Gear Up: How to Watch the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 in Virtual Reality

VR in the cold
by Shawn Krest
, Movable Media

For the first time in history, fans can experience the drama and excitement of the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in live or on-demand VR.

From the breath-holding tension of ski jumping to the intricacy of pairs ice dancing and the drama of speed skating, PyeongChang 2018 brings the ultimate display of excellence in winter sports.

For the first time in history, fans watching at home can experience the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in live virtual reality (VR). More than 30 events will be broadcast live and via video on demand (VOD) from PyeongChang, South Korea via the NBC Sports VR app (in the U.S.), powered by Intel True VR.

“This will give fans across the globe the opportunity to sit front row at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018,” said James Carwana, vice president and general manager of Intel Sports.

“You now have an opportunity to virtually sit right there and watch those moments happen.”

The 17 days of games in South Korea will represent the biggest VR event ever.

Viewers will be able to choose from up to a half dozen different viewpoints, including angles that were previously unavailable, and immerse themselves in the action, whether in the snow or on the ice.

To capture the Olympic events in VR, Intel’s True VR team set up camera “pods” around nine Olympic venues. Each pod is equipped with six pairs of lenses (or 12 cameras) that capture a stereoscopic view – capturing 180 degrees of action, but also depth, so viewers feel like they’re at the event.

“It’s a full 3D stereoscopic experience with graphics and data that immerses fans,” said Carwana. “They get to experience the intensity and amazement of the events up close and from different angles.”

True VR will broadcast marquee events such as alpine skiing (Downhill, Slalom and Super-G), ice hockey, figure skating, snowboarding and “big air” events, speed skating, curling and many of the sliding events.

[Download the NBC Sports VR app: Oculus/GearVR | DaydreamWindows Mixed RealityAndroid | iOS]

Viewers can sit back and watch the director’s cut, which will switch between camera angles, based on the judgment and expertise of the broadcast team. Or they can pick and choose angles to track a favorite hockey player or focus on a particularly treacherous portion of the slope.

And, with picture-in-picture available, it’s not necessarily an either-or choice.

Additional information will help viewers understand what they’re watching.

“Things like athlete names and results will appear over our VR video, to provide context to what you’re viewing and identify the athletes on the screen,” said Blake Rowe, Intel True VR implementation manager at the Olympic Winter Games. The app will send notifications when events are airing live, so you never miss a key heat or hockey game.

Fans can watch the events live or after the fact via full-event replays and highlight reels.

How to Watch

The VR Olympic experience will be available across multiple platforms on a variety of devices via several different apps. What app to download depends on where viewers are in the world. In the U.S., the VR content will be part of NBC’s Olympics coverage, available via the NBC Sports VR app. NBC will also have 2D, 180-degree panorama content available to anyone with a smartphone.

Winter Olympics virtual reality: Four speed skaters move gracefully around track.

“The best way to experience the content is through a head-mounted display, such as the Samsung GearVR, Google Daydream or Windows Mixed Reality,” said Rowe.

“But we are aware that some people don’t necessarily want a headset or haven’t purchased one yet,” Rowe said. “To meet that need, we are also providing an IOS and Android app that fans can download specifically for the Winter Olympics and access the same content.”

Rowe said that people can turn their smartphone into a low-tech VR headset by making an inexpensive homemade cardboard viewer.

“If you have a phone and a cardboard viewer, you can view through the stereoscopic lenses of that cardboard device to get the 3D experience on your mobile phone.”

T-Minus Two Months

True VR has been used at several other sporting events.

Whether Olympic Winter Games fans are seasoned VR users or are new to VR, they can immerse themselves in the PyeongChang 2018 experience without ever pulling on a winter coat.

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