Virtual twin of the Chemnitz Opera House serves to develop digital stage experiences
Team of the project SocialSTAGE-VR created a virtual image of the hall and adjacent areas of the Chemnitz Opera House for research purposes - the project aims to make it possible to experience stage shows and TV events live from home thanks to virtual reality
Stage shows, such as concerts, musicals or theater performances, are special social experiences. But not everyone can enjoy such events often and equally. According to surveys, for example by the German Association of the Event Industry, only about half of the population attends live shows at all, and then usually only once or twice a year. Not only financial reasons stand in the way but above all a lack of time, regional accessibility or mobile restrictions. With virtual reality (VR), the experience of live cultural shows can now be brought from the stage to the home for the first time.
Live transmission of a stereoscopic stage recording into the virtual event location populated with avatars.
VR glasses allow access to remote environments as if you were a part of them, creating the illusion of being together. The SocialSTAGE-VR research and development project at Chemnitz University of Technology, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, aims to use these possibilities to make concerts and other stage shows virtually accessible to everyone, regardless of one’s location. The project network, led by the Chair of Industrial Engineering and Innovation Management and the Chair of Production Systems and Processes, is currently developing a VR application that transmits stage content live and three-dimensional into virtual event spaces which can be visited by interested people together as avatars. In addition to the Chemnitz University of Technology, the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS from Erlangen, Die Etagen GmbH from Osnabrück, YOUSE GmbH from Berlin and point omega AG from Heidelberg are involved in the research project.
Digital transformation in cultural industry: TU Chemnitz and partners develop a social virtual reality application to experience concerts and theater performances together, away from TV and live streaming
„The technical possibilities of VR events are not a substitute for real experiences, nor are they intended to be“, explains Dr. Frank Dittrich, a staff member at the Chair of Work Science and Innovation Management, who initiated and is now coordinating the project. He adds, „It will create new social formats with which cultural content can be consumed.“ In contrast to common digital formats, such as a TV broadcast or live streaming on the Internet, VR realizes the feeling of being spatially together with others who are geographically distant and also a certain on-site feeling, he says. „This makes it possible for me to attend a live concert in the U.S. together with friends from Australia, for example, and to do so within the comfort of my own home,“ Dittrich explains. He says this suddenly opens up the possibility for the cultural industry, which has so far mostly been limited to regionality, to reach a location-independent audience and also appeal to people who have not previously attended live shows for various reasons. To this end, suitable business models must also be developed in the medium term to ensure consumers have access to necessary hardware, such as VR glasses. In the long term, however, the researchers assume that glasses-based end devices will be part of the basic media equipment.
Stereoscopic test shots in the Osnabrück event location Rosenhof. Source: Drehteam GmbH
Initial trial work explores the sense of shared experience
In recent months, initial trials have already taken place at the project partner Die Etagen GmbH in Osnabrück. There, a local event location was digitized and test shots with stereoscopic camera systems were implemented. The aim was to test the influence of different camera parameters on the perceived 3D effect. For this purpose, the project partners, based in different parts of Germany, met in a virtual location as avatars wearing VR goggles. „In the next few months, we will start by using these to conduct studies with test subjects in the lab,“ says Dittrich. „The goal will be to evaluate one’s sense of presence and sense of social presence. So, do I feel like I’m part of the environment and other people are part of that environment, too? From these results, we will make deductions for further research and development.“
The project team still has a lot planned for the next two and a half years: For example, they want to develop methods to minimize the problem of lacking parallax in stereoscopic videos, to digitize large real event spaces using photogrammetry with as little effort as possible, and to enable interactions between artists on the real stage and spectators in the virtual space. All development work is based on the premise of achieving practical solutions. „Our offering should be low-threshold and, if possible, enable social and cultural participation for a broad audience using self-sufficient VR glasses,“ says Christian Fuchs, a scientist at the Chair of Production Systems and Processes, who’s primary responsibility within the project is the interaction design of the virtual avatars with each other or with various objects in the virtual event space.
Benefiting from the project results with an associated partnership
In terms of a user-centered development, both consumers and artists will be closely involved in the design of the VR application. In this way, new concepts are to be developed that do not simply copy real events, but use the possibilities of virtual reality and go beyond real-physical boundaries to break new ground in artistic implementation. In addition to the funded development partners, other associated partners such as the ZDF, the Städtische Theater Chemnitz gGmbH and the Berlin pop group MIA are therefore participating in the project. Other players from media and culture are also welcomed to contact the network and enter into an associated partnership. Regular information events are planned for the duration of the project, at which project results will be presented and discussed with the cultural sector.