From Digital Trends’ Keith Nelson: You can experience almost anything in virtual reality. You can be on stage as Paul McCartney performs. You can travel around the globe. You can even watch a live game in virtual reality from the NBA, NCAA and NASCAR. But you can’t watch an NFL game live.
For the most part, the only NFL you can get in virtual reality is highlight packages from virtual reality companies NextVR and Voke. Though impressive, they leave a lot to be desired. You get close enough to Odell Beckham catching a one-handed pass in the end-zone to unconsciously jerk your body back so you don’t impede his motion. But you also get up close and personal with meaningless, unexciting catches that bump into the camera. NextVR and Voke are in the business of selling specific experiences, rather than selling an all-access pass to an entire game.
Why hasn’t the NFL taken games into VR yet? To find out, Digital Trends spoke to the NFL’s Director of Media Strategy and Business Development, William Deng; Voke CEO Sankar Jayaram; and spokespeople from NextVR, as we tagged along behind the scenes of one of NextVR’s NFL productions in December. The answer: it’s complicated.
The NFL is still experimenting with the viability of virtual reality, so the league is by no means an expert. But it does have what Deng refers to as “minimum viable product experiences,” and each VR project is expected to hit its targets. The NFL wants the cameras to be nimble enough to follow the action smoothly, and headsets to be comfortable enough for fans to want to spend hours inside them. And above all else, the NFL wants fans to see the action clearly.
“When I’m in the headset and I’m watching content or a highlight on the other side of the field, can I actually see what’s happening? Resolution today limits that ability,” Deng says. Both NextVR and Voke have yet to find a fix to this problem. Both companies filmed highlight packages for the NFL this season with cameras primarily in each end zone, while both companies only capture video for VR from one sideline. This made plays on the opposite side of the field look grainy, no matter the phone.