As virtual reality startups explore the creative range of the new medium and build out its functions, simple entertainments can yield some otherworldly possibilities. For example, AltspaceVR’s new playback feature makes it possible to sit at a comedy show next to—yourself.
The background: AltspaceVR has been turning its virtual rooms into performance stages where real-life comics such as Reggie Watts can appear (as avatars) in live shows attended by headset-wearing audience members scattered across the globe.
Eric Romo, CEO of the Redwood City, CA-based VR startup, says the shows have been a popular way for remote users to experience a concert environment where they can move around the hall, interact with performers, and join their friends. Now the company is rolling out the virtual equivalent of a DVR, VR Capture, so that fans who missed a show can attend during a later time slot.
AltspaceVR has a 12-hour marathon of past shows lined up for tomorrow starting at 11 a.m. Pacific time. The headliners include comedian Watts, who is also James Corden’s Late Late Show bandleader; multimedia comic Duncan Trussell; and actor and comedy producer Justin Roiland.
With VR Capture, Romo says, producers can now multiply the audiences for their featured acts by scheduling repeat showings. AltspaceVR, founded in 2013, isn’t charging fees yet to stage live events in VR, or to record them with VR Capture, he says. Like many VR content providers, the company is experimenting with the medium and trying to build a VR fan base.
“This is such new stuff that the business models are not well defined yet,” Romo says. “We’re just trying to delight audiences.”
AltspaceVR has created an array of virtual settings where far-flung friends can gather to play games, watch TV shows together on a virtual 2D screen, or hold pow-wows to plan family vacations, for example. The participants appear as avatars, but they’re heard in their own voices.
When the company puts on a live show, it equips the performers with full-body motion capture sensors so that their avatars will mimic their gestures and movements around the stage. VR Capture “records” these movements and the live audio, transmitting the data to company servers, Romo says. It also stores the speech and movements of selected audience members who are actively interacting with the performers.
In addition, the playback feature captures the general audience reaction over time—as each joke lands, for instance. Participants press buttons on their controllers that release the emojis of their choice. Smiley faces, hearts, and applause icons are among the most popular, Romo says. The emojis float up from the heads of the audience avatars and eventually fade, like soap bubbles.
Like a lot of VR experiences, attending an AltspaceVR rerun involves some mind-bending possibilities. A performer or fan who was at the live show can join a later playback and stand next to his or her own avatar—becoming a virtual doppelganger. Romo says they’ve played with this curious effect by having a presenter hand something to himself onstage during a later showing.
In addition to comedy shows and concerts, VR Capture could be used to expand the audiences for seminars and other types of presentations, Romo says. The new “record” and playback function might also provide some future fun by allowing users to create re-mixes of original events, for example, or to overlay their own commentaries on the action, he says.
“We’re definitely not trying to limit our thinking just to time-shifting events,” Romo says.