Grainy look at first live-streamed gig

Members of the public trying on the virtual set at the mm2 Unusual Concert Showcase.
Members of the public trying on the virtual set at the mm2 Unusual Concert Showcase.PHOTO: STARHUB

The future of virtual reality entertainment is here - and it is looking rather grainy.

With the spectacular success of the mobile game Pokemon Go, there is plenty of buzz surrounding augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology. But there is still some way to go before one can virtually attend a concert taking place somewhere else.

The mm2 Unusual Concert Showcase on Wednesday night, featuring artists such as Taiwan's Huang Pin-yuan and Singapore's Kelly Poon and Kelvin Tan, was billed as the first live-streamed concert in Singapore via 360-degree immersive headsets.

The event for entertainment company mm2 Asia's shareholders took place at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) and was live streamed to the media, guests and members of the public at Suntec City's West Atrium.

When this reporter first put on the Samsung Gear VR goggles at Suntec, it felt as though he was standing on the stage at MBS, with the performers right in front of him. Turning his head to the left and right, he could see the MBS audience members in their seats. Pretty cool.

Unfortunately, the video quality was not good.

Mr Howie Lau, chief marketing officer of StarHub, which organised the live-streaming, says: "VR technology is still evolving, with the current platform allowing a maximum of 1,080p (full HD) for live streaming, although our video source is of 4K resolution. As the technology advances, we hope to work on a higher resolution for live streaming in the future."

There are other kinks to work out.

The user interface was a little clunky - each time you put on the goggles again after removing them, there were quite a few steps to go through in order to sync what you were seeing with the live action. At the event, staffers were on hand to help with this process.

Another niggle: While the headsets offered a 360-degree view, the showcase did not demonstrate that capability - the performances took place only on one stage.

Ultimately, there was not enough of a wow factor for one to keep the goggles on.

It was easier, and more comfortable, to simply watch the concert on the large flat screen that was set up in the atrium.

But Mr Lau paints a tantalising picture: You do not have to go to China to watch the popular televised competition Sing! China. You can watch it at home and maybe even sit in one of the mentor's chairs.

VR has the potential to "create more personalised engagement".

The big question is: When will all this happen, and smoothly, too?

Mr Lau says: "It depends on how cheap and how small the goggles become and how powerful the computing processors become. But I don't know how far away it is."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2016, with the headline 'Grainy look at first live-streamed gig'. Print Edition | Subscribe