I recently attended my first AT&T Shape conference at Warner Brothers Studios in Los Angeles, California. This year’s event focused heavily on 5G as a cornerstone technology, and how it will drive the entire company forward for at least the next decade. As such, AT&T brought in a lot of partners and exhibitors to demonstrate exactly what 5G means for the future. Now that AT&T owns Warner Brothers (through its Time Warner acquisition), it is also in the content business—the event showcased lots of partnerships on that side as well. Overall, this event felt like a very coherent marriage of these two business units, with AT&T installing 5G infrastructure in the Warner Brothers Studios lot and enabling tons of interesting 5G demos. Let’s take a closer look.
Partners in full force
There was a plethora of companies in attendance at AT&T Shape, including infrastructure vendors like Ericsson and Nokia . XR headset makers like Magic Leap and HTC were also on site, showing off the power of XR combined with 5G. Additionally, OEMs like Netgear and Samsung showcased their 5G devices for AT&T. Even companies likeNVIDIA and Amazon were at the two-day event, showing off their cloud services that will eventually feed the 5G devices connected to AT&T’s network. I was most interested in the forward-looking demos at the event that leveraged XR.
One big presence felt across the show was Magic Leap, whose prominence at the event was second only to AT&T. This should be no surprise to anyone; the two companies work very closely together dating back to AT&T’s investment in Magic Leap in July 2018. Their relationship has only grown stronger and deeper; they’ve expanded into business solutions, and AT&T now offers Magic Leap’s headset in its stores. During my two days at AT&T Shape I tried six different Magic Leap applications at four different booths, all of which utilized AT&T’s 5G as the pipe for connectivity.
In these demos, I watched a concert in AR, with the ability to walk around and enjoy it from multiple perspectives. I watched three different TV streams simultaneously on DirecTV Now, using 5G in an Airstream trailer. I even defeated a Night Walker in Game of Thrones’ engaging Magic Leap-powered experience.
Magic Leap demos
I also got the chance to finally try out Magic Leap’s first party experiences, including Dr. Grordbort’s Invaders, Mimesys, and Mica, and I wanted to share some of my findings. Mimesys was the first of the three I tried. Mimesys is a remote collaboration platform that allows people to see one another in volumetric video form (which a layman might call a hologram). The platform enables collaboration and the sharing of 3D assets—picture the ability to play a match of chess or look at the same topographical map or 3D scan. I was impressed by the collaborative nature of the experience—I was easily able to communicate with someone in Florida at Magic Leap’s HQ. That said, I would like to see the company find a better solution for real-time volumetric capture; I found that the quality of the live volumetric video distracted from the quality of the rest of the experience.
Mica came next. Mica is Magic Leap’s AI-powered experience, in which a digitally created character named Mica interacts with the user in a collaborative art piece that ultimately becomes something uniquely human. I was very impressed by the realism and natural feel of the interactions between myself and Mica. However, the lack of voice and audio made it feel a bit weird and unnatural at times. I could see Mica becoming a kind of digital teacher or assistant that works with you in the Magic Leap ‘Magicverse.’ There were a few times when I felt like the experience was slightly hampered by the headset’s field-of-view, which I didn’t feel with the other two demos.
Magic Leap has come a long way over the last few years. I believe that the company is on the right track, and is smart to partner with operators like AT&T on 5G. I truly deeply hope the company includes built-in 5G connectivity in future releases. I don’t think AR’s potential will be realized until developers and headset manufacturers embrace the real world (outside of a single room) and all of its amazing potential. 5G connectivity will also make it easier for AT&T and other operators to sell the devices, since it can pair connectivity and hardware into one monthly payment.
Volumetric Video Storybooth
While many of the experiences at AT&T Shape were fascinating and entertaining, there was one that was head and shoulders above the rest, in my opinion. AT&T’s own Volumetric Video Storybooth enables users to create compelling and personal stories that are quickly and easily shareable, leveraging multiple technologies with 5G. First, you step into a ‘5G’ volumetric scanning booth and record a 15 second personal message of any type. It then gets processed nearly instantaneously and sent to the cloud, where you can download it to a smartphone or tablet over 5G and view the finished video in AR. You can record your volumetric video from any angle and then send it to yourself to keep or share on social media. This was an incredibly fast process end-to-end, and I was able to create multiple videos, send them to myself, and pick the one I liked best later. It wasn’t just me who was impressed—it by far the most popular thing I have posted on social media in a very long time.
As someone who extensively covers both XR and 5G, I was amazed by this year’s AT&T Shape in LA. I very much look forward to the kind of content and hardware that will be present at next year’s event as 5G continues to mature. The AT&T and Magic Leap partnership is growing in a good way; it was great to the CEOs of both companies getting chummy on stage at the conference. Both clearly understand how much XR and 5G need each other—their continued collaboration is good for them and for the industry as a whole.