Microsoft lays off Mixed Reality Capture Studios team
Welcome to Lowpass, a newsletter about the future of entertainment and the next big hardware platforms, including smart TVs, ambient computing and AR / VR. This week: Microsoft retreats from volumetric capture just as demand for 3D content grows.
Subscribe now to get the next issue delivered to your inbox for free.
Microsoft lays off volumetric capture team
Microsoft has axed the team running its Mixed Reality Capture Studios as part of last week’s layoffs, according to social media posts from team members affected by the cuts.
The layoffs took the team by “complete surprise,” I’ve been told by a source with knowledge of the development. The same is true for a number of commercial partner studios; I’ve heard that these companies haven’t gotten any official communication from Microsoft about the future of their partnership.
A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on the future of its Mixed Reality Capture Studios initiative, and instead referred me to a statement by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, which makes no mention of the impact the layoffs are having on the company’s AR and VR projects.
Microsoft’s first Mixed Reality Capture Studio opened in 2014 in Redmond, as was followed by a second facility in San Francisco four years later. The company then teamed up with outside partners to open up studios in a number of cities including Los Angeles, London, Seoul and Tokyo.
I got a tour of the San Francisco studio in 2018. Its volumetric capture stage featured a total of 106 cameras capable of capturing 10GB of video data per second.
Part of that visit involved me juggling on the capture stage, which the Capture Studios team then turned into a 3D hologram.
Microsoft’s Capture Studios, as well as those operated by its partners, have over the years been used to record 3D assets for AR and VR experiences, music videos, commercials and even feature films.
The Mixed Reality Capture Studios team had also been working on real-time capture for holographic telepresence, and was apparently also experimenting with a mobile app capable of turning 2D videos into holograms.
Microsoft made numerous cuts in AR/VR last week. The company will close its social VR world Altspace in March, and also axed the team behind its Mixed Reality Toolkit. There has been no announcement about the future of Windows Mixed Reality and other AR/VR initiatives, and the Mixed Reality Capture Studios website hasn’t been updated yet either.
Without any official updates, it’s unclear what the cuts mean for Microsoft’s studio partners, which have invested millions of dollars into volumetric capture hardware.
These studios have been paying Microsoft a monthly licensing fee, and in return get access to an Azure-powered processing platform, according to a source close to one of the studios.
“It should be simple to keep (the platform) going, but that means keeping at least a few software engineers on staff,” that source told me.
For the time being, things appear to still be humming along at these partner studios. “It’s very much business as usual,” said Dimension Studio head of marketing Naomi Roberts via email.
Layoffs are always terrible, but the timing of these cuts seems to be especially unfortunate. Apple is widely expected to release its first mixed reality device in the coming months, and we’ll get to see a new Quest VR headset this fall. Chances are, the need for volumetric content will only increase this year.
"We have built amazing technology in the past two years that will change the way we experience sports or 'attend' concerts and shows ... from the comfort of our own homes. My team will go on to achieve great things in their respective careers, and leave today with their heads held high knowing they have planted the seeds for the future of RT3D in the metaverse."Unity SVP and GM for Sports and Live Entertainment Peter Moore, who got laid off alongside his team last week. The live entertainment group at Unity had been working with the UFC, Insomniac and others on 3D-captured sports and live music events.
Q&A with Netflix's new CEO duo. Some smart questions from Bloomberg's Lucas Shaw for Netflix's new co-CEO Greg Peters and his partner in crime Ted Sarandos.
Spotify is laying off 6% of its staff. Dan Ostroff, the content exec behind Spotify's push into podcasting, is also out.
Apple's VR headset will have an iOS-like interface. A lot of the control will happen via eye tracking and gestures, according to Bloomberg.
Hulu's former CTO just joined Roblox. Tian Lim joins the metaverse game maker from Google, where he was VP of Google Play.
A deep dive on Patreon's troubles. Patreon's growth has stalled, and management mishaps haven't helped the company to weather the storm.
TikTok goes in the offensive. Faced with possible bans, TikTok is being more aggressive in Washington.
Peacock added 4 million subscribers in Q4. Comcast's streaming service is growing, but so are its expenses.
Happy almost-Friday! And what a week it has been, especially for this newsletter. Last week's story about Samsung looking to bring its TV Plus service to third-party TV sets not only hit Techmeme, but also got picked up by quite a few other publications, which resulted in a bunch of new subscribers signing up. If you're part of that group: Welcome! And have a great weekend, everyone.