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Why The NBA, NextVR Are Confident Virtual Reality Has Staying Power

NEW YORK — NextVR Chairman Brad Allen admits there’s still quite the road ahead for virtual reality, but according to the senior executive, “what we’ve seen so far has been nothing short of remarkable.”Allen joined Daniel Sillman of RSE Ventures and Jeff Marsilio, NBA Vice President of Global Media Distribution, on a panel at media, technology and digital conference Hashtag Sports this past month.The trio discussed the current state of virtual reality, relationship between NextVR and NBA Digital over the past few years and the league’s regular ‘live’ VR programming via NBA LEAGUE PASS for the 2016-17 season, which also included a la carte purchases along with on-demand highlights from the NBA Finals.During one of the NBA’s initial tests a few seasons ago for a Golden Warriors game, Marsilio said he was “blown away” as he looked through a courtside virtual reality camera. “Probably a string of expletives escaped my mouth,” he added. “It was really impressive, and I think at that moment I was more like a purist. I felt like what we needed to create was the ultimate courtside seat. As long as we could make you feel like you were there, all we needed was a camera courtside and you’d walk away and say, ‘This was amazing.’ Over the next couple of years of continuing experimentation and exploration, we learned that I was totally wrong.“What we needed to do to continue to engage people was bring in some of the more traditional elements. You needed dedicated announcers who were announcing for virtual reality. You needed to bring in graphics that were three-dimensional that could exist in this new immersive space. You needed many cameras and to direct them in a totally different way that wasn’t disorienting because you had no idea where a user might be looking when it switches to a different perspective. So, in order to learn that new art and really advance the NBA experience through the medium, we determined that we really had no choice but to commit to a full season with a partner (NextVR). We committed to each other and made a promise that every week it’s going to get better.” Allen said that for the first weekly game in virtual reality this past year, average viewership time was “seven or eight minutes.” For game No. 25, that number increased to 45 minutes — according to Allen — with Marsilio adding that he thought it averaged over two sessions.The NBA executive said his team and NextVR found that an under the basket camera proved to be the best at capturing the action in virtual reality. “The magic of VR is bringing that emotional connection to you…and making you feel like you are there,” Allen said. Added Marsilio: “Right now, (virtual reality is) probably the best advertisement you could have for the in-arena experience.”When asked about why they were confident that virtual reality would figure itself out over the next five to 10 years, compared to 3D television for instance, Marsilio said that the technology is a new medium altogether as opposed to 3D, which was “an enhancement to something that you already had.”“With virtual reality, you’re transported to a completely different place,” he continued. “Everywhere you look is this new immersive experience while you’re in there. It has some infrastructure advantages. You don’t need to stand up the entire time. … It’s already a compelling experience today.“Processors will continue to improve, the resolution will improve.”Allen added that in terms of the big and bulky virtual reality headsets on the market now, those will eventually be form-fitting and more like actual eyeglasses or sunglasses. As he cited, Apple still hasn’t released a headset product for the world’s 700 million iPhone users.“That could be the tipping point with VR,” he said. Like Marsilio, Allen also highlighted the anticipated improvements in resolution, saying that, “You’re not going to know the difference between being virtually there and actually being there. That is going to be kinda freaky.” Finally, both panelists addressed the nonexistent social element to virtual reality. As Marsilio explained, the biggest complaint that the league and NextVR have heard from fans and consumers is it’s still “very isolating” and “you can’t communicate with your friends.” According to Allen, though, noticeable advances around the quality of programming, cumbersome headsets and social integrations are maybe closer than fans actually think.“I don’t think those things are 10 years out. They’re probably not even five years out. Probably within the next couple of years,” he said.Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkJBurns88. He can be reached at mark.j.burns2@gmail.com.

Source: Why The NBA, NextVR Are Confident Virtual Reality Has Staying Power

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