The NBA and NextVR completed the first season of regularly scheduled broadcasts of live games in virtual reality last week, providing access to virtual courtside seats to fans around the world.
After the groundbreaking first season, what’s next in the collaboration between the NBA and NextVR could make the VR experience for watching games even more realistic. With advancements in technology, there could be ways in which fans putting on headsets would mean they could feel even more so as if they were inside of the arena.
“And in fact, at some point you’ll be able to get up and physically walk around inside the experience — whether it’s recorded or live — like you’re there,” NextVR CEO and co-founder David Cole told Warriors TV host Laurence Scott.
NextVR coordinating producer of sports Josh Earl supported the notion that NBA fans of the future would one day be able to walk around to see the arena virtually.
“Right now what we do is we take you into the arena, but in the future, we’ll allow you to walk around the arena, be able to look around things, and all these different technological advances that are coming along are coming very quickly,” Earl told Scott on NBA Soundsystem. “And as the headsets get higher in resolution and things like that, and we can shoot in higher resolution, once that happens, suddenly you’re transported there. And when we give you the ability to get up and move around and look around things and really feel like you’re there, that’s going to really change things.”
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The other VR advancement that the NBA is looking to bring to fans is the ability to watch a game in VR along with a friend who isn’t physically in the same room.
“What I’m interested in is a different kind of VR, a VR that would allow me to sit next to my brother and watch the game with him, right?” Steve Hellmuth, Executive Vice President of Media Operations & Technology for NBA Entertainment, told Brandon Costa on the SVG Podcast. “So my brother’s a rabid NBA fan. He actually calls me up to complain about the referees from time to time. But I would like to watch the Wizards’ playoff run with him. And I’d be fine with flat screen, but I want to turn next to me and see him, right?
“So I know Mr. (Mark) Zuckerberg is certainly working on these technologies, but sports viewing at home is social whether you’re by yourself and texting your buddies or whether you’re sitting next to your wife or friend. And I think to create this kind of virtual audience of people you’d like to watch a game with, that’s the VR technology that I’m interested in…That might be something that comes in conjunction in AR, right? That might be an augmented reality. But it might be VR 2.0.”
Earl, who has traveled from NBA city to city helping deliver NextVR’s virtual reality broadcasts, sees a virtual audience being quite possible.
“Whether it’s watching a game virtually with another friend, being able to communicate with someone even if you’re sitting in your couch, really feeling like you’re at a game with someone that you like to watch the game with, those are the kind of things that are really going to make VR interesting for people as the technology continues to evolve,” Earl said.