In a bid to deliver a more immersive viewing experience for fans of the National Basketball Association (NBA), ESPN is experimenting with a new broadcasting format.
“NBA CourtView” builds on “volumetric video” technology, using more than 100 cameras around the basketball court to capture player movement. The data collected from the cameras is processed by a computer to generate a multidimensional image of the game action in real-time. The transmitted image is reminiscent of video games because virtual camera operators can flow freely between angles as if it were a drone camera flying around the stadium. Even though the same technology has been used previously by broadcasters to allow commentators to explain replays, it is the first time an entire game has been broadcasted in virtual 3D environments.
In theory, volumetric video could enable watching live games in the metaverse, simulating in-game attendance. However, in the format’s current stage of development, the crowd in the arena is removed from the broadcast and replaced with an unrefined virtual backdrop. Other technical limitations such as the lack of shadows and reflections also worsen the spectator experience.
Delivering a realistic 3D rendering of an entire stadium would require a multiple of the hardware and computing power available to broadcasters today. Hence, for creating a truly immersive spectator experience, substantial additional investments would be necessary. Nevertheless, experiments such as NBA CourtView play a key role in better understanding the shifting consumer demand and in pointing to technical challenges to be resolved.
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