Watch Live NBA Games In Streaming VR Weekly

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Watch Live NBA Games In Streaming VR Weekly
October 20, 2016

IF YOU THINK watching sports on a VR headset has sucked so far, you’re right. That’s because most VR video is shot with a single-rig setup, bolting your virtual vantage point in place. So even if you’re watching an NBA game from front-row seats few people can afford, it gets old quickly.
 
Plus, there’s often no commentary or visual cues to guide you. Traditional TV does a better job of offering a holistic view of a game through an understood language: Camera cuts, on-screen graphics, and announcers directing your attention and providing in-game insight.
 
Next Thursday, the VR video experience is going to get a whole lot better. A company called NextVR will use an eight-rig VR setup to broadcast the October 27 game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Sacramento Kings. It will use camera locations around the arena just like a normal TV broadcast. There will be graphics, color commentary, in-game camera cuts, sideline reporters, and replays from alternate angles. The whole game will be streamed live to VR headsets.
This presents a Jordan leap forward—a full live-broadcast production like you see on TV, optimized for VR goggles.
 
“Sometimes you choose not to go to the game because it’s better on television,” says Danny Keens, VP of content and partnerships at NextVR. “Sometimes it’s better to go to the game. We want an experience that’s better than both, that brings together the best parts of going to the game and watching at home.”
 
This isn’t a test run, either. Live VR feeds will be a standard viewing option for subscribers to NBA League Pass, the NBA’s $200 subscription streaming and TV package. A Samsung Gear VR headset (and one of the compatible phones) is all you need to join in.
 
Every game on League Pass won’t be available in VR. This season, one game per week will be shot, produced, and live-streamed for VR. The schedule of games getting the live-VR treatment is still being ironed out, but NBA Digital plans to have at least one live VR game featuring each of its 30 teams delivered to your face. The VR games will be archived for later viewing if you can’t watch them live.
 
NextVR’s experience will feature a three-person anchor crew for the VR broadcast: A play-by-play person, an analyst, and a sideline reporter. Each feed will also include content, such as halftime shows and a pregame package, that isn’t part of the regular TV broadcasts. The audio should be better, as it’s being recorded with robust mic arrays.
 
Looking Around
 
But VR won’t change everything: The same blackout restrictions apply to VR video as they do with normal video. If your local team has a game on national or regional TV, you won’t be able to watch the live VR feed of the game.
 
At launch, the VR videos will only be compatible with the Gear VR headset and only available in the US. But NextVR says that international viewing and compatibility with more VR platforms are both in the works, and they may even be in place by the end of this season.
 
NextVR is particularly well-suited to handle this task. Earlier this year, NextVR rolled out its own VR broadcast truck to streamline onsite production. Over the past few years, the company has produced dozens of live and near-live immersive videos at the US Open, at concerts, at international soccer games, and Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby. And in addition to creating a lot of VR content for the NBA over the past two seasons, NextVR produced the groundbreaking Follow My Lead VR documentary about the 2016 NBA Finals.
 
It should be noted that NextVR doesn’t shoot a full 360-degree video sphere. Instead, the company uses a 180-degree rig that focuses on the action. That’s not the only way their content looks much different than your average VR video, as it has a noticeable 3-D effect and really good image quality. Much of that is due to NextVR’s heritage: The company launched in 2009 as Next3D, and the company holds several patents in the field of stereoscopic 3-D imagery.
 
For previous NextVR productions, they’ve shot with a proprietary rig made out of high-end RED Epic Dragon camcorders, each one capturing video with a 6K sensor. Keens says the rigs they’re using for live NBA games are a step beyond what they’ve previously used, although each sensor still captures 6K resolution. That’s because they want to make their content future-proof; the VR headsets of tomorrow will support higher-resolution playback.
 
Despite its cool factor, the medium is far from being a “first option” when it comes to watching live shows. To trump TV, it needs better content and easier ways to find it, and content producers are still experimenting with ways to make immersive video more compelling.
 
And of course it’s the NBA that’s blazing a trail. For the better part of two decades, the league has held an annual tech summit and adopted emerging technology as a way to broaden the NBA’s international appeal. It was the first major US sports league to embrace VR as a way to strengthen connections with fans, and now it may help push the entire medium forward.

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