Earlier services with 4K VR demonstrated the potential of live VR video services, but fell short of the resolution required for an excellent live sports experience. 4K resolution is not enough to meet the expectations of viewers who usually watch HD TV. Intel meets business needs with end-to-end solutions powered by Intel® Xeon® processors that are designed to deliver 8K VR and 360-degree live video experiences to billions of viewers around the world. One such solution was showcased at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, where Intel VR technology platforms enabled the capture and production of the first-ever fully produced live 8K video broadcast for Olympic Broadcasting Services ( OBS), which then made it available to Rights-Holding Broadcasters (RHBs) around the world.
Intel is a Worldwide Olympic Partner (TOP) for providing VR technology platforms to the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Using the latest processors, graphics cards, accelerators, cameras, and delivery technologies, Intel has worked with OBS and other partners to produce and deliver a cutting-edge 8K live VR experience. In an industry first, this collaboration streamed over 100 hours of fully produced Beijing Olympic events in VR, complete with graphics and commentary. Live coverage featured six sports, including hockey, snowboarding and figure skating, in groundbreaking 8K resolution for VR180 and VR360. User reviews were excellent and we believe that a VR production of this quality hits the bar to attract a wide and general audience.
VR video, both live and cinematic, has been on a hyped rollercoaster cycle over the past 7 years. Expectations were greatly inflated around 2016 and there was a deep trough of disillusion at the turn of the decade. Throughout this hype cycle, technological development has continued: VR cameras, headsets, and delivery technology have all steadily improved. Advances in technology and changes in the industry have heralded a renewed interest in virtual reality and this time around the technology exists to meet the quality demands for a compelling and sticky user experience.
While previous live sports trials and services have proven their potential, the 360-degree 4K resolution fell short of what’s required for a great VR experience. VR video streamed in 180 or 360 degrees requires a very high source resolution to meet the expectations of viewers who typically watch HD television. With the latest cameras, graphics cards and distribution technologies, we can now produce and deliver a cutting-edge 8K live VR experience. In an industry first, we have partnered with OBS who streamed over 100 hours of Olympic events in Beijing in groundbreaking 8K quality for VR360 and VR180. Through Intel and various third parties, OBS produced and distributed events in six sports: ice hockey, snowboarding, freestyle skiing, curling, short track and figure skating, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies. All events were streamed live, worldwide, to users in the United States, China, as well as some users in Europe.
Events were streamed to headsets, mobile devices, and web players, and content included live events as well as on-demand features. This article focuses on the workflow for live events experienced in a VR headset.
The production used five VR180 cameras in a switched “VR Cast” director that the user experienced in a virtual suite environment. They also had access to a VR360 camera for total immersion. The user can freely switch between 180 and 360 streams. Events were available for full replay immediately after the event, with the app also displaying event highlights and special features, all in VR. As part of the experiment, an HD virtual “Jumbo-tron” showed the TV broadcast, with broadcast announcers in the audio stream.
The content was available in the United States for users of the “NBC Olympics VR by Xfinity” app, and in China with CCTV’s Yangshipin app. Chinese users also had access to web feeds in mobile apps and browsers. App Store reviewers raved about the significant increase in quality over similar VR experiences in the past.