At last year’s CES itself, Intel made its debut within the hardware VR race with a virtual reality headset of its own, named Project Alloy. Project Alloy was a wireless “merged reality” beta model that looked and felt kind of like a cordless Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. Although the corporate decided to cancel the plans of shipping its own VR headset within the fourth quarter of last year, it’s currently pivoting off from hardware and into VR content. At the CES in Las Vegas, Intel declared that it’s opening a new studio in LA to make immersive content that permits viewers to steer within an area in VR instead of passively standing in place while looking a 360-degree film. The studio already has huge partnerships with the likes of Paramount Pictures and the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
Nothing much has been said regarding the deal with Paramount Pictures, however, in what’s going to be the largest-scale virtual reality event till date and therefore the first live virtual reality broadcast of the Olympic Winter Games, Intel will rotate roughly twenty-four 180-degree cameras. It’ll shoot thirty events in total — another twelve with 360-degree cameras — to form a combination of VR live streams and video-on-demand content. For the live events, three to six cameras are going to be dedicated to each, providing multiple camera views that viewers can switch between at will. Once you will enter the virtual world that Intel has created for the Games, you’ll be given a birds-eye view of a digital recreation of the venues, where you’ll be able to hop between each to observe specific events based on location. Intel’s live VR broadcast will formally commence with the opening ceremonies on February 9th within the Pyeongchang Olympic stadium, a temporary stadium with seating for 35,000 designed specifically for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Games.
Intel CMO Steve Fund once mentioned, “I think it’s (in context of VR) a content play. there is not enough quality content out there today. I think content will drive the adoption. I think it starts with live sports because it literally does let you feel like you are there live.” And staying true to its speech, Intel’s in-house production team will offer a fully-produced version of the VR experience called the VR cast. By switching back and forth between the 180-degree panoramic, stereoscopic camera views, a director’s cut will stitch together an automated story for the end user, almost like the one viewers have come to expect from the standard TV broadcast. Data overlays from the standard broadcast, like the athlete’s name and nationality, real-time statistics, a leaderboard, medal counter and post-event results, are going to be provided by the Olympic Broadcast Service and accessible to users in VR likewise. The live feeds will then be sent to the cloud where they’ll be distributed across Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR, Windows Mixed Reality, and also the rights holders’ apps and internet browsers, like the new NBC Sports VR app and non-U.S. broadcasters, like CBC in Canada and Discovery in Europe.
Such a virtual reality experience is definitely going to improve the way people consume sports, as further in the future, these live feeds might be complemented with interactive stats or other social components. However, Pyeongchang will definitely be an experiment in large-scale VR production and all we can hope is it to be a highly successful one.