Vir­tual re­al­ity of­fers new per­spec­tive on NBA

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Jeff Zill­gitt

When NBA an­a­lyst Stephanie Ready’s tele­vi­sion col­leagues ask her about call­ing a game in vir­tual re­al­ity, they of­ten pic­ture her wear­ing vir­tual re­al­ity gog­gles.

But, no, that’s not the way it works for Ready and play-by-play com­men­ta­tor Spero Dedes, who are an­nounc­ing Western Con­fer­ence fi­nals games be­tween Hous­ton and Golden State in vir­tual re­al­ity for Turner Sports in part­ner­ship with the NBA and In­tel.

Work­ing the game from a pro­duc­tion truck or in the arena, both are cog­nizant of the nascent user ex­pe­ri­ence for VR new­com­ers.

Watch­ing a game with a VR head­set gives the user an in-arena ex­pe­ri­ence — as if the viewer is sit­ting court­side, be­hind the bas­ket or in the lower level. Users can even choose the cam­era an­gle.

The two vet­eran an­nounc­ers have al­tered the way they call a game be­cause of the new medium.

“The beauty of vir­tual re­al­ity is I can say, ‘Look to your left. Steve Kerr is livid be­cause his play­ers missed a de­fen­sive as­sign­ment,’ and the fans at home can turn to the left and look at Kerr in real time,” Ready said. “If it were a reg­u­lar tele­vi­sion broad­cast, I’d have to press my talk-back but­ton on my head­set, get my di­rec­tor on the line and say, ‘Get me a shot of Steve Kerr on the bench,’ and by the time that is on the screen for view­ers at home, hope­fully he’s still do­ing what he was do­ing when I no­ticed it. But prob­a­bly not.

“With vir­tual re­al­ity, you get the whole ex­pe­ri­ence as if you’re ac­tu­ally there.”

If you haven’t watched a game in VR, it is an ex­pe­ri­ence that gives the viewer a 3D, 360-de­gree per­spec­tive. It is as close to sit­ting court­side as it gets from your couch.

“You’re not watch­ing the game through a lens, but as if you’re watch­ing the game through a win­dow,” Dedes said. “You can see tex­ture and depth per­cep­tion.”

Turner Sports is in­vested in VR. Dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, it showed eight games and the All-Star Game in vir­tual re­al­ity. With the cost of qual­ity VR head­sets reasonably priced, Turner is bet­ting on this tech­nol­ogy tak­ing off not just in North Amer­ica but around the world. Turner also made the 2017 and 2018 NCAA men’s Fi­nal Four avail­able in VR. View­ers find the NBA games through the TNT on VR app.

Dedes and Ready still prep for a game the same way. They re­search and talk to play­ers and coaches. But call­ing games in VR was an ad­just­ment.

“We’ve tried to be less stats heavy and have a run­ning con­ver­sa­tion with Stephanie about the game,” Dedes said. “Be­cause this is still not main­stream and fans are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it for the first time, we find our­selves be­ing more of a traf­fic cop and in­tro­duc­ing them to what the tech­nol­ogy is like, what the ca­pa­bil­i­ties are like.”

There are four to eight VR cam­eras in­side the arena for a game. Us­ing stereo­scopic 4k-res­o­lu­tion cam­era pods to cap­ture near 360-de­gree views, the feeds are sent to a pro­duc­tion truck with In­tel servers pro­cess­ing and de­liv­er­ing the content to users. To en­sure re­al­time view­ing, the VR broad­cast gen­er­ates 1 ter­abyte (1,024 gi­ga­bytes) per hour.

In a late-sea­son game be­tween Bos­ton and Washington, Dedes and Ready called the game from in­side a pro­duc­tion truck at the arena with six mon­i­tors in front of them. The 53-foot truck sup­ports a broad­cast team, di­rec­tors and pro­duc­ers and sys­tem en­gi­neers. In the first two games of the con­fer­ence fi­nals, they called the game from in­side the arena and not in the pro­duc­tion truck.

Ready’s aha mo­ment came when she saw her two chil­dren ages 7 and 9 watch a game in VR. “They were blown away,” Ready said. “They were reach­ing out, as if they were try­ing to grab the play­ers. When I watch, it’s so re­al­is­tic like I’m ac­tu­ally in arena. It is that real.”

KIRBY LEE/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

TV an­a­lyst Stephanie Ready is part of a team cov­er­ing the NBA play­offs in vir­tual re­al­ity.

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