VR Gives NBA Fans Front-Row Seat

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Copyright 2017 The Deseret News Publishing Co.

Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City)


SALT LAKE CITY - Nearly every sports fan dreams of sitting in "the best seat in the house." Now an advanced technology is making it possible.

This season, the National Basketball Association is broadcasting 25 games in virtual reality, giving subscribers to its premium viewing service a courtside seat to those games.

"It's a really cool technology. It's interesting to feel like you're right there, but you're not," said Jeremy Castro, senior vice president of broadcasting for the Utah Jazz. "LeBron was coming right at me and I literally moved my head. It's very realistic."

He was one of several team executives and media representatives who tested the technology in the Jazz offices during the team's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The NBA has partnered with NextVR to broadcast one game every week this season to NBA LEAGUE PASS subscribers live and on-demand in virtual reality.

"There are a wide array of (NBA) fans that live overseas who may never get to a game," explained Josh Earl, coordinating producer with NextVR. "While it might not be exactly the same as being at the game, you can see all the sights and sounds of the arena (without) commercial breaks."

He said viewers get to watch in-game entertainment such as the Jazz Bear and Jazz Dancers or halftime performers.

"You can hear the conversation LeBron is having with the refs or those other kind of things that (make) you feel like you are in the arena," he said.

The broadcast includes multiple vantage points from midcourt, from both baskets and other locations around the arena, in addition to instant replay, live play-by-play and sideline reports from a full commentary crew, Earl said.

Viewers can watch the broadcast using a Samsung Gear VR or Google Daydream View headset and compatible mobile phone, he said.

"Most of us can't afford a courtside seat, but with this you get the chance to sit courtside and you also get the chance to sit right underneath the basket," Earl said. "When you take (the viewing experience) out of that 2-D world and put it in that deep 3-D vantage point that wraps around your head and you can take it all in, it's a really unique experience."

Castro said it felt similar to a video game, with some pixilation. Earl said the technology is constantly improving and within a year or two could be ultrahigh definition, providing an unparalleled viewing experience.

"We're going to see a huge jump in resolution from (mobile) phones and a wider variety of (options) for viewing like (gaming consoles)," he added. "The market is going to expand, and once this becomes mainstream, you're going to see the technology evolve very quickly."

He said the virtual reality technology could help bring more fans to the NBA and other sports they may not have chosen to experience before.

Steve Starks, president of the Utah Jazz and Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment, said the new technology could also bring existing fans closer to the team, by enhancing their connection with the players on the court.

"The potential for using technology to spread the game (to more people) and to bring people closer to the action will give them greater appreciation for the athletes that play and build more interest in the team," he said. "People are consuming the game in more ways. The appetite for people to consume the NBA is strong."

He conceded that the current technology doesn't "fully capture" the live action experience yet, but "you can tell it's heading that way quickly."

"This technology is emergent and will continue to grow," Starks said.

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January 11, 2017


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