Enter the new sports world

Experience the action from within through virtual reality and enhanced 360 VR with augmented graphics

By Antoinette Price

Wish you could get tickets to the Olympics, World Cup or Super Bowl and experience the live atmosphere just once? A new trend is sweeping the sports world that is already allowing fans to feel as if they were at the game without leaving the couch. From football, tennis and F1 racing, to basketball, golf, hockey and more, spectators can watch games literally from new angles.

StarProKabaddi_VR_sports ProKabbadi app allows users to learn about the Indian contact sport (Photo: www.starsports.com)

The latest craze - seeing and hearing in 360

According to a survey by Goldman Sachs, this is an innovative industry with great potential. In their base case estimates, by 2025, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology could be worth USD 80 billion – 45 billion hardware and 35 billion software. This assumes that head-mounted devices (HMDs) gain popularity as the technology evolves, although adoption is limited because of battery life and mobility.

Recently, virtual reality production has gone to another level thanks to 360 degree spherical video and 360x360 surround sound. A few players are leading the way with technology that offers broadcasting services more efficient means to attract audiences and deliver them riveting sports coverage.

One example is a device with eight sensors, which cover 360 degrees. It takes 30 frames per second, operates wirelessly, and captures continuous VR footage using a single co-axial cable. Real time monitoring and wireless control software display all camera viewpoints at the same time, allowing sensor adjustments while moving. Interchangeable digital cartridges, lasting 45 minutes, save all video and audio data onto a single file. This is a big improvement on previous systems using numerous secure digital cards. Additionally, this highly-efficient equipment no longer requires complicated multi-camera rigs.

So how is it done?

AR and VR apps allow complex objects to be tracked and rendered in real-time, while new sensing technologies (depth cameras and miniature 3D scanners) enable mobile devices to “see” the world and digitally capture a surrounding environment. This is then analyzed and augmented with real-time feedback, such as overlaid data or statistics.

The hardware required consists of processors, sensors and input devices (speech and gesture recognition systems), displays (monitors and handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets which contain microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), sensors including optical, accelerometers, gyroscopes, GPS and cameras for tracking), eyeglasses, head-up display (HUD), computers, software, and algorithms which help AR systems realistically integrate augmentations with the real world. Special 3D AR software programmes allow the developer to link animation or contextual digital information in the computer programme with an AR "marker" in the real world.

Important work behind the scenes

Standardization ensures manufacturers, companies and users can produce, sell and use reliable, safe products and services. Several IEC Technical Committees (TCs), Subcommittees (SCs) and Joint Technical Committees (JTCs) with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), prepare International Standards for the technology behind AR and VR applications.
Augmented reality requires data formats which can use 2D and 3D multimedia content. ISO/IEC 23000-13, Information technology - Multimedia application format (MPEG-A) – Part 13: Augmented reality application format. ARAF reference software and conformance, is a Standard focusing on this aspect. It was developed by ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 29: Coding of audio, picture, multi-media and hypermedia information.

Sensors make this technology possible, monitoring, for example, orientation, speed and optical aspects. The work of IEC TC 47: Semiconductor devices, and IEC SC 47F: Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), ensures that sensors and MEMS work reliably and efficiently.

A lot goes on between the different systems behind the scenes to deliver programmes. IEC TC 100: Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, produces Standards which contribute to the quality and performance of these systems and to their interoperability with other systems and equipment.

Finally, nothing works without power. IEC SC 21A: Secondary cells and batteries containing alkaline or other non-acid electrolytes, prepares International Standards for batteries used in smartphones which power headsets. These Standards concern tests and measurements, design and manufacturing recommendations, as well as safety requirements. They are also essential for the battery industry as it develops new products and chemistries for technologies.

Step right into the game with VR

Sports viewers are used to watching action replays, for example in tennis, to determine if a ball was inside the line or not. Hawk-Eye, the complex computer system which visually tracks and displays the trajectory of a ball, was originally designed for cricket, but is now used in over 15 sports. In tennis, the system uses 10 high-performance cameras, normally positioned on the underside of the stadium roof, which track the ball from different angles. The video taken is validated through cross-verification of these cameras, and then combined to create a three-dimensional representation of the ball’s path. Additional information is overlaid, such as ball speed or spin rate, combining virtual and augmented reality.

Building on this, the latest VR technology lets viewers explore the games from different and exciting perspectives. Live streaming is not new, but live streaming VR content is, so that events can be experienced in real time, anywhere in the world. The interactive aspect enables users to virtually step onto the field or the court. They can look around in any direction during the live event from different vantage points, including player positions. They will also be able to take virtual tours behind the scenes and visit the famous locker rooms, player clubs or an F1 garage.

Choose your position on the field

UEFA Euro 2016 soccer championship organizers have allowed 360-degree VR footage to be taken during the competition. Many high-tech cameras placed over and around the stadium, in player tunnels, dressing rooms and managerial press conferences will give viewers unique event coverage. While still in the testing phase, UEFA is considering a special YouTube channel to roll out the footage.

Feel the buzz of the Olympic opening ceremony

The 2016 Rio Olympic Games will film the opening and closing ceremonies and some events in VR. These will be broadcast live and available for downloading. Headset wearers will feel as if they are in the stadium. Those without will be able to enjoy the footage on 360 degree video publishing web sites, such as Facebook 360 or YouTube 360.

Be just metres from top tennis players

The ATP World Tour has been experimenting with VR technology that places headset wearers in a box suite right in front of the court. Other features include statistics on players and a backroom that offers match replays. Users can switch camera angles and move to any viewpoint that can be broadcast.

Heading towards a virtual future

AR and VR technology is increasingly being applied for broadcasting sports events.  However it is growing in scope, thanks to the rapidly advancing technology and consumers, who want to enjoy concerts, national events or see venues and destinations before they travel. IEC work in this domain will continue, as it follows these developments.

Find out which other industries are using VR and AR applications from articles: Blending the real and virtual worlds and Experiencing life like never before, in the May 2016 e-tech issue.

VR_stadium_at_home VR lets users enjoy the stadium atmosphere from home (Photo: Livelike VR)
foxsports-ed_VR_camera VR cameras enhance TV viewing with live VR streaming (Photo: Fox Sports)
StarProKabaddi_VR_sports ProKabbadi app allows users to learn about the Indian contact sport (Photo: www.starsports.com)