What we learned about VR and AR at Digital Sport Manchester #2

On Wednesday we took the event roadshow to the Salford Business School at the University of Salford. Their MediaCityUK campus is an ultra-modern space that I could only have dreamed off when I was a student many years ago!

The objective for the afternoon was to showcase what virtual reality is all about. This was done through a couple of Oculus Rift headsets in the main breakout area. Something that attracted the attention of not only the attendees but many students as well.

The day was brought together with the help of Alex Fenton, who unfortunately couldn’t be there on the day but was keeping an eager eye on Twitter whilst on holiday. But we did manage to bring together a panel that included Matthew Quinn (Head of Media at Liverpool FC), Colm O’Mealoid (Sportego), Prof Graham Thomas (BBC R&D) and Chloe Barrett (Digidentistry).

VR everywhere in PyeongChang

We were fortunate to have some insights from on the ground in South Korea, thanks to University of Salford’s Professor Andy Miah. He was enjoying his 10th Olympic Games and spent ten minutes letting us know how much the likes of Samsung and Intel were engaging with visitors. With VR being on every corner.

The most interesting sounding was the opportunity to experience being in the bobsleigh and hurtling down the run at full speed, fully immersed in the moment. Everyone in the audience wished they could be there trying it out.

VR allows you to experience what you cannot from your armchair

Following on from Andy’s talk of the bobsleigh, something you can image working well for many winter sports especially, Matt Quinn talked about Liverpool’s use of VR, which has mainly been around 360 degree videos at this stage. They tested this out in The Kop so that others could experience what it’s like to be in the midst of fans singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ before kick off. The video gained over 8 million views.

Headsets are still a barrier to entry but mobile phones make AR more accessible

Everyone I speak to about VR has one big issue with it… the bulky headsets. Even the less bulky Snap Spectacles that were hoped to give AR another push proved to be a step too far for most. But the technology doesn’t seem to be quite there but the pace of change is such that we may not be far off.

This isn’t another 3D TV which Prof Graham Thomas said had the issue of just trying to replicate TV experiences. For VR, why try and give fans a virtual seat when the normal TV experience is so good. It needs to be something that provides something unique and compelling, and hopefully one day social as well.

AR though has an advantage. Everyone has a smartphone and we are used to seeing data/graphics overlaid onto real life from our normal experiences. Yes there are issues with holding a phone up for too long and having to stare down and possibly walk into lamp posts! But it’s an easier step for many.

The excitement about VR has turned to a more realistic and maybe slightly negative tone

Talking to people after the panel, the tone from us had been more negative than maybe ones that had been 18 months ago. Back then the opportunities were endless and VR and AR were going to solve everyone’s problems. Now the tone is one of people who have moved on from the hype and we’re probably in the ‘trough of disillusionment’ and making our way up to the next level of the ‘path to enlightenment’ on the Gartner Hype Cycle.

We all agree VR is cool and we love to experience it, but we’re not there in making it useful and compelling for people to keep coming back. Magic Leap’s first product launch within the realm of Mixed Reality offers promise, and their link up with the NBA this year will be one to keep an eye on.

Personally I favour MR, but am eager to see where the sports industry (and beyond) can truly make VR and AR work for them in brilliant ways.

Next month we’ll be talking about Esports (more specifically the ‘sim’ element of esports). Keep an eye on here and social media for news of our event at Gfinity Arena in London on 27th March. It’s going to be an amazing event!

About author

Daniel McLaren
Daniel McLaren 820 posts

Dan is the Founder & CEO of Digital Sport. Can be found at sports industry events and heard every week on the Digital Sport Insider podcast. @DanielMcLaren

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