You can watch the Super Bowl in virtual reality this weekend, although it might not be the fully immersive experience you’d expect. This morning, Fox Sports and its partner LiveLike announced that they will be streaming near-real-time highlights of the game via the Fox Sports VR app for Google Cardboard (through Android and iOS) and Gear VR. But this doesn’t mean 360-degree video — instead, viewers will enter a “virtual suite” where they can watch clips on a big-screen TV or via direct wide-angle video. If you want 360-degree video, you’ll have to watch it on your phone without a headset.
Viewers can see a total of about 20 highlights during the event, which they can navigate through a timeline. Like many sports streaming apps, Fox Sports VR is for TV subscribers, but there’s no additional cost. Fox Sports VR actually broadcast a live football game last year, and several VR companies have created material based around the NFL and the Super Bowl. But as far as we know, this is the closest we’ve gotten to an actual live VR version of the Super Bowl.
Honestly, though, novelty is the only reason I can think of to watch this. We obviously can’t judge the experience before it happens, and there are understandable reasons for sticking to highlight reels. Among other things, VR live-streaming is still a relatively new technology, and the Super Bowl would be an incredibly high-pressure place to deploy it. (Fox Sports VR’s first foray into live football games was also poorly reviewed.)
But the virtual suite isn’t a very exciting improvement over reality, especially when you can’t even watch the full game in it. You could argue that you’re getting a “virtual big-screen TV,” but it’ll be a very low-resolution one, and neither the Gear VR nor the standard Google Cardboard headset are very comfortable. LiveLike imagines people passing around the headset at a viewing party, but that’s easier with single VR videos than something with a whole timeline interface.
VR sports videos can be sophisticated and interesting, and the NBA in particular has been doing quality work with companies like Oculus and NextVR. VR social spaces can even let people from distant parts of the world gather for streaming parties. But this experience might be more interesting as a sign of where the industry’s going than as an actual piece of entertainment.