Social VR experiences and telepresence applications are going to be one of the most compelling use cases for virtual reality, and watching sports events within a VR space with your friends has a lot of potential. Virtually Live is taking a really innovative approach to showing live sports events within VR in that they’re not using 360-degree cameras. Instead they’re using optically-tracked statistical data from Stats.com and then transposing it into a virtual arena. They’re able to re-create the positions and movements of all of the players and the ball in a 3D space, and therefore recreate the experience of going to a sporting event with your friends.
Tom Impallomeni is the CEO of Virtually Live and he was at SVVRCon showing off a demo of their technology in action. They’re starting with soccer, but planning on expanding to other sports presumably including baseball, basketball, and tennis as is shown in their trailer for their company.
Part of the advantage of using optically-tracked data is so that they can create a virtual camera and put it anywhere to have the best perspective, even start to give you the perspective of what a specific player might have been able to see.
Tom says that we’re still a long ways away to being able to completely recreate what it feels like to be at the stadium with tens of thousands of people, but that they’re getting closer and closer. They’re able to create a shared social space with your friends that goes beyond watching it a game on a 2D screen.
It’s also still a bit of an open question of how realistic their VR recreation will feel, especially when there’s a lot of emotion, body language, and body movements that may be too nuanced for cameras to be able to track at such a long distance. But Tom says that the technology is continuing to improve, and that they’re even looking at tracking facial expressions and limb tracking as a part of their R&D initiatives.
They’re also able to visualize the raw data from stats.com in a way that is improving it. There’s a lot of noisy data from the raw feed, and they’re able to apply some algorithms to help to improve upon the data that’s being collected. Using VR to visualize the data is helping to provide feedback and improve upon these existing optical tracking techniques.
Some of the use cases that Tom sees are going to be compelling is to be able to first be able to share a virtual environment with your friends. He also imagines that it might be really interesting for people to watch a game from their favorite seat in the stadium if they’re using to seeing the games from that perspective. They’ll also be able to create views that were impossible, and so I’d imagine that a tabletop view may be a perspective that’s really new and likely to be super compelling.
Tom says that they also plan on fusing live footage into the experience as well and so there will likely be a way to watch the action in a more traditional way and then have the VR environment be able to recreate the feeling of being with at the stadium, in a room with your friends, and have the sports commentary all piped into whatever combination best suits your preferences.
At the moment there aren’t clear broadcasting rights to data-driven reconstructions within VR, but I imagine that there will be new licensing frameworks if this type of approach starts to catch on.
Virtually Live has some really interesting and innovative technology, and so I’ll be curious to see where these types of reconstructed VR experiences will go in the future. I think there’s a lot of interesting use cases beyond just sports, and it could be applied to many other live performances and concerts, especially when there and better and better ways of capturing action with arrays of 3D depth sensor cameras and other emerging technologies.
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