What it’s like to experience the BBC’s VR app without a headset

If you hadn’t already heard, BBC Sport is giving their fans the chance to experience the 2018 World Cup in virtual reality.

VR is becoming more and more prevalent in our increasingly technological society, and the BBC is capitalising on the trend by allowing their fans to virtually place themselves in Russia for a whole new football experience.

Using a VR headset – or simply using the BBC Sport VR 2018 FIFA World Cup app on a smartphone – fans can watch each game from their own hospitality box from inside the stadium. Other features are also available – like highlights of other matches and a 360-degree video experience.

To get a glimpse of the VR World Cup experience, I downloaded the aforementioned app on to my smart phone and took a look. I don’t have a VR headset lying around, so the app will have to suffice – but it’ll be that way for most viewers casually trying it out for the first time, and whether they see enough promise to invest in a headset in the future is the sort of thing that will see VR succeed or fail.

When you open the app, you are instantly placed in said hospitality box, and the lounge you now occupy is frankly quite appealing. It feels more like a modern flat than a suite at a football stadium, and the pervading aesthetic proves it. You’re sitting on a white couch, surrounded by other furniture that looks not-quite comfortable enough. There’s artwork, a few fresh ficuses and a multitude of flat-screen televisions branding the classic yellow block BBC Sport logo.

It’s quite easy to make your way to the menu as it’s situated right in front of you, and from there are two main options: choose from a massive bank of videos or watch the live action. Taking into account what I would assume is the main appeal of downloading this app, I chose to take a glance at the field.

The hospitality box is situated on the half-way line, and you are given a grand display of the football stadium. The bright-green pitch is some 50-feet below, two gigantic monitors showing the on-field action hang above, and the buzz of the virtual sold-out crowd is all too familiar.

Now, I wasn’t in attendance for an actual game, but the appeal of watching through VR is obvious. You can move the box around the stadium to gain various viewpoints of the pitch — like behind the goal or on the sideline — and if you look downward when watching the game, you’ll find an expansive menu that contains match info, the full squads of both countries playing and stats from the game.

What impressed me most, though, was the vast amount of game highlights available in the lounge. Naturally, I chose to view clips from the recent Argentina-Croatia game, and the quality of the videos was striking. This is great for viewers and horrible for those like Willy Caballero, whom I got to watch surrender a horrifying goal from up to nine different angles (each one more heart-wrenching and gut-twisting than the last).

I got to watch Luka Modric’s mesmerizing strike that put Croatia ahead 2-0 from, again, nine different vantage points and in slow motion. For a bonus, I also had the privilege of seeing the Sad Messi meme unfold. There are also pre and post-game press conference videos available.

Ultimately, the VR experience was a good bit of fun, but it’s hard for me to envision using this again unless I actually had a VR headset. It’s impossible for me to judge what it would have been like with the headset, but I can infer that it would be far more immersive and rewarding. The smartphone app is a watered-down glimpse of what having the full headset would be like, and that shows.

There is a wealth of information available, and I’ve never been able to view game highlights quite like that. But all told, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to watch games this way when you could watch on a good TV. I guess this provides all the more incentive to go out and buy a headset, because that’s what the program was truly designed for.

Nonetheless, this is a great move by BBC to promote World Cup viewership, and with the VR fanfare escalating as it is, it was an easy one to make.

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