Extended Reality is beginning to take its place in the entertainment industry, starting with the 2021 Olympic games.
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The 2021 Tokyo Olympics is very much under way, with a significant amount of sporting drama in the stadia and outdoor venues. Japan has been enthusiastic to introduce novel technologies and innovations to deliver the Olympic experience globally. NTT Docomo has stepped up to the plate with immersive Extended Reality (XR) experiences for those audience members that are able to attend the games. XR encapsulates Virtual Reality, where the end-user is fully immersed in the virtual world. Augmented Reality (AR) allows end-users to view and interact with their real environment through digital images (in 2D and 3D) are embedded into the perceived physical environment.
At the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, NTT Docomo had set up an XR immersive arena. Swimming fans have been provided with wearable devices which display detailed race information in real time. The visual and audio connectivity for the XR handsets were supported by 5G. NTT Docomo has been setting up a number of immersive XR experiences to engage not just sports fans but also local tourists and gamers.
- “XR City Shinjuku” offers XR vignettes of the historical, business, and entertainment district, Shinjuku, in Tokyo. In “XR Wonder Park” XR users could weave their way through visuals and immersive interactions that dot the Shinjuku landscape.
- Another example is “codename: WIZARD”, where end-users experience XR through a game simulation where they play and interact as a novice wizard/witch.
While NTT Docomo is actively supporting the Japanese Olympics, their investments in XR go beyond the timeline of the Tokyo Olympics.
Partnerships Key to XR Success
XR is rapidly evolving and has potential to transform the audio-visual industry and how we experience and consume digital and visual content. XR does require not just creativity but also expertise and investment. NTT Docomo has set up its own “Docomo XR Studio” in January 2021 to develop volumetric XR video. To bring XR to reality, NTT Docomo needed a number of partners, from hardware to software.
NTT Docomo has prominently positioned Magic Leap’s XR solution for its XR customers, but end users can also purchase or rent XR devices from HTC (Vive), Pico, and Oculus (Quest). NTT Docomo invested US$280 million in Magic Leap to develop AR technology and integrate 5G connectivity. Magic Leap headsets cost around US$2,300 but end-users can rent the Magic Leap 1 from Kikito (in Japan) for 8-days at US$240. The Oculus Quest 2 can be rented for US$90 for a 30-day period.
In addition to the XR end user hardware, NTT Docomo needed a number of video capture, software development, and editing partners:
- Israeli startup TetaVi, which provided volumetric video capture expertise.
- Israeli firm Mantis Vision, who provided static and hand portable 3D sensing equipment.
- In May 2021, NTT Docomo Ventures invested in US’s Arcturus Studios which provided volumetric video editing tools and streaming playback technology.
Interest in XR Grows in Asia
Will NTT Docomo’s investment and commitment to XR help boost 5G adoption? NTT Docomo believes it will. The operator is aiming for 10 million 5G subs by March 2022. At the end of March 2021, it had 3.1 million. The operator is also expecting its 5G initiatives, of which XR is an integral part, to will see a lift in overall revenue of US$580 million in the same timeframe.
NTT Docomo is not the only Asian operator to investment substantially in XR. LG U+, in Korea, is also investing in XR. LG U+ has collaborated with Playlist, a South Korean web drama maker, to produce a 3D, 8K, VR digital drama (“Re-Feel:If Only”) in 2021. Furthermore, LG U+ launched a virtual exhibition on U+VR that highlights a South Korean and Chinese boy band, “EXO”. LG U+ has organized an ‘online exhibition hall’ service that virtually presents a number of entertainment artists that belong to the highly successful Korean entertainment firm, “SM Entertainment”. The content can be viewed using LG U+’s AR glasses, “U+ Real Glass” which is supplied by Chinese manufacturer, Nreal.
To date, the XR market has been largely dominated by the enterprise sector, which has been able to come up with robust use cases and the deep pockets to afford XR equipment. However, as the cost and literal weight of XR headsets continue to come down (the Nreal’s main unit only weighs 88 grams), we are starting to see tangible opportunities in the consumer sector. While most XR headsets use WiFi or USB-C cables for now, 5G’s bandwidth and the considerably expanded data plans (up to 200 GB per p.m. are common as well as unlimited data plans) could help to transform the consumer XR experience. From ABI Research’s own research, the Asia-Pacific XR consumer market is expected to grow from US$630 million in 2020 to US$4.8 billion by 2024, a CAGR of 67%. Mobile operators, not just in Asia, are keen to combine 5G with attractive immersive use-cases that need robust bandwidth and low latency.