South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film, culture, and technology conference that started in Austin in 1987, attracts over 100,000 people every (non-pandemic) year. It is so massive, with dozens of panels every day, music and comedy performances, and screenings every night, that no two SXSW experiences are the same. If you have FOMO watching the social media posts fly past during SXSW (it’s called South-by by its denizens), it is actually worse if you are here. The panel you skipped to grab a bite with an old friend could turn out to be the best talk of the show. You rely on serendipity and momentary judgment to guide you through a treasure trove of content and people and accept FOMO as inevitable.
I was on the jury for the sixteen world premiere XR Experiences competing for the Grand Prize, and I wrote about it in this story. I saw the winner, Consensus Gentium on my smartphone a couple of days before leaving for the show. The twenty-minute film tells a story native to our most intimate device, the smartphone, which could open up a whole new genre of entertainment.
Only a few badge holders get to see many XR experiences. The math of throughput and utilization means the best exhibitors can only provide five turns per hour per seat. In three days, most can provide around 150 experiences, but ten thousand badge holders have strolled by hoping for an open seat. There is nothing SXSW can do about it. Every festival has this problem.
There was a lot of networking action going on in the hallway outside the exhibition hall. This is where I ran into Paul Raphaël of the well-known Felix & Paul studio, which has been making award-winning commercial and artistic immersive XR experiences like Space Explorers: The ISS Experience, Traveling while Black, and Gymnasia since 2013. Paul handed me a Magic Leap 2 and gave me a confidential look at an experience that started at Magic Leap in 2019, when together with the Henson company, they pitched a fairytale written by Simon Racioppa and narrated by Neil Gaiman. Delayed by problems at Magic Leap, and interrupted by the pandemic, this may be the Montreal studio’s best work. Wish I could say more, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy as they are just now looking for distribution. That’s South-by serendipity.
The Shiba Inu Metaverse is the most highly anticipated project on Shibarium, the layer 2 technology from Shiba Inu, which saw its official beta launch last week. At the festival the developers debuted a brief look at what the Unreal Engine 5-powered virtual world looks like. One demo was an open world. The other was a group meditation session in the WAGMI (“We’re All Going to Make It.”) Temple, the first of 11 hubs in the SHIB metaverse.
ASU’s New Graduate Program for Immersive Narrative, led by SXSW Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Nonny de la Pena hosted a party to celebrate its inaugural MA, class of 2023. One of these graduate students, Cameron Kostonopolus, won a Special Jury Prize in the competition for “Body of Mine,” an exploration of trans identity that allows you to fully become another gender, making a profound case for VR as an empathy machine.
Leia, a spin-off of HP, used the expo at SXSW to present its new 3D lightfield tablet, the Lume Pad 2. Images literally jump off the flat screen and into the physical world. They seem to float a foot in front of the 12.4” screen. The stereo cameras on the front of the pad provide eye tracking, and also enable stereography, using a suite of Leia branded apps such as Leia Cam, Leia Player, Leia Tube, Leia Dream, Leia Pix, the Lume Tablet can convert both 2D images and video into 3D. This remarkable device has won a CES innovation award every year for the past four years.
Jerome Monceaux, founder, and CEO of Pasis-based Enchanted Tools introduced me to a prototype of his new robot, Miroki. The humanoid robot – powered by AI (natch) – has a cute cartoon face, functional robot arms, and fingers, and is mounted atop a BB8-like omnidirectional ball. Miroki will be ready in 2025. The target price is $30K.
I got to experience an encore of Miro Shot’s immersive concert produced by Ristband, its spin-off company that creates live events that take place simultaneously in VR and physical reality, where we can use Mixed Reality to interact with the Metaverse and the live music at the same time. This year’s show used the new HTC Vive Elite HMD, which will go on sale later this month. What Ristband had done really pushes the limits – and this is just the beginning. Though, to be honest, I kind of missed the janky old Samsung Gear headsets they used last year. It was a bit of a mess, but much more rock & roll.
In another instance of South-by serendipity, I walked by the Rizzle.com booth while cruising the show floor between meetings. CEO Vidya Narayanan showed me how the AI-powered app can create social media videos simply by using a link to the text content. When I got home I tried it and was blown away by the amazing first draft (above), although Rizzle got the year wrong. The paid version will have all sorts of editing features including music, original photos, and graphic design choices.
— Charlie Fink (@CharlieFink) March 19, 2023
Since no two South-by’s are the same, Ted Schilowitz and I traded stories about the festival yesterday on our podcast, and interviewed Karen Palmer, producer, and director of “Consensus Gentium” a smartphone movie that won first place for XR Experiences at SXSW, Cameron Kostopoulos, whose VR experience “Body of Mine” won the special XR jury prize, and Roman Rappak, whose Miro Shot performed a sold out mixed reality concert in Austin.
For more tidbits and takeaways, I’ll leave you with the other SXSW coverage I produced during and after the show…
Charlie Fink is an author and futurist focused on spatial computing. A version of this post first appeared in Forbes.