Meet the Company Bringing NBA and Notre Dame Games to VR

Virtual reality sports broadcasting is coming to the NBA and college football, putting fans courtside and the sidelines.

by DJ Pangburn
20 October 2016, 6:40pm

Images courtesy of NextVR

After gaming and  porn, sports was always going to be the next likely venue for virtual reality experiences. The evolution of skycams and experimentation with other camera angles on football fields and basketball courts is very much about bringing fans and viewers close to the action.

The company NextVR, which shoots and broadcasts games and special content in VR, is wagering that virtual immersion is the next step in the professional sports viewing experience. This is why they recently started broadcasting Notre Dame games in VR, and announced this morning that they will be doing the same for NBA games.

Photo of Notre Dame football players.

For basketball, CEO and Co-Founder of Next VR Dave Cole tells The Creators Project that their proprietary camera rig will be positioned near the goal posts, giving viewers a “bird’s eye view” of the game. While NextVR has collaborated with several camera companies (including RED Camera), their rig is stereoscopic (originally developed for 3D television), allowing them to shoot and broadcast in real-time without having to stitch the images geometry together.

For Notre Dame football games, camera rigs are being placed on both sides of the goal posts and on the sidelines. They are also using floating stereoscopic camera rigs, though this footage is not being broadcast live.

“We make you feel that you are present in the world where the camera is,” says Cole. ”And we do it in real-time... preserving the depth of the world that is transmitted down to the end user.”

NextVR’s NBA camera rig.

“The idea is to be as close to the action as possible,” says Cole of the Notre Dame VR viewing experience. “There is an eagle eye’s view that’s like being in the first ten rows.”

In 2009, after developing and battle-testing it for 3D televisions with partners Turner Broadcasting and ESPN, NextVR started transitioning to the virtual reality experience. Because NextVR kept the stereoscopic approach, they are able to maintain the high fidelity compression and encoding processes that allow them to realistically store the depth information they recreate in VR.

Cole describes the process as taking a replica or a facsimile of the arena that the camera is sitting in. A mesh is then transmitted to the end user, and NextVR projection maps the stereoscopic video onto the walls of this mesh.

A NextVR camera rig at a soccer match

“It’s like draping a virtual world with actual video,” Cole explains. “That process calibrates the images from the different cameras in the constellation that make it the full 360, [holding] the world together and eliminating the need to stitch, which is extremely critical [because] stitching is a destructive process to the actual geometry of the captured image. “

This process keeps the geometry precisely matched to the world the camera is in. This means there aren’t distortions, so the scale is accurate and the players are the correct height.

“It is a very distinct experience of really feeling like you’re courtside or wherever the camera is,” says Cole. “All of the information that the brain receives as saying ‘I am somewhere… I am physically located courtside at the Oakland Arena’ is transmitted in really high fidelity. It’s a really convincing illusion of being present in the experience.”

A stereoscopic images of NextVR’s broadcast of the 2015 U.S. Open in virtual reality.

To experience NBA and Notre Dame football games in VR, must first visit NextVR’s portal. NextVR is currently on the Samsung Gear, and is also launching on all VR products entering the market. It might be pre-installed on certain platforms or a simple download to view VR sports experiences.

Right now, fans with a Samsung Gear VR headset and a compatible Samsung smartphone can experience the free NextVR preview by accessing the NBA Channel within the NextVR app. Later this season, the offering will be expanded to support additional VR headset options.

Click here to learn more about NextVR.


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