Fox Sports, LiveLike kick off ‘social virtual reality’ at CONCACAF Gold Cup
Fox Sports and LiveLike are kicking the social aspect of the virtual reality experience up a notch at his year’s CONCAF Gold Cup. As part of their plans to produce three live Gold Cup matches in virtual reality, Fox and LiveLike will debut Social Virtual Reality – a new feature that will allow VR and 360-video viewers to connect with others via Facebook and allow them to interact with one another inside LiveLike’s virtual-suite experience via avatars and spatial 3D audio.
“This is why LiveLike was created in the first place: to make you feel like you’re with your friends when they can’t be there physically,” says LiveLike Founder and CEO Andre Lorenceau. “VR and the [360-video] magic window experience allow you to do that. VR can make you feel like somebody else is there with you [conversing] with you. I’ve been waiting for so long for this social piece to [come to fruition] for so long, so it’s really exciting.”
Getting social for a trio of matches
Fox and LiveLike will produce three deliver three matches (sponsored by and presenting Buffalo Wild Wings) in VR – the USA-Panama match on July 8, a TBD match either July 22 or 23, and the Gold Cup championship on July 26 – to the free Fox Sports VR app. During all three live VR/360 streams, viewers will have the ability to recognize each other’s avatars and communicate with one another throughout the experience.
The social virtual reality initiative is the latest effort from Fox Sports Lab, which has worked with VR partners over the last 18 months to deliver more than a dozen major events in VR. Michael Davies, Fox Sports SVP Field and Technical Operations, said in Fox’s Social VR announcement: “The massive feature set of this application keeps growing, and we think that social is a wildly important and seminal moment in the ongoing evolution of the technology.”
In the Fox Sports VR app, users will once again be able to choose between multiple camera angles captured by LiveLike VR rigs positioned throughout the field or simply select a director’s cut that automatically selects the best camera angle for live game action. In addition, viewers will have access to highlights and replays, as well as multiple preproduced, behind-the-scenes, 360-degree features.
It’s not just about having the highest quality 4K VR experience, it’s about having the richer experience,” says Lorenceau. “It’s about having this confluence of multiple camera angles, highlights, replays, statistics, and now social and being able to share the experience with friends.”
Inside the social VR experience
When entering the experience, users will be able to select a “Social” tab and a “Join Friends” button that connects the user to Facebook upon authorization. At that point, friends who have done the same will appear in the user’s friends list, creating the opportunity to view the experience in a social environment. Additionally, the experience can automatically select a viewing partner at random, with viewers having the ability to seamlessly switch Social VR “on” or “off.” Once inside the virtual suite, each user is represented by a customizable avatar.
“I see the evolution of video games as the closest analogy [for VR],” says Lorenceau. “In the late ’90s and early 2000s, you had to invite a friend to your couch or go to the arcade to be able to play with other people. But then Xbox Live and PlayStation Network came along and, essentially, all of gaming was taken online for the most part. But sports has never had that moment. Now, if you don’t live in the same city or can’t get together, this provides you with that communal experience that you simply couldn’t have before – with a synced video feed that makes for very clean experience.”
The Social VR experience also features spatial 3D audio. When a user turns to look at friend inside the virtual suite, his or her voice will become louder – allowing for multiple conversations to be carried on at once.
“The spacialization of audio really makes a big difference in creating that party feel when watching sports together. And it’s as easy as turning your head,” says Lorenceau. “Some people might say that you can still watch the game together using Facebook Messenger or Skype or WhatsApp, but the main difference with our experience is that 3D audio actually allows you to have multiple conversations at the same time. In a normal Skype or WhatsApp channel, if you had four people talking at the same time, it would sound like a scrambled mess.”
Looking ahead: how will social factor into the VR experience?
According to Lorenceau, the Social VR feature will not necessarily become a standard element in every single LiveLike VR experience moving forward, but the company will look to incorporate it into as many sports properties as possible.
He also adds that LiveLike will continue to explore the potential of incorporating Facebook Live and Periscope live-video feeds into the Social VR functionality in lieu of avatars, but that it is not possible at this time due to the technical limitations of mobile devices
“We definitely want to be able to do Facebook Live, as well as more realistic and customizable avatars,” he says. But the main limitation right now is that it’s hard for the phone to decode. We shoot 4K to create the VR experience and then you add on a live social stream – that takes a lot of [processing] power to decode. But the phones are constantly being upgraded and every time they upgrade them, we get to play around with new capabilities.”
The Fox Sports VR app can be enjoyed without any special VR equipment through the mobile-specific interactive 360-degree viewing experience built specifically for smartphone viewing, or with a Gear VR or cardboard headset. Fans can access this FOX Sports VR “virtual suite” by downloading and installing the free Fox Sports VR app and signing in with their television provider credentials.