Virtual reality: where entertainment meets communication

As an innovation partner to Roland-Garros, Orange will use this year’s tournament to unveil its multi-player virtual reality experience. How will this new technology change the way we communicate? We asked Luc Bretones, Director of Orange Technocentre and Orange Vallée.

We no longer ‘consume’ content in the same way today. How are things changing?

The way content is consumed has evolved to put the user at the centre of the experience. This is the case with artificial intelligence in terms of personal assistants, new voice interfaces that offer greater responsiveness, and even chat, which allows the user to choose when and how he wants to interact with a brand. Not to mention virtual reality (VR)!

At Roland-Garros, Orange is promising an unprecedented virtual reality experience. What does that mean?

We’re launching two new initiatives this year. Holotennis is the first multi-player virtual reality experiment in the field of sport, teleporting people to the Philippe-Chatrier court at Roland-Garros. Two players – filmed in 3D and wearing VR headsets – become holograms and can exchange balls over the net. They are competing on court, but the difference is, one is actually on the Orange stand and the other in the Roland-Garros Lab!
What’s more, thanks to Holographe, tennis celebrities can enjoy a more immersive experience with their fans. They can hit a few balls together and also sign a virtual autograph in hologram, which is sent to the fan via email.

Who came up with these amazing ideas?

Orange, as a longstanding partner of Roland-Garros and the French Tennis Federation (FFT), has turned Roland-Garros into a real playground by testing out several innovations there (Wi-Fi, beacon, 4K, Big Data…). We came up with the idea of Holotennis about a year ago, but we’ve been working on the technologies behind it for several years: virtual reality, broadband etc.

 

Luc Bretones, Director of Orange Technocentre and Orange Vallée
Holotennis and Holographe are two fun applications for virtual reality, testing out a customer experience that will become widespread if the public takes to it.
Luc Bretones, Director of Orange Technocentre and Orange Vallée

 

How and why did Orange get involved in virtual reality?

Orange is a credible player in this are because the technology, along with 360° video, requires high-speed networks and significant on-site and network computing capabilities, which we can provide end-to-end.
Our long-term research work came to fruition at the end of 2016 with the Orange VR Expérience pilot. This gives participants free access to an entire range of premium VR experiences.

Is there a market for VR and 360°?

These technologies are becoming popular through gaming, tourism applications, virtual assistants… at the same time, these devices are becoming more accessible, enabling people to share sporting events or holiday experiences in real time. Holotennis and Holographe are two fun applications for virtual reality, testing out a customer experience that will become widespread if the public takes to it. A service or technology is accepted if they provide a useful everyday service, which is natural and easy to use. 

Are these technologies confined to leisure experiences?

These offers are driven by gaming today, but immersive travel experiences and professional applications will grow. They are the forerunners to new modes of communications. With 360° video, virtual reality and holograms, people can participate in family get-togethers even if they can’t be there. 360° capture is already possible at low cost and very high speeds via fibre or 5G making these experiences more commonplace.
As President of Orange Solidarité, an association that fights against the digital divide, I was struck by the emotion of someone who lives alone but who can ‘share a meal’ with their family via their tablet. This is the human application of these new technologies!