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When NBA analyst Stephanie Ready's television colleagues ask her about calling a game in virtual reality, they often picture her wearing virtual reality goggles.
But, no, that's not the way it works for Ready and play-by-play commentator Spero Dedes, who are announcing Western Conference finals games between Houston and Golden State in virtual reality for Turner Sports in partnership with the NBA and Intel.
Working the game from a production truck or in the arena, both are cognizant of the nascent user experience for VR newcomers.
Watching a game with a VR headset gives the user an in-arena experience — as if the viewer is sitting courtside, behind the basket or in the lower level. Users can even choose the camera angle.
The two veteran announcers have altered the way they call a game because of the new medium.
"The beauty of virtual reality is I can say, 'Look to your left. Steve Kerr is livid because his players missed a defensive assignment,' and the fans at home can turn to the left and look at Kerr in real time," Ready said. "If it were a regular television broadcast, I'd have to press my talk-back button on my headset, get my director on the line and say, 'Get me a shot of Steve Kerr on the bench,' and by the time that is on the screen for viewers at home, hopefully he's still doing what he was doing when I noticed it. But probably not.
"With virtual reality, you get the whole experience as if you're actually there."
If you haven't watched a game in VR, it is an experience that gives the viewer a 3D, 360-degree perspective. It is as close to sitting courtside as it gets from your couch.
"You're not watching the game through a lens, but as if you're watching the game through a window," Dedes said. "You can see texture and depth perception."
Turner Sports is invested in VR. During the regular season, it showed eight games and the All-Star Game in virtual reality. With the cost of quality VR headsets reasonably priced, Turner is betting on this technology taking off not just in North America but around the world. Turner also made the 2017 and 2018 NCAA men's Final Four available in VR. Viewers find the NBA games through the TNT on VR app.
Dedes and Ready still prep for a game the same way. They research and talk to players and coaches. But calling games in VR was an adjustment.
"We've tried to be less stats heavy and have a running conversation with Stephanie about the game," Dedes said. "Because this is still not mainstream and fans are experiencing it for the first time, we find ourselves being more of a traffic cop and introducing them to what the technology is like, what the capabilities are like."
There are four to eight VR cameras inside the arena for a game. Using stereoscopic 4k-resolution camera pods to capture near 360-degree views, the feeds are sent to a production truck with Intel servers processing and delivering the content to users. To ensure real-time viewing, the VR broadcast generates 1 terabyte (1,024 gigabytes) per hour.
In a late-season game between Boston and Washington, Dedes and Ready called the game from inside a production truck at the arena with six monitors in front of them. The 53-foot truck supports a broadcast team, directors and producers and system engineers. In the first two games of the conference finals, they called the game from inside the arena and not in the production truck.
Ready's aha moment came when she saw her two children ages 7 and 9 watch a game in VR. "They were blown away," Ready said. "They were reaching out, as if they were trying to grab the players. When I watch, it's so realistic like I'm actually in arena. It is that real."
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