NBC has promised to broadcast 85 hours of the 2016 Rio Olympics in virtual reality. The opening and closing ceremonies, plus men’s basketball, gymnastics, track and field, beach volleyball, diving, boxing, and fencing events will all be available for the Samsung Gear VR headset, through a special section of the NBC Sports app. Besides needing a Samsung smartphone, viewers will require a paid TV subscription, as they would to watch NBC’s non-VR broadcasts online. NBC’s VR programming will be released with a delay, from August 6th — the day after the opening ceremony — to August 22nd, after the closing. While virtual reality video can often be viewed as flatscreen 360-degree video without a headset, it’s not clear whether that will be the case here.
Olympic Broadcasting Services, which provides footage to NBC, announced earlier this year that it would be partially filming the games in both VR and "Super-Hi Vision" 8K video. Likewise, the VR-happy Samsung is rumored to be working on an Olympics-themed special edition of its Galaxy S7 Edge. While Samsung and Oculus’ Gear VR isn’t as cheap or broadly compatible as the generic and relatively low-quality Google Cardboard headset, meanwhile, it’s the most accessible VR headset otherwise available — and one that video companies have paid more attention to than the gaming-focused Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
The Olympics are the kind of visually compelling, exclusive event that’s considered perfect for virtual reality video, especially since other sporting events have already been shot in VR. The 2016 games are the first to take place since the format gained popularity; the 2012 London Summer Olympics were held a few months before Oculus started raising money for its first Rift VR headset, and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi occurred shortly before Facebook acquired Oculus, arguably kicking off the current VR boom in earnest.