Tonight is one of the best sports nights of the year. The World Series gets under way as two teams who haven’t won the title since the mid-80’s square off, and the NBA tips off with a series of season opening games including a marquee matchup with the reigning champions, the Golden State Warriors. But even the most well funded sports fan in the world couldn’t possibly attend both… or could they?
If they have a Gear VR handy, they can.
The NBA has teamed up with NextVR this year to bring the Golden State Warriors season opener against the New Orleans Pelicans to your living room, in virtual reality. So even if you are sitting behind home plate at Kauffman Stadium, using VR you can attend the Warriors game, courtside, a view that people are paying more than $3,700 a pop for.
During the experience viewers will be treated to a crisp 180º view of the action from the scorers table, an angle that they will likely remain in for the majority of the experience, breaking from that position for things like the Ring Ceremony. “We are really striving to keep this experience focused on that center court position,” says NextVR co-founder and CTO, Dave Cole, “we are working to avoid the temptation to add anything else.” Adding other things, he says, might lead to disruptions in Presence, something that is crucial to what the company is looking to achieve.
“We are not trying to create a better television experience,” he says, “we are trying to create Presence.”
This broadcast is coming on the heels of the Democratic National Debate that NextVR livestreamed earlier this month, to mixed reviews. Many of the complaints around the broadcast were limitations created by the hardware itself. Things like display resolution, battery life, and overheating all contributed to many people’s negative experience. “We can’t change the reality of the experience on the first gen Gear VR,” says Cole, “We are asking viewers to experience it as a glimpse of what it could be.”
And what it could be is something much more compelling than a bunch of talking heads. “[The debate] was cerebral,” he says, “this is somewhat more guttural.”
The basketball court also offers territory that is more familiar to NextVR, a company that began as ‘Next 3D’ broadcasting the first ever NBA game live in 3D. “We’ve had more camera time on a professional basketball court than any other sport,” says Cole. This has allowed them to build a greater understanding for what works and what doesn’t for the experience.
One of the things that comes with the price of admission for a courtside seat, especially to a marquee matchup like this, is the possibility for celebrity sightings and great people watching. On the broadcast you get occasional glimpses of the celebrities that grace the sidelines, but in VR you are right there with them. It is an idea that NextVR and the NBA want to toy with going forward.
“There have been all kinds of innovative ideas that the the NBA has brought to the table, using legends, using talent and maybe you’ll see some of that [tonight],” hints Cole. “The NBA was extremely engaged in the creative process, they want to see how to build from this first to something that sustains a VR audience over a long term.”
Earlier this year, NBA commissioner Adam Silver came out and heavily endorsed virtual reality, calling its application for the NBA “mind-boggling,” and talking big plans for its future. It appears that the NBA will be pushing a lot of new things over this season with VR, and this broadcast is only the first initial roll out. Because of that what we see tonight will likely not have the full suite of features that we have seen with previous NextVR broadcasts, like stat boards.
Cole likened adding elements not actually present in the scene to “hanging fuzzy dice on the rear view mirror of your new Ferrari,” saying they have “the potential to disrupt Presence.” These features are something that NextVR intends to add in future broadcasts, but wants to allow the audience to have the decision to have them on or not.
Even without tons of UI overlays, you will still be able to catch the full experience of going to the game and sitting courtside (minus having a player dive into your lap going after a loose ball). Cole says that the scoreboard will be clearly visible above you and that you will even be able to watch replays on it, just as you would in real life.
One of the things that Cole says will make this experience especially good is the crowd audio. “We’ve recorded a few things that aren’t necessarily fit for broadcast,” he laughs, “but those sounds are part of the experience of going to a game, you want to be able to hear the fans.” Cole insists that in order to get the full experience viewers should wear headphones.
The spatial audio will be mixed with commentary as well, providing a unique blended experience for viewers, like wearing headphones and listening to the radio broadcast while at the game.
In addition to broadcasting the game itself, NextVR will broadcast the Warriors NBA Championship ring ceremony. That part of the broadcast will allow for NextVR to play with some new camera positioning, allowing you to be in the center of the action as it happens.
Earlier this year the Golden State Warriors owner, Peter Guber, made a “multimillion dollar investment” in NextVR – also joining their board. When asked if the relationship would Guber would give them more access to improve the experience Cole laughed, “it certainly doesn’t hurt,” before drawing back to their “long standing relationship with the NBA.”
You can tune into your Gear VR tonight at 10:30 pm ET/ 7:30 pm PT (check your timezone) by updating the NextVR app. The game will also be broadcast on regular television on TNT. For detailed instructions on how to get into the experience be sure to check out this handy link.
Disclosure: NextVR may provide entry to Oracle Arena this evening for UploadVR to cover the live stream from the game itself.