live concert. When the app started working again, I found the images were blurry (and I'm pretty sure it wasn't the vodka cocktails on hand). Despite the poor resolution and sound quality, I could still make out Bob Moses mixing up his jams.
Absolut Reality plans to live stream concerts from around the world with their 360 degree VR app. The company wants this to be a social event, despite the fact that when your headset is on you cannot see your friends around you. I thought the experience overall was super cool, but at the same time, I couldn't help but feel like a creep as I watched these performers and people in the crowd dance. I overheard two guys next to me talking about how you could see two people making out in the front row of the audience.
While this technology is nowhere near perfect, perhaps soon a 360-degree livestream of a concert will suffice for the real deal, and without the soul-crushing ticket price. But, word to the wise: vodka and virtual reality don't mix very well. After several cocktails, Absolut Reality becomes less absolute, and more augmented.
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Ilyse Liffreing is an intern at Tom’s Guide. She likes pina coladas and using virtual reality headsets to get caught in the rain. She will be receiving her MA from NYU. You can follow Ilyse on Twitter @IlyseLiffreing or on Facebook.