NEW YORK — Over the next few weeks, roughly four dozen Intel employees will descend upon Pyeongchang, South Korea in a massive undertaking that will see the technology company transformed into a mobile production house with field crews, producers and virtual reality cameras.
In what will be the the largest-scale virtual reality event to date and the first live virtual reality broadcast of the Olympic Winter Games, Intel will rotate roughly two dozen 180-degree cameras that it built in-house across 18 live events over the two-and-a-half week event. It’ll shoot 30 events in total — another 12 with 360-degree cameras — to create a mix of VR live streams and video-on-demand content.
For the live events, three to six cameras will be dedicated to each, offering multiple camera views that viewers can switch between at will. During downhill skiing, one at the gate might show an athlete preparing to start, while a few others might be placed at key turns on the course and the finish line.
“So maybe I want to watch half-pipe from under or beside or left or right or I want to see what they look like when they’re preparing for that jump,” Kalpana Berman, an Intel Sport user experience product manager, said at the Consumer Electronics Show. “I have the freedom to choose that camera angle.”
Intel’s in-house production team will also provide a fully-produced version of the VR experience known as the VR Cast. By switching back and forth between the 180-degree panoramic, stereoscopic camera views, a director’s cut will stitch together an automated story for the end user, similar to the one viewers have come to expect from the traditional TV broadcast.
Data overlays from the traditional broadcast, such as the athlete’s name and nationality, real-time statistics, a leaderboard, medal counter and post-event results, will be provided by the Olympic Broadcast Service and available to users in VR as well.
The live feeds will then be sent to the cloud where they’ll be distributed across Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR, Windows Mixed Reality, and the rights holders’ apps and web browsers, such as the new NBC Sports VR app and non-U.S. broadcasters, such as CBC in Canada and Discovery in Europe.
Of the 30 events that will be captured during the games, from downhill skiing to figure skating, 12 will be pre-produced with 360-degree cameras and distributed as three- to five-minute on-demand clips after the event. Other pre-produced content, such as tours of the nine Pyeongchang Olympic venues, will be available on-demand ahead of the games.
When a viewer enters the virtual world that Intel has created for the Games, they’ll be given a birds-eye view of a digital recreation of the venues, where they can hop between each to watch specific events based on location. Intel’s live VR broadcast will officially kick off with the opening ceremonies on Feb. 9 in the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium, a temporary stadium with seating for 35,000 built specifically for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Games.
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In a meeting demoing the product last week, Blake Rowe, Intel’s product implementation manager, said the goal of the technology is to get people into places they wouldn’t normally be able to access. For men’s and women’s ice hockey, for example, cameras will be right next to the ice, between the two team’s benches. For cross country-type events, the camera pods will be spread throughout the course.
A few on-demand videos will also be shot from the perspective of an athlete as they go through their respective competition, including bobsledding and downhill skiing.
Rowe suspects that the virtual reality experience will continue to improve for future Olympic Games as the way people consume sports evolves. Further in the future, these live feeds might be complemented with interactive stats or other social components.
For now, though, Pyeongchang will be an experiment in large-scale VR production. Intel has provided much smaller-scale VR coverage in the past, including weekly Major League Baseball games, NCAA basketball tournament games and PGA golf events.