Imagine waking up on Sunday morning, putting on your Samsung Gear VR headset, and being transported to the field of an NFL stadium just before kickoff. In fact, you're right behind the kicker as he sets the game in motion, but in reality you haven't even left your living room.
At the NFL Experience in San Francisco this week, I tried two NFL VR demos. The first was by Jaunt VR, which gave me a condensed in-game experience. The second was by NextVR, and while it doesn't have a formal name, what it is going by gives you a sense of the type of content I watched: NFL virtual reality footage.
The footage is comprised of highlights from a test of three live broadcasts of NFL games captured during the regular season, which were shown to league and team executives and VIPs at those games. The highlight reel is only available for public viewing at this week's Super Bowl 50 event, but it left me wanting to watch virtual reality broadcasts of live events every weekend.
One clip had me standing next to Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill as he warmed up before a game. I could follow his throw to a teammate down the field, the ball as it was tossed back to an assistant, and Tannehill's steps before chucking the pigskin again. It felt like I was standing right next to him, or at least a life-like digital rendering of him, and had an exclusive view of his pre-game routine.
Another was a view at a low angle at the back of the end zone as a pass was thrown to a receiver, who himself was draped by a defender. The pass didn't connect with the receiver for a touchdown, but the sight of two players running full speed towards me gave me a sense of their athleticism and crushing power, not to mention the speed and arch of the ball. It was a visceral experience, perhaps the most so I've had in a VR setting, and made me appreciate how fast the game moves when you're on the field.
The final clip that struck me was from inside a New York Jets huddle. One player stood in the center, amping up his teammates while I watched from the perspective of poking my head in for a peak. I felt like I could almost reach out and feel the player's uniform, it was rendered with such textural detail.
To that point, the resolution of NextVR's footage was exceedingly crisp. The footage was shot in 6K, and while the Galaxy Note 5's display it was shown on is 2K, the footage was still razor-sharp.
Only one of the three clips was a full 360-degree view, but NextVR explained that's because the video was shot from inside camera wells, so the back view would have been a wall. When possible, most future live events will be shot in 360 degrees, the company told me. When it's not, it won't be long before content like graphics, stats and social media feeds are placed in the rear 180-degree view. The same information can also be included in 360-degree views as well, NextVR said.
David Cramer, SVP of corporate strategy at NextVR, said he thinks people will be amazed how quickly live broadcasts in VR become adopted. The company has already had several live VR broadcasts, including NBA games and a boxing match, as well as a CNN US presidential debate.
Some had issues downloading the NextVR app and with overheating phones during the October 2015 debate, but I had no complaints during my demo. Granted, it wasn't a live broadcast, but the Note 5 seems more than capable of handling the task.
It may still be testing the waters with the NFL, but NextVR's footage and its previous broadcasts make me think VR isn't far off from becoming a mainstream viewing option. At the very least, if NFL games are broadcast in VR, I'll be watching.
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