7 projects and companies shaping video in 2021 – Part One

New year, new video trends in 2021!

A few cool ideas and projects and companies shaping the video world. This is part one of the three part series on video trends.
Here the topics will be:

  • 360 degrees video
  • low latency in video
  • video conferencing 2.0
  • 8 bit graphics
  • Navigable 3D worlds
  • Virtual reality for video streaming events
  • Audio orchestration for interactive sporting events

The projects and companies mentioned in this part one:

  1. Off World Live
  2. Around.co
  3. WorkAdventure
  4. Gather Town
  5. Pluto Video
  6. MelodyVR
  7. BBC R&D

1. OffWorld.live

Virtual reality camera

a startup creating 2d and 360 degrees low latency live streaming experiences. Their products include a 2D a live streaming virtual camera that can output directly to OBS from Unreal Engine with a specific plugin and no latency. To accompany this virtual streaming camera and allow creators to design holistic environments they also make a 360 degrees virtual live streaming camera also working from the Unreal Engine. 360 degrees video require a lot of information to transmit the video, far more than standard 2D video, this will go hand in hand with 5G technology rolling out and allowing users to sustain such data rates and enjoy a smooth streaming experience. On top of that, 1giga bit and faster internet cables are being installed in major cities more and more. Virtual reality is a trend increasing in 2021 and will make use of the faster internet brought by 5G and high speed broadband (arriving up to 2.5gigabit) connections.

offworld 360 degrees streaming virtual video camera
Offworld live virtual video streaming camera

Link to the company: https://offworld.live/

2. Around.co

AI driven videoconferencing

A smart, ai driven video conferencing tool with Slack integration that has circular video of the person’s face (extracted via AI) and cuts out the rest of the screen. Iit has different modes to collaborate seamlessly with remote and on site, using for example noise reduction and normalization techniques also aided by AI that allow multiple people in a room to have their mics open without feedback on the digital call. Their product is in beta. The evolution of virtual dynamic backgrounds might be just as well, no background at all! The video calls will be less intrusive and allow people to carry on work without having to resize or keep moving the square with the videos from the working screen. An important point of their offering is the privacy first approach where all the processing (for removing the nosie, circling out a persons face) is done on the client, the user’s device. This means that from around’s point of view they only see – server side – a stream of packets going around. One question that arises with the use of AI in video conferencing – or even the Zoom cat filter on a judge – 2021 is the evolution of videoconferencing and its increasing entanglement with AI.

Around.co smart AI driven video conferencing

Will this also be the year where Artificial Intelligence will start to analyze video frames – ok on the user’s device – and identify crimes?

Link to the company: https://www.around.co/

3. WorkAdventu.re

Videoconferencing with 80’s retro gaming and avatars

WorkAdventure is a new browser based service to work remotely collaboratively in a 80’s retro videogame 8bit style. The graphics of the rooms where specific video calls with people in the room are definitely dearest to those of us who loved Kontra, Super Mario, Gameboy, SNS, Metal Slug, Worms, GTA. You can pick and choose your avatar and customize it & the environment around, then you can move freely throughout the map of the company or event and come in contact with people either in the 2D rooms or through the hallways. The fun playful settings and colors of the different objects and areas are for sure more engaging then clicking on a link and opening a virtual call. Having said that, some companies might find it too far fetched from their style, their customers and market or employee seniority level, so it might not be for every business, but it makes super sense for tech startups, especially with programmers. Also it can be a tool to get a global understanding of what everyone is doing and what they are up to, for example instead of setting an icon or a status when one if away for lunch, the persons’ avatar can sit in the kitchen or park.

As an initial tool to get into different video calls intertwined with a 80’s videogame settings is the correct step increasing team building – people who play online whether once Counter Strike, then Call of Duty, now Fortnite, or of different genres World of Warcraft, have shown to have a strong bond with the other players even though they might be from different cultures, age group social status and 1000s of KMs apart and have never met in person. The team co-ops and cooperative games increase the social connection between the different players, and seeing this starting to be reflected in workflows for videoconferencing and remote working is a welcomed first step of 2021.

Workadventu.re a 80’s videogame style virtual company and videoconferencing

Link to the company: https://workadventu.re/

4. Gather Town

Collaborative 2D videoconferencing in 8 bits

Gather represents an expansion on the platform in number 3 because it is not directly aimed only at the workplace but expands breadth of target users also to people wanting to chat with friends. The joyful 2D 80’s graphics also expand to editable terrains and you can have TV objects which include embedding videos from other platforms. Another interesting feature is the ability to play games together with the other people in the same environment. Games include Tetris, Sudoku and Poker among others. Sure its not Fortnite, but its another step in the direction of blending online conferencing with gaming to make it more fun and bonding. Also there is a feature (which can be turned off) which mutes audio and shuts video if the tab with Gather is not selected, this reminds of a mobile app like experience. This year we will see an evolution of such services which are delivering videoconferencing 2.0.

Gather.town a videoconferencing 2.0 platform

Link to the company: https://gather.town/

5. Pluto Video

3D world and videoconferencing

Pluto enables you to create virtual navigable 3D worlds alongside videoconferencing. These worlds can be explored in multiple directions and include a Maldives scenario. The 3D graphics are an improvement of Wolfenstein 3D and carry the same feeling. This is not a critic as the world of videoconferencing 2.0 is just starting to intertwine with the world of games. The worlds can be populated with friends and family or co workers and attach a sense of physical presence to virtual meeting. Also the map at the bottom right is something inherited from 90’s games like Doom.

Pluto.video: 3D worlds meet videoconferencing

Link to the company: https://pluto.video/

6. MelodyVR

Virtual Reality for video streaming events

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality have been buzz words for some time now, but with the COVID pandemic there has been a renewed interest in such technologies to try bridge the gap between virtual and in real life events. Software development kit have emerged from the different vendors, and an example is React360 by Facebook which allows coding apps for the Oculus headset. React360 is also feasible for 2D to 3D devices like smartphones with the cardboard box for stereoscopic vision. Having said that, the amount of data throughput and quantity needed for true 3D stereoscopic Virtual Reality video with a high quality is huge, so it will require very fast connections (like up to 2,5 gigabits) to deliver that awesome experience that users expect and for which they are willing to pay for. Also applications that deliver such experiences will need iterative finetuning as the technology matures and reaches a wider audience which will not have the same lab condition it has been mostly been developed in. So expect black screen and glitches and a bit of low quality still when using VR apps, also expect coming improvements and higher apps resiliency and quality as the products mature. The company cited here, MelodyVR has created a platform to enjoy concerts in virtual reality through a proprietary service which runs on OculusVR Headset, Android and iOS smartphones. The concept is cool and people have already started using it, one thing which users complain about is the quality of the feeds delivered. This is perfectly understandable as it is a paid service and 8K is a reality, the product itself is catching up and becoming stronger in delivering a better user experience and video quality, paramount to any video streaming service today, whether VR or not. Expect improvements in virtual reality and an ever increasing user base as internet speeds go faster (with ultrafiber and 5G) and volumetric video gets higher quality. This is just the beginning.

Concerts in immersive Virtual Reality with a Melody

Link to the company: https://melodyvr.com/

7. BBC R&D

Immersive audio for interactive sporting events

The British Broadcasting Channel or BBC has always been at the forefront of innovation in multimedia and through its R&D lab has created a platform for immersive audio with video. Its Audio Orchestrator is capable along with the BBC Together project to sync and mix multiple audio channels which can then be toggled by the user to listen to a particular part of the event, whether its a part of the home crowd cheering (even though only people working in the industry are allowed) or the away fans, whether its the referee or the actual pitch voices, these can be selected on multiple devices at will while watching the game on the main screen. As an initial test, BBC has carried out and implemented this project for the Six Nations Rugby game which can be accessed as a video on demand (VOD) with the different – selectable – audio streams. As a first step towards a more immersive digital stadium experience is definitly a great leap forward, also from a technological point of view because syncing the different feeds and allowing users to listen in on one at a particular time while all consuming the same video asset is not easy. First of all because multiple usable tracks are needed and must be transmitted, then the different devices accessing the video event must be in sync with the event or the sound coming out of that device will be out of sync with the main content. Using partly manual partly automated annotation the different sound events were selected – like cheering after a goal, and then splitted in the respective stream with timed metadata to signal when to play that sound with respect to the main event. Immersive technologies like this one are also the focus of smaller startups across Europe, and even though now it works just with on demand, the path forward is to have immersive sound also for live video events. The step even further will be with users watching the event contributing with their cheering as a global audience, in private rooms with friends or in random public rooms with strangers, supporting a team or singing along in a concert all from the living room, until we can return to in real life events (this technology is here to stay and grow though)!

Immersive audio for sporting and music events will be a thing, sing along with your mates or a global audience

Link to the project: https://www.bbc.co.uk/makerbox/tools/audio-orchestrator

Video trends in 2021 part two