AT&T hosted a live Axel Mansoor concert in AR using only 5G phones

It's the closest you'll get to an intimate gig during the pandemic.

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Live streams have made many concerts possible during the pandemic, but you can’t really call them intimate when artists and fans lack presence. AT&T and Ericsson have shown how close-up virtual gigs might work, however. They worked with NBC Songland artist Axel Mansoor to hold a live concert in augmented reality using only 5G smartphones to capture and attend the performance for 10 guests.

Mansoor only had to mount a phone on a stand to record his movement while he played and interacted with the audience. Fans, meanwhile, could place the “stage” in their homes and walk around, dance or send emojis. The gig took advantage of the digital venue with live 3D animated scenes to spruce up the event.

The concert took advantage of 5G’s extra bandwidth and low latency as well as machine learning and edge computing (that is, putting computational power close to where it’s needed). Before, an AR performance might have involved specialized volumetric streaming hardware, motion capture suits or simply pre-recording the show.

AT&T and Ericsson are quick to acknowledge the technology is young. The virtual Axel looks mostly like the real artist and reflects his general activity, but the model animation is stilted enough that you won’t forget you’re looking at a digital avatar. It’s also considerably easier to transmit a solo artist’s performance to a small audience than it would be for a band with thousands of attendees. And yes, there’s little doubt that this is an attempt to justify 5G at a time when the everyday benefits are relatively few and far between.

This does show how musicians might hold special gigs even after the pandemic, though. They wouldn’t need an elaborate studio to make distant fans feel involved. The technology could also be helpful well beyond music — you could have virtual visits with family, friends or coworkers with more presence than yet another video call.

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