Cruise ship’s 80-inch ‘virtual balconies’ livestream the high seas

[Another story all about creating presence experiences, but without using the term; it’s from Wired, where you can find a second picture from Royal Caribbean]

Virtual balcony in ship cabin

Cruise Ship’s 80-Inch ‘Virtual Balconies’ Livestream the High Seas

By Damon Lavrinc

Passengers stuck in the bowels of Royal Caribbean’s latest behemoth can now pretend they’re living the high life with a “virtual balcony” — marketing-speak for an 80-inch HD display that pipes in real-time video to create a pseudo window, complete with a banister for “a feeling of safety.”

Eighty-one interior staterooms aboard the 15-deck Navigator of the Seas will get screens that stretch nearly floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall, displaying a live feed of what people with real windows are seeing, along with sound picked up my exterior microphones. But it’s more than just slapping big-screen TVs on each wall and calling it a day.

“The Virtual Balcony seems like a really simple concept,” says Charlie Miller, an associate partner at Control Group, the company behind the tech. “Our biggest challenges were all around making the experience as human and authentic as possible.”

To achieve that authenticity, the company mounted two RED Epic video cameras at the stem and stern of the ship. The gear has to be marine compliant and weathertight to deal with the sun, heat, salt, and water that comes with being at sea. Fiber-optic cable carries the video to a server, then to a set-top box that decodes and processes the video before it’s displayed on the screen. But the real trick is nixing any latency between the camera and the display.

“At the outset we had to answer questions around how people would react to an immersive display in a small place with no sunlight,” Miller told WIRED. “We consulted two scientists from MIT and Harvard to advise us … so that we could design in mechanisms to avoid any unpleasant side effects.”

To negate those ill affects, the displays are mounted in the staterooms on either the north or south wall. So, if a passenger is looking at the screen on a forward-facing wall, they’ll see the view from the bow of the ship.

The Navigator of the Seas’ maiden voyage begins Wednesday and marks the debut of the fake win… er, virtual balconies. And before you ask: yes, you can turn the screens off, and no, you can’t use them to stream Netflix.


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