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A few days ago, the Sportsnet channel released a new functionality on its Smartphone app. It can now broadcast hockey games in VR (Virtual Reality).

For those of you who are now familiar with VR, the goal is to watch a game as if we were in the arena with the help of your Smartphone that you put in a small box that you hold like binoculars. I tried this new feature on two occasions since the technology was released.

First of all, you’ll need a cardboard box in order to try this new feature. It’s also possible to try it without the cardboard, by controlling your view with your finger on your phone, but you’ll lose all the fun of VR.

If you have the cardboard, you can watch the game live, and turn your head in order to feel like you are looking inside the arena. You only need to look around in order to follow the action on the ice. The camera doesn’t follow the action on the ice, you do it!  You can choose your view in the arena. That being said, I only tried the one that is over the penalty box. (Because it’s the only one that is free to use if you don’t have the official cardboard.)

If it’s your first experience with VR, you’ll probably find it very nice at first. That being said, you’ll soon realize that it’s only a toy. You’ll get over it pretty soon, at least the way it is being offered right now.

The main issue with the technology offered by Sportsnet is that it’s difficult to see the game. The quality of the picture is blurry and depending where you are looking on the ice, you can’t always see clearly what is going on. Finding the puck seems to be difficult most of the time. I am not sure if it is because of the types of cameras that are being used? I also think that the feed’s bit rate might actually be too low to provide a good picture quality. Also, it’s possible that most Smartphones might not be powerful enough to provide the best output. So, right now I doubt that it’s good enough for hockey fans to watch a full live Hockey game on this. I might add that I don’t even think that you Smartphone’s battery will even last a full game. This app requires a lot of power.

On a more positive note, I enjoyed the fact that there was no ad during the game. It also gives you the opportunity to witness some things we usually do not see on TV, like the employees working in the penalty box and people interacting in the crowd. It also gives us the chance to look inside the arena. It is really fascinating, especially if you have never seen this arena in person. You will also pay attention to all the sound inside the arena without all the commentators and other sounds associated with a regular TV broadcast.

If you are finding Hockey VR very exciting, you must know that right now the offer is pretty limited. It’s pretty much limited to a few Saturday night’s games broadcasted on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.

So in my opinion, there is potential with VR in sports in general, but right now I believe it’s still a preview technology. For it to become popular, it’ll need to be broadcasted on real VR devices, not on Smartphones! When the broadcasts and the devices will be good enough to give us the impression that we are in the arena and that the game will be easy to follow, maybe then I would buy it! Until then, I’ll keep on watching my hockey games on my good old TV.

Phil Landry

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Je me prénomme Philippe. Je fais partie de la génération qui n'a jamais vu la grande époque de nos glorieux. En fait, j'avais 5 ans quand le Canadien a gagné sa dernière coupe Stanley. En tant que fan du Canadien, j'aurais détesté les Nordiques, mais j'aimerais bien qu'ils reviennent... Pour qu'on puisse les battre à nouveau! J'ai même commis ce qui aurait été un crime de lèse-majesté il y a 30 ans, soit m'acheter un chandail des Nordiques pour aller manifester à New York pour le retour des Nordiques avec des gens de Québec. Bref, pour faire une histoire courte, comme un croyant, je vis d'espoir que moi aussi un jour je pourrai parader sur la Ste-Catherine pour saluer nos valeureux champions. Je rêve d'entendre le chiffre 25 lorsqu'on parlera du nombre de coupes de notre équipe.

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