Virtual reality concert streams coming this summer

Summer music festival season is upon us. But if one tech company has its way, you won't need to leave the house to see your favourite band.

CBC Radio technology columnist Dan Misener has been looking at the latest in virtual reality music concerts.

Who's behind the plan to live stream VR concerts?

It's a newly announced partnership between NextVR, a virtual reality company, and Live Nation, which is one of the largest concert promoters in the world (and also the company that owns Ticketmaster).

This summer, they plan to stream live concerts online, in virtual reality, for free.

The idea is that you'd wear a VR headset, like the Oculus Rift or the Samsung Gear VR, and you'd have a live, 360-degree video playing all around you.

Depending on the concert, you might have a front row seat. Or you might get to go backstage. Or you might actually be on stage with the musicians as they perform.

NextVR stadium

NextVR has already streamed live sports events in virtual reality. This summer, they'll move into doing the same with live music. (NextVR.com)

This deal to live stream music concerts comes on the heels of similar partnerships NextVR has made over the past year or so with sports entertainment companies. They've already streamed live golf, auto racing and basketball in VR.

They haven't announced who these VR concerts will feature, but Live Nation promotes some pretty high profile acts, like Beyonce, Drake, Justin Bieber, Paul McCartney and Guns N' Roses.

What's the advantage of a VR concert?

Stephan Tanguay is a Canadian VR expert, and he's seen some of this live broadcast material. He said the big difference between a concert on TV and a concert in VR is that you get to control what you're looking at.

"If you want to see what the crowd's reaction is, you could turn around and look at the crowd. If the drummer's doing something, and maybe it wouldn't normally be in camera view but you find it interesting, you can turn around and look at it."

He said the same thing is true of sports. If, for example, you want to follow a specific player you're interested in, a VR broadcast lets you do that.

Can virtual reality truly capture a live concert?

I love seeing music live, in person. And when I first heard about what NextVR was doing, I was a bit skeptical about the ability to replicate the experience of being at a concert.

Brad Allen NextVR

NextVR executive chairman Brad Allen is shown here at a November 2015 Toronto Raptors game, along with NextVR's Helen Situ. While his company plans to being virtual reality live streams of music concerts, Allen acknowledges nothing will entirely replicate the live experience. (NextVR/Twitter)

You can have great sound and video, but there are certain aspects of seeing a live performance that you simply can't capture with microphones and video camera — like the vibe of a room, or the energy of  a crowd.

Brad Allen is the executive chairman of NextVR. And he completely agrees.

"Nothing replaces being there in person. I mean, whether it's sports or music, the camaraderie, the energy in the crowd, and all the rest of that. Nothing replaces live, in person, seeing your favourite artist on stage."

That said, there are a lot of things about seeing live music that I don't enjoy — the porta-potties at an outdoor festival, for example. Or overpriced drinks. Crowds. Parking. Tall people who stand in front of you.

Virtual reality may not be able to fully replicate the concert-going experience, but that may not always be a bad thing.

Will this convince more people to get a VR headset?

That seems to be the hope. As I've said before, virtual reality has a chicken and egg problem right now.

In order to convince people to produce VR content, you need an audience of people to watch it. And in order to get people to spend money on VR headsets, there needs to be content to watch. 

A lot of the early focus on virtual reality has been on gaming and hardcore gamers who are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on high-end VR headsets and powerful computers to drive them.

But while gamers may be the early adopters of VR, the industry is also actively looking for other forms of entertainment. 

Live streamed VR sports or concerts may be the kinds of popular content that drives adoption and pushes someone to buy one of the more affordable headsets that are coming onto the market.

Google Cardboard

At around $20, Google Cardboard is VR at its cheapest and most practical: a piece of cardboard with some plastic lenses. Put a smartphone inside, start up any number of Cardboard-ready apps and you're ready to go. (Anand Ram/CBC)

To put it another way, VR is waiting for its killer app, and some people believe it's music and sports.

How much would I need to spend to watch a VR concert?

Initially, NextVR says their live concerts are going to be free, though Brad Allen told me that eventually, the plan is to move to a subscription or pay-per-view model.

You will, of course, need a virtual reality headset, which could cost as much as several hundred dollars, or as little as around $20 for something like the Google Cardboard, if you already have a compatible smartphone.

Again, NextVR and Live Nation haven't announced specific dates, or which artists they'll be streaming. But Allen was able to confirm one important detail.

"There will be Canadian availability when it launches," he said.

So as you make your summer music festival plans this year, keep that in the back of your mind.

Instead, you could just stay inside, strap on a VR headset, and avoid the porta-potties.

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