New TV technology takes sports fans from couch to stadium
It promises a better view than television and a better experience than being at the game.
While the technology is still embryonic, pro-sporting leagues across the United States are jumping on board the virtual reality train.
"Normal" television cameras can't capture the images for virtual reality; that job goes to specially built "double lens" VR cameras.
They're dotted around each sporting event, broadcasting an experience not available to a traditional television audience.
With a VR headset and a Wi-Fi connection, viewers are taken to the sideline, behind the goal net, on top of a basketball backboard or in the corner of a boxing ring.
And, it can all be done live, in real time.
Speaking from the world's first live virtual reality outside broadcast truck, the Vice-President of Content at NextVR Danny Keens is pumped at the possibilities of this technology.
"We are bringing tonight's game to the world in virtual reality, that means that essentially we are going to teleport fans to the game, we are going to make them feel like they're actually sitting on the sidelines watching tonight's game,” Mr Keens tells 9News.
The game is the International Champions Cup, Barcelona vs. Tottenham Hotspur, at the Rosebowl Stadium in Los Angeles, California.
"Ever since the beginning of broadcasting, fans have watched their team play two ways; they've either been at the game and watched it physically- they've been there themselves, or they've watched it on a flat screen,” Mr Keens says.
"Now for the first time in history, fans are actually stepping into the TV screen essentially and watching a game as if they're virtually at the stadium."
Some sports offer a better viewing experience than others. Those contested in a confined space; basketball, boxing and wrestling seem to be getting more traction in the VR world because everything is close up.
"You can move around the venue, sit behind the goals, sit up and down the sidelines, watch what you want to watch,” Mr Keens says.
'You start to get this incredible sense of presence, an incredible sense of immersion and it really is game changing for sports fans."
The VR broadcast also sounds a little different to a traditional sports game.
The NextVR broadcast has its own commentators, who guide viewers through the experience.
Mark Rogondino, a sports caster, says it's a whole new way of communicating with the audience.
"You might say, look down to your right over there 'so and so' is getting ready to check into the game,” Mr Rogondino says.
"The fact of the matter is everyone in the headset is seeing everything else in the periphery that's going on as well."
There are drawbacks with the technology; if the internet connection is weak, the pictures will become blurry and pixelated and there's a large headset that viewers need to strap into.
But being alone is not one of the downsides.
With the Facebook's Oculus Venues technology, VR viewers can enter the virtual stadium with "friends." Each user has their own personalised avatar which can sit anywhere in the stadium.
Look to your left, a real person with an avatar will be next to you; you can chat and connect just as you would at a concert or sporting match in real life.
"So you could be in Sydney, I could be in Perth and we could be watching the game together and feel like we are actually there,” Mr Keens says.
"That means that not only do you watch events in VR but you talk and have conversations and socialise in VR as well."
Viewers are not in control of the cameras which like traditional television, switch from angle to angle to follow the action; however VR users can jump between the cameras themselves.
Die-hard fans could spend hours only watching the bench of an NBA game.
VR headsets started out around the $800 mark, they have dropped to a $200 price point, a figure which will come down further as the technology develops.
While the VR hype does conjure up memories of 3DTV, a fad which appears to have been thrown on the technology scrap heap, VR proponents say this is different.
NextVR isn't releasing how many people are tuning in to its live events weekly, but as the sharpness and depth of the picture improves it expects audiences to grow.
The NBA is betting on it, partnering up to feature every game of the 2018 finals in VR.
Facebook is also investing billions in the hardware (Oculus Go) and content for VR; something CEO Mark Zuckerberg wouldn't do if he didn't see potential to bring the platform to the mainstream.
While the days of having a beer and a pie at a freezing cold footy ground may still be very much alive, the future is quietly creeping up.
When Mr Keens is asked will we ever leave the house again?
"No!" he laughs.
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