If you’re into virtual reality (VR) and football, Fox Sports has you covered—sort of—this Sunday during Super Bowl LI. As I learned from an article at Digital Trends today, Fox Sports and VR production company LiveLike will offer 20 highlights from the big game in VR via the Fox Sports VR app. Four clips will be prepared for viewing before and after the game, and four highlights will be produced and uploaded for each quarter of the game.
In addition to the 50 cameras Fox is using to capture the game for broadcast—which I wrote about here—LiveLike will have six 4K cameras dedicated to the VR highlights: one in each end zone, one in the press box on each side of the 50-yard line, and two mobile cameras moving around the game. Instead of a 360-degree view, you will find yourself in a “virtual suite” watching the highlights. You can switch perspectives—move to a different suite—by tapping on one of the camera icons on the screen.
Other than the pre- and post-game clips, the highlights from the game itself will be created and made available as close to real time as possible. According to Miheer Walavalkar, LiveLike’s Chief Business Officer, “We’ve never really done real-time highlights, which is a pretty big deal.” As of this writing, LiveLike doesn’t know how long it will take, because the company is “on the verge of having a minor breakthrough in cutting our time down significantly,” notes Andre Lorenceau, LiveLike’s CEO.
To watch this historic event unfold in VR, you need to download the free Fox Sports VR app onto an Android or iOS smartphone and install the device in a Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR headset. You can also enable a “magic window” mode that lets you view the 360-degree footage on the phone without a VR headset. You’ll also need to sign in with your television provider’s password. Once you do, you’ll get notifications as soon as new highlights are available.
This isn’t football’s first foray into VR. Fox Sports live-streamed a college football game in VR last year, and VR production companies NextVR and Voke VR have produced highlight packages for several NFL games. So why not live-stream the Super Bowl? According to this article at The Verge, it’s still a fledgling technology, and Fox’s first attempts were not all that successful, as recounted here.
I have to agree with The Verge article when it says, “The virtual suite isn’t a very exciting improvement over reality, especially when you can’t even watch the full game in it. You could argue that you’re getting a ‘virtual big-screen TV,’ but it’ll be a very low-resolution one, and neither the Gear VR nor the standard Google Cardboard headset are very comfortable. LiveLike imagines people passing around the headset at a viewing party, but that’s easier with single VR videos than something with a whole timeline interface.”
Still, it’s interesting to watch the evolution of VR technology. It will no doubt improve over time, and at some point, we may all find ourselves wearing VR headsets for everything from sports to movies to Skype calls.