The 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea will be filled with firsts. The games will be the first Winter Olympics to be shown in 4K High Dynamic Range. They are also the first South Korean games where North Korea are competing, the first in a decade where North and South Korean athletes will march together in the opening ceremony and the first since the Korean War where a team of North and South Korean athletes will compete together. It is also the first Olympic games where Russia’s ban will take effect after widespread institutional doping was discovered and they were banned by the IOC in 2017.
Oh, and it is also the first Olympic games to be filmed in 360 VR video.
As part of the two biggest international deals to broadcast the Winter Olympics, both NBC and Eurosport will offer the ability to watch the Opening Ceremony as well as a number of other events in Virtual Reality. NBC’s offering is only available in the United States and Eurosport’s in European nations excluding Russia.
Watching the VR Olympics in the US and Europe
The model is slightly different across regions but the principle and underlying technology is pretty much the same. NBC’s Olympic VR footage comes from their Sports VR app, available via Windows Mixed Reality, Oculus’ GearVR, Google Daydream and Google Cardboard. A non-VR 360 video stream is also available for folks without a headset using the same app. NBC’s app is free if you can prove you subscribe to NBC via a method that can only be described as byzantine.
Eurosport’s VR app is slated to cost €0.99, is available for Gear VR, Daydream and Windows Mixed Reality. On both apps, fifty hours of VR coverage is planned across 30 events. These include Alpine Skiing, Figure Skating, Speed Skating, Big Air and Half Pipe snowboarding, skeleton bobsledding and a number of others.
Both apps at their core are using Intel True VR. True VR is Intel’s answer to 360 VR broadcasting, using multiple cameras (some of which are 180-degree VR, others 360-degree) to show different events. On top of the actual broadcast is data overlays and augmented reality features incorporated into Eurosport’s studio shows, set in the somewhat ominously named Eurosport Cube.
Intel are one of the major sponsors of the Games this time and have been all over these games. In a celebration of South Korea’s decades-long contribution to esports and a celebration of the IOC’s recognition of esports as a professional sport in November 2017, Intel held a Starcraft II tournament. While it probably didn’t change any minds for adding the game as a sport, it was generally well regarded, with Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn becoming the first woman and one of only two North Americans to win a major tournament in esports.
The Charge of VR in Sports
After some experimentation with VR highlights at the Rio Olympics, this is a big step forward, with a good chunk of live coverage available along with extra video on demand features. VR Sport is a big growing market, with several holes on the PGA tour, weekly games in the NBA league, the NFL Super Bowl, the 2018 FIFA World Cup and many other major sports being shown in VR either in whole or in highlights, and a number of other sports expressing interest or have outright tested ways to incorporate virtual reality into their standard broadcasting.
If Intel’s experiment with NBC and Eurosport proves to be a success then by the time the Olympic circus reaches Tokyo in 2020, VR could be the major platform to experience the games.