×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Virtual Reality in Sports Poses Unique Challenges for Producers

Is virtual reality the future of sports coverage? Conceptually, it’s a no-brainer; VR technology can put viewers in the center of the action. And there’s no shortage of players: Jaunt VR, Next VR, and IM360 are among the companies that have been demonstrating immersive treatment of pro baseball, basketball, football, soccer, and the Daytona 500 auto race. But there are several issues that must be addressed before VR becomes common practice.

“The average person thinks they’d love to stand on the sidelines to watch an NFL game,” says Cliff Plumer, president of Jaunt VR’s production arm, Jaunt Studio. “They’ll learn that it’s the worst place to stand. You can have an action all the way across the field, and it’ll seem very far away. So how you cover that for VR is much more challenging than traditional broadcast.”

That’s because, unlike their 2D counterparts, VR cameras don’t zoom, so they need to be as close to the players as possible. In a small space like a boxing ring, that’s relatively easy.

“For the two boxing events we did in London earlier this year, we had [the cameras mounted] on each of the two neutral corner posts, and another on one of the 2D jib arms, to get a really interesting sweeping view,” says Chris Fieldhouse, executive producer for IM360, a joint venture between visual effects studio Digital Domain and 360-degree video pioneers Immersive Media.

The challenges grow when VR moves to a larger expanse, such as a basketball court or football field. For Next VR’s live stream of the season-opening game between the Golden State Warriors and the New Orleans Pelicans last fall, the company placed a camera courtside, dead center, at the scorer’s table, and two additional cameras were embedded in the padding of the stanchions that hold the baskets at either end of the court.

When Next VR has live-streamed NCAA basketball games in VR, it’s been able to add a camera on the sidelines parallel to the three-point line.

“We haven’t done that for the NBA, because they have more restrictions on where cameras can be,” explains Brad Allen, executive chairman of Next VR, which has a five-year deal to produce VR live streams for Fox Sports. “They’re very concerned about safety, as they should be.”

“Since cutting back and forth between camera angles can be jarring for VR viewers, editing of an image stream is typically minimal or nonexistent.”

Some cameras are more obtrusive than others. IM360 began building its 360-degree cameras for the military; they were later adopted for use by Google Street View. The current version of IM360’s camera has six lenses and is similar in size and shape to a softball. NextVR’s camera setup is much larger, utilizing an array of six Red Epic Dragon cameras that cost about $30,000 each. Jaunt VR’s new Jaunt One camera, which is available to rent (but not for purchase) at a price comparable to high-end production rigs, has 24 synchronized image modules and is somewhere in between, size-wise, resembling a squished basketball.

All the cameras come with proprietary software that enables the crew to monitor the video feed on laptops and mobile devices, and, most important, bring the data from the multiple sensors together in a single 360-degree stereoscopic image, a process known as stitching. Since cutting back and forth between camera angles can be jarring for VR viewers, editing of an image stream is typically minimal or nonexistent. Instead, users are given a selection of angles to switch back and forth from on their mobile device or their VR headset.

The audio is typically captured by ambisonic microphones, both standalone and built into the camera rig, with four directional sound sensors.

“We like to say that sound is half the experience of immersion,” Plumer says.

People like to talk of the day when 360-degree cameras will be small enough to place on athletes, so viewers will be able see the games through their eyes. While that might sound attractive in a flying-car sort of way, Allen says the reality is less appealing, especially if the footage is being viewed through an enclosed headset such as an Oculus VR or a Samsung Gear VR.

“If you’re totally immersed in VR, and now somebody’s running down the court and turning your head quickly without you really knowing its going happen, it’s really jarring,” Allen says. “You’ll feel nauseous.”

Popular on Variety

More Digital

  • Venn co-founders

    VENN Raises $17 Million to Launch a Cheddar-like TV Network for Gaming

    Video game industry veterans Ariel Horn and Ben Kusin have raised a massive $17 million seed funding round to launch a new gaming-focused TV network called VENN. Short for Video Game Entertainment and News Network, VENN wants to mix esports with Twitch-style video game streaming and other gaming-related entertainment content when it launches in 2020. [...]

  • Amazon Music

    Amazon Music Unveils HD: the ‘Highest Quality Audio’ for Streaming

    Amazon Music today became the first of the three major streaming services to offer high-definition sound with the launch of Amazon Music HD. According to the announcement, the service offers a new tier of high quality, lossless audio with more than 50 million songs in High Definition, and millions of songs in Ultra High Definition, which it claims [...]

  • United Talent Agency Reveals New Logo

    UTA Unveils New Logo, Corporate Image

    UTA raised the curtain Monday on a new corporate logo. The three-dimensional image is meant to emphasize the talent agency’s focus on uniting ideas, opportunities and talent. Building signage with the new logo will go up next month at UTA’s headquarters in Beverly Hills. “Our new identity captures the multiple facets and intersections of our [...]

  • Altice One set-top

    Amazon Prime Video Coming to Altice's Optimum, Suddenlink Cable Services

    Altice USA plans to launch Amazon Prime Video for Optimum and Suddenlink cable customers nationwide in the next few months, under a pact announced Monday. Altice is the third pay-TV operator in the U.S. with a distribution deal for Amazon Prime Video, after Comcast and Cox Communications. The cable operator is adding Prime Video to [...]

  • youtube leanback screenshot

    YouTube to Shut Down Leanback Web TV Interface on October 2

    YouTube is getting ready to retire its TV-optimized browser interface, also known as YouTube Leanback, on October 2, Variety has learned. The move comes as YouTube is putting a bigger emphasis on its native TV apps, but also represents a blow to users who directly connected their PCs to their TVs. YouTube started to inform [...]

  • Terminator: Dark Fate

    Paramount & Adobe Launch ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ Trailer Remix Contest

    Adobe has teamed up with Paramount Pictures to launch a remix contest for the trailer of “Terminator: Dark Fate,” which is set to debut in theaters November 1. The winner of the contest will get $10,000 as well as a one-year Adobe Creative Cloud membership and a private screening of the movie for up to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content