Sadly the constant coverage of the Winter Olympics has come to an end – but what an amazing few weeks! I don’t know about any of you, but I lost many an evening to the immense sporting talents being portrayed over in PyeongChang. I’ll be the first to admit that I had no idea that many of the sports shown were actually things – hello Big Air!
Like most Brits out there, I relied on the BBC for my daily dose of the winter sports however some people were enhancing their experience by tuning in and catching the events using VR! Powered by Intel’s True VR and working in collaboration with Olympic Broadcast Services, 30 events were recorded in VR over the course of the Winter Olympics. Even more exciting, a number of these were live events. Some of the events shown were: Snowboard Halfpipe, Figure Skating, Big Air, Ice Hockey and Curling. To capture the footage, multiple cameras were set up to film all at once. For some events viewers had a 3D 180-degree set up, other had a 360-degree 2D format. Surely that’s what VR was invented for, right? Watching incredible events like this from the comfort of your arm chair, no thermal layers needed?
This isn’t the first we’ve seen of VR being used to give viewers an all immersive broadcast experience. In the US, Fox Sports show regional NBA games through their Gear VR platform, NextVR offer VR viewing for NFL games and the 2016 Rio Olympic games even had some events available in VR (with broadcasters such as the BBC offering this option). You can still access some of this footage – here’s a clip of some of the running events.
For the Winter Olympics, Viewers in the US could watch the events via the NBC Sport VR app – which is the basis for most of the feedback I have seen around the coverage – however, Eurosport were broadcasting VR for Europe and CBC for Canada. S0 what was the verdict from those who did watch through their VR headsets? To be honest, the reviews were pretty disheartening:
“I viewed the opening ceremonies, skiing, curling, figure skating and other events in virtual reality on my Samsung Gear VR (2017) headset via NBC’s app. I didn’t expect the coverage to be as smooth as TV, but I thought it would be a cool way to watch the events as if I were a live spectator. Sadly, with one exception, the experience was spotty and disappointing … It’s not bad for close-up shots, but with wide angles it’s too pixelated at times to even make out someone’s face. “ Steve Dent @ Engadget wasn’t convinced
“When it comes to spectacles like the Olympics, content creators still aren’t sure how to shoot compelling VR footage or how best to present their content to us. And it remains hard to watch for more than a few minutes, with annoying glitches and image quality that’s still far below what you get on a flat screen.” Rachel Metz @ MIT Technical Review was also left feeling disappointed
However, both of the above did agree that Curling worked surprisingly well using the VR set up – mostly due to the consistency of things like lighting and the general pace of the event (at least Mr T will be happy!).
There are certainly more positive reviews out there though:
“Are the VR views perfect? No. If you wanted those, you’d have been better off hitching a flight to Pyeongchang — and maybe passing over my head in that digital village of a menu.
But for the experience? For the pure spectacle of absorbing sports as if you were, in fact, there? For the potential to explore sights to which you would not otherwise be privy? For the fun of running into a kitchen table while feeling as if you’re floating in air?
For that, the whole thing was plenty Olympic.” Cody Benjamin @ CBS Sports has managed to put a happy spin on the more negative side of the experience
As a rule, it seems that people were generally hoping for more. With the 2020 Olympics set to take place in Tokyo – the home of innovative and exciting technology – I can imagine the Olympic VR experience will certainly be upping it’s game.
Two years feels like a long time in the world of tech, so there’s definitely a potential for someone to provide some groundbreaking set ups ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games. Fingers crossed for some more broadcasters offering the experience to those of us this side of the pond!