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Sports Industry to Spearhead Social VR

Social media has made the world is more connected than ever. So it’s a problem for VR technology – which has been making big waves in the worlds of gaming, sports, and fashion – that the experiences it offers are largely aimed at individuals rather than groups. Well, that’s all about to change.

Virtual reality excites with its promise to offer the “best seat in the house” to hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of people simultaneously. After “plugging in”, users are able to hop into different times or locations (or even different universes) and enjoy an experience that otherwise they may not have been afforded.

The trouble is that such experiences are isolating – those partaking in them do so alone. This is a problem when it comes to integrating VR with the modern world, in which sharing experiences is often seen as paramount.

This is particularly true for the sports industry, where the social experience is almost as important as the game itself. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, it’s the sports industry that’s pioneering “social VR”.

NextVR, arguably the market leaders in the VR space, will soon partner with a social communications platform in an attempt to accommodate the social element of sports viewing in VR. The product is currently in beta testing, with NextVR aiming to officially announce the product before a “marquee event late Summer”.

Interaction will likely take place via avatars, with NextVR integrating APIs from gaming consoles such as the PS4 into their own technology. As Dave Cole, co-founder at NextVR explains, “in makes more sense for users to create one avatar and have the ability to port that to our platform, or other virtual spaces, than have to start from scratch each time.”

Though it appears that NextVR is currently leading the pack, other VR companies are just as keen to get their own social VR offerings up and ready to go. LiveLikeVR, for example, which ATP Media and Sky have paid to test its VR production pipe, is set to launch live sharing capability later this year.

However, at the moment, there are still significant problems that need to be ironed out. One major issue is synchronising the live video stream with the audio component of friends speaking – not to mention blending this audio with the sounds of the game in a realistic way, and “placing” conversations in surround sound so that viewers are able to locate where speech is coming from.

Still, with so much money and enthusiasm behind the tech (it has long been an ambition of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, for example, to connect friends with live VR experiences), it’s likely that, very soon, we will see social VR within the sports industry. And that could revolutionise the sports industry in a very real way.

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