Next VR Brings VR Sports Broadcasting to HTC Vive

Credit: NextVR

The HTC Vive isn’t exactly known for video content. There’s a 360 video player buried in the Steam UI, and a few apps offer the theater experience, but it’s fair to say the market sees the device as a gaming platform. 

NextVR aims to change that with live events, highlights, and specialized broadcasts of sporting events in VR.  

NextVR on Vive

The application is available only on Viveport for the moment, which will dazzle or underwhelm you depending on how much you love the Viveport service. A Steam version is incoming, along with an Oculus version, but it’s not clear if those two concepts are linked.

My testing was in the standard Vive, which does not have the image output capabilities of the Pro. As a result, my video was pixelated but watchable. Just lacking finer details. The application does have lots of 4K content incoming, and support for the Vive Pro already exists.

Next has been available for the Google DayDream for quite some time and debuted last year for Windows MR. According to RoadtoVR, NextVR decided to focus on mobile first as a method of optimization. Achieving high-quality video streaming on low-powered devices is no simple matter. Beginning with stricter limitations, and working on progressively more powerful devices, has helped smooth development for the team.

Six degrees of freedom is also in development, so users will be able to teleport or move around their location. Although this higher resolution content is meant for Vive Pro, walking around or rotating the camera would be a nice feature for any of the platforms. Is your local sports bar about to get a premium viewing upgrade?

Firsthand Experience

I spent some time watching clips and highlight reels of various events, not only sports. 360 VR video always surprises me with the uncanny valley effect. NBA clips, in particular, feel very game-like, and camera shaking effects (like dunks or powerbombs) are incredibly visceral.

I use room scale VR, and without 6DoF I felt the camera move. I didn’t realize I tend to shuffle on my feet in VR, but it became very apparent watching Next. After sitting down, I felt much better and more grounded.

Camera angles that look up from the ground also feel weird, like you’re inside the floor. It will be interesting to see how 6DoF deals with this kind of placement. Overall, though, the effects add depth to the experience. Dynamic pauses with graphics containing stats or facts provide much more context to the clip. Add better color commentary, and I’m completely sold on the experience.

Especially with WWE videos, which look amazingly cool.

The commentary is where I feel the experience is most lacking. Excitement alone doesn’t make for great commentary. I would like to hear more context for a play or have the announcer point out some detail I’d missed. Documentaries are edited to fix this problem; I’m wondering why the major league highlight reels aren’t cut with the same foresight.

NextVR has lots of free content available, mostly in the form of documentary and highlight reels, so there’s plenty to experience.

Final Thoughts

I came into NextVR a skeptic. For me, VR is a fitness tool, not a television. I left the app understanding the value of sports broadcasting in VR. I’m never going to get courtside seats to an NBA finals game, the Olympics, or lots of other major sports venues. Some of us may not even get that chance with our city’s team.

Getting that close to the game makes it personal and emotional. When you’re able to move and watch, you’re in the arena. Duplicating the fan experience is a big deal and a major selling point for sports broadcasting. NextVR still has some path left to trod in this uncharted market, but it’s offering a fantastic start.