English Premier League to use ‘immersive technology’ to create real-time remote viewing of football as if from stands

[From The Sport Blog of The Guardian]

[Image: Technology is being developed that will make TV viewers feel like they are watching matches from the stands. Photograph: Stephen Pond/Empics]

Fantasy football is about to become reality with immersion technology

The Premier League is in talks to develop an Avatar-style viewing experience that makes it feel like you are watching a top-flight game live from the stands

Dominic Fifield
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 2 August 2011

The Premier League’s desire to innovate is about to become a virtual reality. English football’s elite division has long prided itself on an ability to refresh the brand the top-flight game has become but, where attempts to introduce a 39th game to be farmed out around the globe have died a death, now the EPL experience is to become truly interactive. Apparently coming to a television screen near you: The Premier League, Avatar-style.

Talks are under way between the league’s administrators and both Sony and Electronic Arts aimed at offering viewers the chance to experience “immersion technology” and enjoy games being played potentially on the other side of the planet as if they were present in the stands. As a concept, it sounds as if it might have been lifted from the script of Red Dwarf as much as a James Cameron blockbuster. “But I think it’s only between two to five years from being readily available,” said the Premier League’s chief executive, Richard Scudamore. “It might seem a bit ‘blue sky’, but it isn’t. It’ll certainly happen within my working life.”

The principle is intriguing. Subscribers would most likely don headphones and settle down in front of their 3D, high?definition flat screens on a Saturday to choose which fixture to watch. Selections will be made from drop?down menus – whether they want to sit in the Shed End for Chelsea versus Wigan Athletic, or the Stretford End for Manchester United against Swansea City – and, once made, supporters would watch the game as if at the ground. Throw in surround sound and, presumably, some overpriced refreshments and the Premier League experience will be transported into viewers’ living rooms.

“There’s been a step-change from standard definition to high definition in terms of how people consume football,” said Scudamore. “3D is coming along and there have been all these new devices coming on to the scene. There’ll soon be a technological development that will allow people across the world to have a much richer type of experience in terms of watching and consuming football. Our efforts and energies are concentrated in that area, rather than they are in the old-fashioned and passé idea of flying around the world playing a 39th game. We’ll find a technological solution.

“There’s immersion technology being developed right now where you can sit down with headphones and a screen in front of you, and reproduce the feeling of being in a stadium. You can call in your mates to sit next to you and chat to them. If you turn your head one way you’re looking at the left-hand goal and the other way you’re looking at the right-hand goal. That’s in Beta testing now.

“You’ll be able to decide where you want to be: you could be on a Saturday at 3pm, English time, in Hong Kong deciding whether you want to be on the Kop end at Anfield or the Holte End at Aston Villa. There’ll be a drop?down menu and you’ll be able to choose where you want to be and watch the game. It’ll be like an Avatar?type of thing available in your own home. It might sound pie in the sky, but it’s not. That virtual reality is already there. To be honest, it’s the sort of thing our kids are playing with all the time.”

The Premier League is in dialogue with Sony and EA over concepts that could yet yield this kind of Saturday afternoon experience. Sony is aiming to deliver “Super Wide”, a panoramic shot based on footage delivered by several cameras. The pictures are then effectively stitched together with viewers able to pick their viewing angle: from a corner flag; behind the dugouts; even from the posh, heated seats up in the directors’ box.

EA’s take is slightly different, with the company in the process of developing a 3D “graphical representation package” which Sky hopes to use to improve its analysis from the 2012?13 season. The US firm, whose Fifa series of video games have sold more than 100m copies worldwide, intends to use 3D holographic representations of various phases of play within the game for viewers to access via Sky. Subscribers would then be presented with a 3D playbook, which would include pieces of analysis, with the ultimate aim for it to be available in real time.

That same principle could yet be developed further to match the Premier League’s technological vision. “I see that vision and I can see it happening,” said Scudamore. “I’m quite excited about it and it’s the sort of thing we should be doing. We’ve been speaking to a couple of companies about working with them on developing the product.”

There would, of course, be limits to what could be offered in this country. After all, recreating the atmosphere of an English league game kicking off at 3pm on a Saturday would be less appealing if crowds dwindle because fans are preferring to interact on their plasmas at home. “It’s more a global vision, as we wouldn’t do anything in England to undermine the 3pm window,” said Scudamore. “We want to protect the whole of English football and I’m a great protector of that window. I’d rather people were attending the stadia in England, whether it be at Barnet or Arsenal.

“Anything we did to undermine that would be difficult for me personally and professionally. But this can become a reality, and it can be produced to satisfy a mass market. As most consumer goods are. This is innovative, but I can see it happening. And it’s exciting: the sort of thing we should be doing.”


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