Technologies that help people share experiences virtually were already abundant and increasing in popularity even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a recent Pew Research Center article, a portion of experts “express hope that changes spawned by the pandemic will make things better for significant portions of the population,” and one of those ways include “technological enhancements in virtual and augmented reality and AI that allow people to live smarter, safer and more productive lives.” These same experts forecast “the creation of 3D social media systems that allow for richer human interaction.”
Let’s dig into this a bit more, though, because we’re no longer just talking about the rise of AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality). It’s becoming increasingly common for people to interact from a distance in immersive, rich ways, and you don’t need AR or VR equipment to do it. What will be the most important components of the “3D social media systems” the above research describes?
Think about Apple’s recent updates at WWDC21. They introduced new developer tools and technologies to create even better apps, and one of the core elements is their spatial audio. “Apps can offer the theater-like experience of spatial audio and place sounds all around to bring their content to life. And Physical Audio Spatialization Engine makes it easy for game developers to render true-to-life audio across all of Apple’s platforms.”
The trend of high quality, immersive audio is exploding, and it’s being integrated into more and more apps and online experiences. So what are some of the best virtual experiences that you can explore with friends online?
What are the Best Virtual Experiences for Groups?
1. Enjoy a Live Comedy Show in Rushtix
Combine having the best-seat-in-the-house intimacy with an actual live show — from anywhere. “RushTix brings the magical shared experience of live comedy up close and personal with interactive livestreaming shows.” Not only can premier comedians connect with their fans everywhere and hear their laughter with innovative RushTix “Studio AUDIO-ance” technology, but fans get to join a vibrant real-time social experience together.
Rosa Escandon writes for Forbes, “Having people laughing is important for [Rushtix’s CEO] Jill Bourque, as she says, ‘Comedy is a conversion and the audience and the laughter is part of the whole art form… We feel that live-streaming brings a cool and immersive quality that lends itself to the form well.’ Bourque says of live-streaming events, ‘[We need] healthy ways to gather online. Social media platforms cause a lot of problems and personally, I am interested in ways we can gather online and form a community that feel positive.’”
Related reading: 5 Ways Brands are Using Immersive Technology in 2021
2. Join a TV Show or Movie Watch Party
Teleparty (formerly Netflix Party) is a new way to watch TV with your friends online. Teleparty synchronizes video playback and adds group voice chat and messaging to Netflix, Disney, Hulu and HBO. Over 10 million people use it now to host long distance movie nights and TV watch parties.
“Quarantine taught us how to get creative with movie nights and watch parties when we were missing our friends and family the most. One that's especially helpful is the free extension for the Google Chrome browser called Teleparty. This tool lets you start, stop and pause a Netflix movie or show so you can watch it at the same time as a group of friends and family — remotely.” As of June 2020, almost one-fifth of U.S. adults aged 18 and over say that they’ve ever taken part in a watch party.
This Verge article rounds up the other TV / movie watch party platforms, including Amazon Watch Party, Scener, Metastream, and TwoSeven. And of course, using Zoom is always an option. (Although, we prefer it in spatial audio… but more on that soon. If you’re curious, check out this blog post for more info.)
Most recently announced at WWDC21, SharePlay is a new “Watch Party” sort of option for developers to integrate. “Apple is bringing one of streaming’s trendiest features to iPhone users with the debut of SharePlay in iOS 15 later this year, allowing FaceTime users to stream music, online videos, and movies together with friends.”
Karisa Langlo writes for CNET, “With SharePlay, you can stream the same movie or TV show as your friends, just like you can with Teleparty, but with the added benefit of picture-in-picture video chat courtesy of FaceTime. Teleparty and a lot of other watch party apps only enable synchronized video streaming and an instant messaging component. You can also use SharePlay to share music (virtual dance party, anyone?) or your entire iPhone screen. “
3. Play Games Online With Voice Chat or Proximity Chat
“The video gaming industry is huge and shows no signs of slowing down. While there were almost two billion video gamers across the world in 2015, this figure is expected to rise to over three billion gamers by 2023.”
More importantly, though, it is now more possible than ever to chat online with friends while gaming, and there are many platforms to choose from. A huge one, of course, is Discord — they count more than 140 million monthly active users, up from 56 million at the end of 2019. “Since launching in 2015, Discord has quickly become one of the top places for video game players to gather and communicate online.”
Here’s another fun one that grew in popularity over the last year: Playing Among Us with Proximity Voice Chat Mod allows players to voice chat in-game without the use of a third-party service like Discord. “It also incorporates spatial audio so players only hear the people closest to them, just as they would in real life. This can add to the immersion of the game and create a new level of challenge for players.” So many new proximity chat platforms have popped up in the last year with a wide variety of features and use cases. Explore those more here: What is the Best Proximity Chat Platform in 2021?
Or how about playing Minecraft with an in-game spatial audio voice chat? That’s possible now, too — read more here. Simply put, having immersive audio is a game changer. You can also read more about audio software for game development here.
Immersive Audio is a Core Component of a Great Virtual Experience
“For as long as humans have been on this planet, we’ve invented forms of communication—from smoke signals and messenger pigeons to the telephone and email—that have constantly evolved how we interact with each other,” Sol Rogers writes for Forbes.
What do all three of the above virtual experiences involve? Audio. Having high quality, immersive audio while listening to a live comedy show, watching a movie with your friends, or playing a video game is an invaluable component to these experiences, as they all involve communicating clearly and immediately with others.
Fortunately, now it’s actually easy to implement spatial audio into your app, website, or in-game voice chat. Are you working on building any of these experiences? Check out our guides and resources page to learn more about integrating low latency audio with just a handful of lines of code.