At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Ericsson and Intel teamed up to show off how 5G technology can support high-bandwidth, cutting-edge services like live streaming a sporting event in 180-degree virtual reality. The companies’ demonstration, held on the crowded trade show floor at CES earlier this month, highlighted both the potential of 5G as well as the fact that the technology is still in its infancy.
The demo from Ericsson and Intel was intended to feature one of the many ways that 5G technologies might be used in the future. For example, sports fans without tickets may want to ditch their TVs in favor of a virtual reality headset that would put them in the midst of the action. Executives from the companies argued that only the super-fast connections enabled by 5G can support both the low latency speeds required for sporting action (otherwise the VR stream would be out of synch with the actual action on the field) as well as the massive amounts of data generated by multiple VR cameras recording an event.
So what did the demo look like, and how did it perform?
The demo started with Intel’s Voke camera (at left):
Intel acquired Voke late last year specifically to “change the way networks, sports leagues and teams engage with their audiences.” In its demo, Intel used two Voke “Eye Technology” cameras to capture 180-degree video of CES attendees hitting baseballs in the Intel booth on the show floor.
Here’s a closer look at the Voke camera in a picture from Intel:
Video from the two Voke cameras created roughly 4 Gbps of data, which was then sent to an Intel server where it was compressed. (Intel also announced its 5G modem at CES). That compressed VR video was then sent to an Ericsson 5G cell site where it was transmitted through Ericsson’s combined 5G radio and antenna.
Ericsson’s pre-standard 5G radio and antenna looked like this:
And it sat on top of this server:
The compressed VR video was then transmitted over a pre-standard 5G connection roughly 40 feet to Ericsson’s nearby booth, where another Ericsson combined 5G radio and antenna received it. An Intel executive said the compressed video transmitted over the air via the 5G connection was roughly 20 Mbps, while the system capacity of the uplink was 100 Mbps of data.
Ericsson’s 5G radio and antenna receiver in its booth looked like this:
After transmitting the data through the 5G connection, the VR video was then recompiled into a video stream of roughly 2K quality that was then displayed inside a Facebook Oculus virtual reality headset, which looked like this:
Here’s another picture of the headset from Oculus:
When donning the headset at the Ericsson booth, the experience was as advertised: Viewers could see a 180-degree livestream of the action occurring in Intel’s booth. The video wasn’t crystal clear, but that’s mainly due to the quality of today’s commercial virtual reality headsets. Viewers could also toggle between Intel’s two Voke cameras by looking at a spot on the ground while wearing the headset. And since only 180 degrees of action was being captured, viewers who turned around and looked behind them could only see a blue screen.
To be clear, sports VR is only one of many use cases being touted by the wireless industry in the run-up to actual commercial deployments of 5G. However, it’s telling that two of the industry’s largest vendors—Intel and Ericsson—chose livestreaming sports VR to demonstrate the power of 5G at the Consumer Electronics Show, arguably the largest tech trade show in the world.