March Madness is now a virtual reality event, thanks to Intel’s TrueVR platform. Moving the games to VR has been a major effort for the company, which has been live-streaming the NCAA Basketball tournament that way since the start of the Sweet 16 round and was just named the official VR provider of college sports for NCAA, Turner Sports and CBS Sports. For the Final Four, Intel will place seven VR rigs, each of which is outfitted with 12 cameras, in the stadium, enabling it to broadcast a spherical view of the action.
Wired reports that, after TrueVR’s processing software synchs, color-corrects and stitches the images in real-time, “the stream is pushed out through the March Madness Live VR app,” which can be viewed via a Samsung Gear VR headset. The mobile-first TrueVR platform is “an end-to-end system any sports network could use to package highlights and full game livestreams in VR.”
“With March Madness, it’s the March Madness live VR experience,” said Intel Sports Group managing director David Aufhauser. “We have our own consumer, but really our platform is built to enable any media company or any content company to be able to create experiences for their audiences.”
For the TrueVR March Madness experience, a gold ticket, which costs $3, “features VR-specific broadcasters, and gives you control over which camera location you’re watching from,” and a silver ticket, which costs $2, “stations you at one courtside camera and pipes in commentary from the regular television broadcasters.”
Wired notes that TrueVR still has some bugs to work out, including “visible parallax issues when players walk across the stitching seams between cameras,” and cameras still working to find optimal angles. Another issue is whether viewers will want to spend a game’s two hours watching VR.
Although not known for being an “innovator in sports media,” Intel last year unveiled its Project Alloy tetherless wearable AR/VR system that the company is using to research “how the next wave of VR will be made and experienced.” In addition to being tetherless, Project Alloy has sensors in the headset and “doesn’t require a controller to interact with the virtual environment.”
Project Alloy leader Achin Bhowmik, part of Intel’s perceptual computing group, is most excited about the latter feature. “In psychology there is a term called proprioceptive cue,” he said. “That means, when I look at my own limb, I just expect it to be there in the way that I know it. If it is not there, or it looks different, subconsciously you get nervous. It’s one of the reasons why people get nervous in a VR environment.”
To bring Project Alloy to market, Intel plans to team up with hardware partners, as well as mixed reality content developers.