It was telling that our IBC 2019 issue a fortnight ago was entirely void of anything virtual reality (VR) related – as we witness the technology shift from prodigy to prodigal at a frightening pace. Of course, lucrative ventures will emerge from the ashes in time, empowered by network infrastructure developments, and the latest to acquire a fallen solider is Verizon – buying up the assets of Jaunt XR a year after the VR start-up threw in the towel.
What could Verizon, not a company known for its successful video ventures nor for its miraculous turning around of struggling start-ups, have planned for Jaunt XR’s assets?
Verizon will be acquiring “all” of Jaunt, which as far as we can tell only includes some augmented reality (AR) assets, which was what Jaunt set its heart on in October last year when it made the switch from XR – the umbrella term for VR, AR and mixed reality – in a move we correctly described as one last hurrah. We suspect, however, that Jaunt has held onto VR assets like some of its studio-grade cameras costing $100,000 a pop, along with a suite of VR software and a distribution platform.
However, reports don’t appear to have noticed that Verizon already has its own XR arm called Envrmnt, a division of the telco giant focused on providing mobile XR applications to autonomous vehicles, smart cities and volumetric VR applications. Forming part of Verizon’s broader 5G Lab, we can say with almost complete confidence that Jaunt XR will be absorbed into Verizon’s 5G Lab project, with the technology adapted to serving Verizon’s interests in 5G-enabled use cases.
Faultline reached out for comment but a representative was unable to address our assertions, so in the meantime it appears that Jaunt XR has been pulled away from the media sector and into other mixed reality industry sectors set to exploit the latency and bandwidth advances of 5G networks.
Envrmnt has built a suite of compute APIs, spanning Graphic APIs for offloading computationally heavy rendering to low-latency, network-based GPUs, along with Vision APIs capable of augmenting and tracking thousands of vision targets on embedded assets. The Envrmnt portfolio also includes Lighting APIs for turning camera data into immersive worlds, and even Audio APIs for reproducing spatialized audio to reflect head rotation, attenuation, occlusion and material properties of a room. The addition of Jaunt XR’s assets, if indeed Verizon’s Envrmnt is where they are heading, could propel the division to new heights. So, let’s take a look at what Jaunt brings to the party.
At the time of switching focus from VR to AR a year ago, Jaunt planned to scale the creation of AR content powered by advancements in B2B volumetric XR technology (also known as cross or extended reality). Volumetric video is a technique which emerged with 3D displays, capturing data from a 3D space which can be viewed on a flat screen, as well as VR headsets. It borrows methods from computer graphics, photogrammetry and other computation-based videography techniques.
It was actually through dipping its toes into the M&A pool that Jaunt picked up its volumetric video expertise, with the purchase of XR app developer Personify Teleporter – inheriting volumetric streaming software capable of capturing, processing and streaming life-like AR assets in real-time.
Faultline first spotted a Jaunt Neo camera back at IBC in 2015, for potential OTT VR delivery. It comprised a rig of smaller cameras and combined feeds to create an all-encompassing experience. At the time, the company spoke about targeting music and sports, creating experiences such as court-side views of major tournaments, for example.
The company’s CTO and co-founder said during a presentation that cinema and TV would require heavy adaptations to production techniques in order to use rigs like Jaunt Neo and that hiding elements like cameramen and equipment from Neo’s omniscient eye was a challenge. Perhaps the reluctance of both production companies and Jaunt to change ultimately contributed to the company’s VR downfall.
Jaunt, which raised some $100 million from backers including Disney and Sky, had some final words saying it “enables the scaled creation and distribution of volumetric video through machine learning”.
Jaunt XR CEO Mitzi Reaugh was naturally “thrilled” with the acquisition, stating that ”the Jaunt team has built leading-edge software and we are excited for its next chapter with Verizon.” Let’s be honest, there is no next chapter and Jaunt XR’s journey comes to a close just like the great VR flops Magic Leap and Nokia Ozo. More scalps will come.