Tata teams with European Tour to prove 360-degree video in 8K UHD is possible for sports broadcasters

Tata Communications and golf’s European Tour have completed what is believed to be the world’s first test of live 360-degree video in 8K UHD.

The trial, which was carried out at the recent Sky Sports British Masters, was designed not only to illustrate how 360-degree video and virtual reality (VR) applications could enable fans at home and at the course to engage with the action in new ways, but also to prove to the broadcast industry that it is possible to use high bandwidth, complex productions processes.

European Tour player Charl Schwartzel trying out the 8K 360-degree VR kit from Tata and partners at Walton Heath during Day One of the Sky Sports British Masters at Walton Heath Golf Club on 11 October

Mehul Kapadia, global head of marketing at Tata Communications, said: “We want to help the European Tour find innovative ways to attract new fans and keep existing fans loyal. It’s all about augmenting the experience for golf fans, whether they’re following Rory or Tommy at home, on the move, or at the course.

“The success of our 360-degree video trial in F1, and the fact that we’re delivering this data-intensive feed over our global network to broadcasters in MotoGP, demonstrates that we are pushing the boundaries of enabling sports organisations to create more immersive experiences for sports fans worldwide.”

The 360-degree video feed was captured on the 18th hole of the Walton Heath Golf Club course where fans were able to enjoy the action on a large screen, with VR headsets for a personalised viewing experience. The feed was live transcoded by Visbit, using the company’s view-optimised streaming (VVOS) technology. This solution is said to save up to 80% of bandwidth, enabling the streaming of data-intensive UHD 8K video over a regular internet connection.

The 8K signal was delivered over Tata Communications’ ultra-low-latency Video Connect network and played on the Visbit 8K Live Player app on Samsung Gear VR headsets with Samsung Galaxy S9 smartphones.

The 8K capturing and real time stitching solution for the proof-of-concept was supplied by Kandao, whose Obsidian 8K VR camera uses six 4K lenses to capture the course from every angle.

SVG Europe asked what qualitative difference 8K will really make for a 360-degree experience using a VR headset, given that on a smartphone, HD with HDR provides the same viewing experience as 4K today. However, Kapadia commented that the trial was more about proving that high bandwidth, complex production processes could be carried out successfully: “The breakneck speed of technology innovation means that broadcasters and rights holders need to be ready and able to cater for fans’ increasing appetite for these UHD viewing experiences. 8K TVs or smartphones or VR headsets might not be  widely available now, but we want to show to the sports ecosystem that it doesn’t matter how high the demand for bandwidth or how complex the production capabilities, we’re able to deliver for them, worldwide.”

Continued Kapadia: “Before any new technology can become mainstream, it needs to be tested in action to ensure that it meets consumers’ expectations, even to the point where they’re willing to pay extra for it. What’s crucial for global sports like the European Tour is that you have the ability to deliver this new kind of experience anywhere in the world in a reliable way. We did this trial to show the potential of an ultra-immersive technology, and give the European Tour and other sports organisations a glimpse of the new commercial opportunities it could open up worldwide by enabling fans at home and at the course to engage with the action in new ways.”

Tata Communication’s Mehul Kapadia

On how Tata got involved with the European Tour, Kapadia told SVG Europe: “We joined forces with European Tour to help drive its digital transformation, create new ways for fans globally to experience golf, and attract new, younger fans to the sport too. Having laid the foundations for the digital transformation of F1 and MotoGP, we understood the European Tour’s ambition to expand its reach to new viewers and use new formats like VR to take the fan experience to the next level.

“The European Tour has this great opportunity to evolve and create an exciting future, not just through TV but of course OTT platforms, social media and new augmented services like VR,” he added. “Together, we are looking to trial all kinds of exciting technologies. Crucially, at Tata Communications, we have the global distribution capability to deliver the bandwidth-intensive content from these applications to help the European Tour maximise the appeal of the sport to new audiences.”

Said Michael Cole, chief executive of the European Tour: “This proof-of-concept is part of our strategy to attract new fans to the sport by harnessing the latest digital technologies and introducing new, shorter and faster formats. With Shotclock Masters, for example, players have just 40 or 50 seconds to play a shot. We’re also using more and more shot data to bring fans more engaging insights. We look forward to leveraging live 360-degree video in 8K to make each tournament more immersive for golf newbies and our core fan base.”

Stated Kapadia: “Any sport that wants to grow must attract new fans rather than focus only on existing audiences. It also means investing in different – increasingly digital – platforms to get viewers up and close to the action. For example, VR allows fans to get past the ropes and on to the green, and jump in the shoes of Rory or Tommy for that perfect putt.”

The companies stated that through a live 360-degree video in 8K feed, fans could use a VR headset to get a virtual tour of iconic European Tour venues like Walton Heath or Valderrama. The experience could be made even more immersive, enabling fans to step into Rory or Tommy’s shoes for a winning putt or perfect drive.

Also, live 360-degree video could support the evolution of refereeing in golf. For example, by equipping key sections of the course with live360-degree cameras, officials and referees could assess each shot and situation in real-time, without causing delays for players and fans. “From a refereeing perspective, live 360-degree video in 8k could have potential in the future to allow European Tour referees to assess shots in specific locations, remotely and in real time,” said David Garland, director of tour operations, European Tour.

Tata Communications is the Official Global Connectivity Supplier of the European Tour, bringing video feeds from 47 European Tour tournaments in 30 countries worldwide to 40 broadcasters, reaching close to half a billion golf fans.

View a video clip here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iShN-FGkEYM

Subscribe and Get SVG Europe Newsletters