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The Influencers

XR Takes the Main Stage at CES 2021

VP / GD experiential technology at Digitas Keith Soljacich on social virtual experiences, AR Smart Glasses and 5G powered entertainment

 XR Takes the Main Stage at CES 2021

- Above: Madison Beer Immersive Reality Experience // Credit: Sony Music

Before the trucks and the booths and the tech rolled into the Las Vegas Convention Centre 12 months ago, 2.9 million square feet of bare floor carried innate possibility. The sprawling sea of humanity consumed the goods at the world’s largest technology show largely by walking and walking and walking.

Enter CES 2021.

The pressure from the industry was palpable. Can CES stay accessible and relevant in a post-Covid world? The answer was a resounding yes: by partnering closely with Microsoft and embedded key XR (Extended Reality) technology to power the show. This year we could teleport to any keynote instantly. Every industry panel - front row seats. Every virtual booth - a personalised one-on-one connection. And if you were craving the party scene? Strap on a VR headset, customise your avatar, and step inside Dreamland XR to visit the hottest virtual club in AltSpace, in your pyjamas. Such was the scene at CES 2021.


Enter the Social Virtual Experience


- Above: Dreamland XR / CES // Credit: Andrew Klein

With top marketers around the world looking on, CES 2021 will be remembered as the first large-scale virtual event of the post-pandemic modern era. Consumers are more connected to brands via digital channels than ever before, and increasingly those consumers are looking for virtual platforms to deliver brand experiences.

Beyond Zoom, social VR apps like AltSpace and VRChat enable limitless virtual worlds and are becoming more and more sophisticated. Before the pandemic, 'pop-ups' offered total brand immersion for a high-profile product launch or demo. With social VR, these same pop-ups can exist in the Multiverse and can be designed to look however you like. Do you have a space-themed product? How about a product launch aboard a rocketship heading toward the moon? How about a new car launch? Invite consumers into a virtual auto show like Jeep did. These are instantly accessible to the global community and can support thousands of concurrent users.


AR Smart Glasses – Virtual Myth or Augmented Reality?


- Above // credit: Vuzix

For the past five years, CES has existed as a time capsule and logbook, tracking the technological evolution of the next holy grail of consumer technology…the AR Smart Glasses. Companies like Vuzix, Google and Panasonic have all left their mark and their failures on this battleground. But now, displays are thinning, batteries are improving, cameras are shrinking and 5G has arrived. All foundational technologies to get us to AR glasses, the next computing form factor.

Companies like the aforementioned Vuzix and Nreal showcased their 2021 AR glass iterations that are ready to ship this year. Important use-cases like product visualisation, remote collaboration and PC virtualisation are looking like the killer apps. This is especially enticing for marketers, as consumers move their spending and shopping habits to their homes. Imagine welcoming an ultra-realistic AI salesperson into your home (viewable through your AR glasses) who will take you through a personal shopping journey. For customer experience, AR glasses could offer a real-time product support session for your brand-new gadget or appliance. With reports that an Apple VR / AR head-mounted display is scheduled for release in 2021, the picture will be much clearer as to how these devices will improve our relationship with brands by the time CES 2022 rolls around.


The Stage is Set for 5G Powered XR Entertainment

At CES 2021, 5G-powered experiences were highlighted by companies like Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T. With its ultra-high speed and low latency, 5G Ultrawideband offers the requisite bandwidth and connectivity to experience events as they happen. So while it will still be some time before we can return to our favourite entertainment venues, that has not slowed down the pace of innovation around XR entertainment. A few companies and entertainers have stepped up to fill the gap that only live music can.

During the Verizon keynote, CEO Hans Vestburg showcased an immersive concert experience in real time powered by 5G. With cameras connected to 5G networks onstage at The Wiltern in Los Angeles, viewers were invited to step into the AR portal to watch the artist Black Pumas perform. Elsewhere, Sony Music Entertainment partnered with singer songwriter Madison Beer to put fans in the front row of a ground-breaking virtual concert experience. To pull this off, Madison was rendered as an ultra-realistic avatar and the iconic Sony Hall stage was meticulously recreated in 3D. This innovative format brings every fan in to the front row and an all-digital offering allows for real-time fan interaction with the artist and brand sponsors.


One Big XR Party

CES 2021 effectively closes the chapter on non-digital brand experience. Experiences that are not digitally native, backed by data and put the consumer at the core now feel much more antiquated and short-sighted. Brands that migrate their digital activations to the XR space aggressively will meet consumers where they are and will see AR and VR as essential tools to make that connection. So whether it’s a virtual try-on on Instagram, a virtual club in AltSpace or a location-based augmented reality museum, XR is disrupting legacy technologies and charting the path forward.


- Keith Soljacich, VP / GD experiential technology, Digitas


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