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Live concerts could be just the ticket for virtual reality

NextVR is teaming up with music promoter Live Nation to offer hundreds of concerts in virtual reality. Could this be the non-gaming experience the industry has been waiting for?


Much has been written about what the killer use case beyond gaming will be for virtual reality.

Armchair tourism, e-commerce and professional sports are frequently tossed out as possibilities. But one of the most intriguing options could be to take in big-name concerts.

Virtual reality producer NextVR has struck a deal with concert promoter Live Nation to broadcast hundreds of upcoming concerts in virtual reality. The five-year deal will kick off with a yet-to-be-announced event this summer.

"This agreement actually spans from what you might consider an intimate performance to very large music festivals," NextVR co-founder Dave Cole told Recode. The effort will begin with free events, with the possibility that some will be pay-per-view as the audience grows and technology matures.

The promise of virtual reality is taking people to places where they want to be but can’t physically be, either for cost, logistical or other reasons. And concerts would seem to fit the bill.

"If we had started recording Prince’s concerts in virtual reality a few years ago, you would be able to go to a Prince concert and feel as if you were actually there," Google VR head Clay Bavor said in an interview with Popular Science. "We missed the window with him, but I hope we don’t miss the window on a thousand other artists, musicians, beautiful places, events, moments in history and so on." (NextVR recorded a Coldplay concert back in 2014 and made clips available for Samsung’s Gear VR.)

Concerts are a good candidate for VR for another reason: There is really only one key spot where you want to be.

Another plus for concerts is the role that sound plays in virtual reality. It is easier to send high-quality sound than it is to bring high-definition, constantly refreshing immersive video, and obviously sound is a big part of a concert. Sound can also be captured in 360 degrees, allowing the sound to shift as you turn your head, adding to the feeling of being there.

Of course, concerts still pose some of the same challenges as viewing any event in virtual reality today — you have to strap on a headset, making the experience potentially both costly and solitary. And Cole says some concerts are actually tougher to produce than sports, especially the kind of large, multi-stage events that Live Nation has in mind.

"You want crowd ambience and multiple locations," he said. "You can get a sense of the venue, sort of be part of the crowd and be part of the throng in the mosh pit, but very quickly you tend to want to be as close to the artist as you can get."

One of the advantages of the long-term Live Nation deal is that NextVR will be able to work with the musicians ahead of time, designing camera positions into their staging. The 55-person company is also working to staff up and further improve its audio capabilities to enable the best possible sound to go with the right-next-to-the-stage view.

Cole says there is nothing quite like the feeling when an artist stares directly into the VR camera. "It feels very much like you are the one right up against the security line or pressed up against the stage. Those are really precious moments."

Sounds pretty tempting. I look forward to checking out a concert in VR. You know, if I can’t be there in person.

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