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What is Extended Reality (XR)?

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What is Extended Reality (XR)?

What is Extended Reality (XR)?

It’s the year 2030, and you have a busy day scheduled. You need to check on your production lines in China, visit Mars during your lunch break, and attend a business meeting in Brazil – all from the comfort of your office in New York.

While it might sound far-fetched now, this future might be within our grasp thanks to advancements in Extended Reality (XR). Today’s infographic from Raconteur illustrates the growth of XR technology, and its potential to transform business across industries.

Understanding Extended Reality

To understand Extended Reality (XR), we’ll begin by defining three of its main components: virtual, augmented, and mixed reality.

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality (VR) applications use headsets to fully immerse users in a computer-simulated reality. These headsets generate realistic sounds and images, engaging all five senses to create an interactive virtual world.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) is not a new reality, but a layer on top of your existing one. Rather than immersing users, AR relies on a device – usually the camera in your phone or tablet – to overlay digital graphics and sounds into a real-world environment. Pokémon Go and Snapchat filters are commonplace examples of this kind of technology.

Mixed Reality

Mixed Reality (MR) lies somewhere in between VR and AR. It blends real and virtual worlds to create complex environments where physical and digital elements can interact in real time. Like AR, it overlays synthetic content in a real-world environment; and like VR, this content is interactive, and users can manipulate the digital objects in their physical space.

With their Spectator View, Microsoft has used MR as a complement to their HoloLens AR product. The Spectator View app offers users a third-party perspective of a HoloLens user and their AR content in real time.

Extended Reality

Extended Reality (XR) is the umbrella term used for VR, AR, and MR, as well as all future realities such technology might bring. XR covers the full spectrum of real and virtual environments.

The use of an umbrella term speaks to the future of XR as a fundamental shift in the way people interact with media. In the future, instead of saying “I’m using AR to attend a business meeting” – it will just be another day at the office. People will interact with the real and virtual worlds in seamless ways, without mention of extended reality’s distinct categories and their underpinning technology.

To use an umbrella term is to recognize the intersection of these technologies, and the many ways they will work together to disrupt our everyday tasks.

XR for Business

Extended reality is changing the landscape in a number of industries. It’s expected to grow eightfold, reaching an estimated market size of more than $209 billion by 2022.

Extended reality forecast market size 2022

A glance at current use cases shows the potential for XR across industries:

  • Entertainment
    XR brings immersive experiences to the entertainment world, and offers consumers an opportunity to virtually experience live music and sporting events from the comfort of their VR headset. While a majority of market share leans heavily towards entertainment, it’s not the only one gearing up for a virtual expansion.
  • Marketing
    Virtual realities have opened new ways for brands to engage with consumers, offering immersive ways to interact with new products.
  • Training
    Extended reality opens new avenues for training and education. People who work in high-risk conditions – like chemists and pilots – can train in safety from a more conventional classroom setting. Medical students, meanwhile, can get hands-on practice on virtual patients.
  • Real Estate
    Property managers can streamline the rental process by allowing potential tenants to view properties virtually, while architects and interior designers can leverage XR to bring their designs to life.
  • Remote Work
    XR removes distance barriers, allowing remote employees to seamlessly access data from anywhere in the world.

Extended reality is not without its challenges. The spread of data presents a new layer of vulnerability for cyber attacks, while the high cost of implementation is a barrier to entry for many companies.

But even these challenges can’t slow the progress of XR, and the question remains: how will businesses define reality five years from now?

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Misc

How Many Music Streams Does it Take to Earn a Dollar?

Streaming has breathed new life into the music business, but as new data shows, these services pay out wildly different rates per stream.

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How Many Music Streams Does it Take to Earn a Dollar?

A decade ago, the music industry was headed for a protracted fade-out.

The disruptive effects of peer-to-peer file sharing had slashed music revenues in half, casting serious doubts over the future of the industry.

Ringtones provided a brief earnings bump, but it was the growing popularity of premium streaming services that proved to be the savior of record labels and artists. For the first time since the mid-90s, the music industry saw back-to-back years of growth, and revenues grew a brisk 12% in 2018 – nearly reaching $10 billion. In short, people showed they were still willing to pay for music.

Although most forecasts show streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music contributing an increasingly large share of revenue going forward, recent data from The Trichordist reveals that these services pay out wildly different rates per stream.

Note: Due to the lack of publicly available data, calculating payouts from streaming services is not an exact science. This data set is based on revenue from an indie label with a ~150 album catalogue generating over 115 million streams.

Full Stream Ahead

One would expect streaming services to have fairly similar payout rates every time a track is played, but this is not the case. In reality, the streaming rates of major players in the market – which have very similar catalogs – are all over the map. Below is a full breakdown of how many streams it takes to earn a dollar on various platforms:

Streaming serviceAvg. payout per stream# of streams to earn one dollar# of streams to earn minimum wage*
Napster$0.0195377,474
Tidal$0.012580117,760
Apple Music$0.00735136200,272
Google Play Music$0.00676147217,751
Deezer$0.0064156230,000
Spotify$0.00437229336,842
Amazon$0.00402249366,169
Pandora**$0.001337521,106,767
YouTube$0.000691,4492,133,333

*U.S. monthly minimum wage of $1,472 **Premium tier

Napster, once public enemy number one in the music business, has some of the most generous streaming rates in the industry. On the downside, the brand currently has a market share of less than 1%, so getting a high volume of plays on an album isn’t likely to happen for most artists.

On the flip side of the equation, YouTube has the highest number of plays per song, but the lowest payout per stream by far. It takes almost 1,500 plays to earn a single dollar on the Google-owned video platform.

Spotify, which is now the biggest player in the streaming market, is on the mid-to-low end of the compensation spectrum.

The Payment Pipeline

How do companies like Spotify calculate the amount paid out to license holders? Here’s a look at their payout process:

artist spotify streaming payouts

As this chart reveals, dollars earned from streaming still don’t tell the full story of how much artists receive at the end of the line. This amount is influenced by whether or not the performer has a record deal, and if other contributors have a stake in the recorded work.

The Pressure is Heating Up

When Spotify was a scrappy startup providing a much needed revenue stream to the music industry, labels were temporarily willing to accept lower streaming rates.

But now that Spotify is a public company, and tech giants like Apple and Amazon are in the picture, a growing chorus of industry players will likely dial up the pressure to increase compensation rates.

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Misc

The Global Fiber Optic Network Explained

An informative look at the global fiber optic network, how the cables actually work, and the technology that will power the 6G network.

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The Global Fiber Optic Network Explained

As we scroll through Instagram or cue up another episode on Netflix, most of us give little thought to the hidden network of fiber optic cables that instantaneously shuttle information around the globe.

This extensive network of cables – which could stretch around the Equator 30 times – is the connective tissue that binds the internet, and thanks to our insatiable appetite for video streaming, it’s growing larger with every passing year.

Today’s video, by TED-Ed, explains how fiber optic cables work and introduces the next generation of cables that could drastically increase the speed of data transmission.

A Series of Tubes

The late Senator Ted Stevens drew laughter for describing the internet as a “series of tubes” in 2006, but as it turns out, most of the information moving around the world does, in fact, travel through a series of tubes. Undersea fiber optic tubes, to be exact.

The way this system functions is deceptively simple. Light, which is beamed into a fiber optic cable at a shallow angle, ricochets its way along the tube at close to light speed until being converted back into an electrical signal at its destination – generally a data center. To increase bandwidth further, some cables are able to carry multiple wavelengths concurrently.

Impressively, this simple method of bouncing light through a tube is what moves 99% of the world’s digital information.

The Glass Superhighway

Since the first undersea fiber optic cable, TAT-8, was constructed by a consortium of companies in 1988, the number of cables snaking across the ocean floor has risen dramatically. In fact, over 100 new cables will have been laid between 2016 and 2020, with a value of nearly $14 billion.

global fiber optic subsea cable projects

Increasing bandwidth requirements have transformed content providers from customers to cable owners. As a result, tech giants like Google and Facebook are taking a more active role in the expansion of the global fiber optic network. Google alone has at least five cable projects set for completion in 2019.

The Last Mile

Much like Amazon struggles with the “last mile” of deliveries, the transmission of digital information is much less efficient at the data center level, where servers are connected by traditional electric cables. These short-range cables are far less efficient than their fiber optic counterparts, losing half their running power as heat.

If this inefficient use of energy isn’t solved, internet-related activity could comprise a fifth of the world’s power consumption by 2030.

Thankfully, a related technology – integrated photonics – could keep the high-definition videos of the future streaming. Although the silicon wires used in integrated photonics do not guide light as effectively as fiber optics, the ultra-thin wires are far more compact. Photonic chips paired with burgeoning terahertz (THz) wireless communications could eventually form the backbone of a 6G network. Short-range THz signals would hitch a ride on silicon wires via tiny photonic chips scattered around population centers.

Before this efficient, high-capacity future is realized, researchers must first solve the puzzle of manufacturing photonic devices at scale. Once this method of data transmission hits the mainstream market, it could drastically alter the course of both computing and global energy consumption.

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