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February 14, 2022

8K VR at the 2022 Winter Olympics – Overview

Comcast NBCUniversal has the rights to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics here in the US. In addition to their regular TV coverage, the company is also offering more than 150 hours of VR content streamed in 8K resolution using an Olympics VR app first used in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The live event coverage and full-event replays in the VR app are available to US-based MVPD subscribers that have USA Network in their video subscription, as well as service members and honorably discharged veterans worldwide (see press release). Highlights are available freely to all viewers. All users also get a 30-min temporary pass to watch anything behind the authentication wall to get a feel for the coverage in the app.

Content available in 8K VR includes:

  • Live and on-demand coverage of six popular sports, including figure skating, hockey, and snowboarding, in an immersive 180-degree environment. Select events will allow viewers to switch between different cameras to get alternative vantage points.
  • Live and on-demand coverage of the Opening Ceremony, where viewers will have an athlete-level view.
  • Features and highlights from 10 additional sports throughout the Games, including alpine skiing, bobsled, and speed skating.
  • Live and on-demand coverage of the Closing Ceremony.
  • Pre-Games features leading up to the Opening Ceremony.
Photo: Business Wire

NBC Olympics VR by Xfinity is available for both the newer Quest 2 and original Quest VR headsets. 

Viewers can also host a virtual Olympics watch party and invite up to three friends to join their virtual suite. They can interact together and enjoy immersive live coverage of Olympic events as if they were in the same room.

Detailed information about the capture, production, and playback of the VR content is minimal as industry participants seem to be under strict NDAs. However, we are in contact with all the key technology providers. We will offer more details on the production of the VR content and the distribution of the content in separate articles. Here, we offer an overview of the process based on information provided by Comcast/NBCU.

This immersive Olympics experience has been a company-wide collaboration across Comcast that brought together working groups from Xfinity, NBCUniversal, and Sky, complemented by industry partners including Cosm and Tiledmedia.

Cosm developed the VR app and is responsible for much of the capture technology, consisting of five 180-degree cameras and one 360-degree camera. Cosm works with the Olympic Broadcast Service (OBS) to produce a “director’s cut” that selects the specific 180-degree VR camera source, adds 8K graphics, and sends a contribution signal to Tiledmedia. The 360-degree camera feed allows the user to look in any direction. They are producing content from nearly 40 live events.

Tiledmedia has developed a VR streaming format that takes a VR contribution signal (8K in this case) and segments it into thousands of “tiles”. Each tile is separately encoded in a massive cloud instance and sent to a global Content Distribution Network (CDN).

The consumer wearing a Quest headset sends his viewport information back to the CDN, which delivers a low resolution of the entire 180-degree image and high-resolution tiles based on the specific viewport information (where the user is looking within the 180-degree image). This approach allows the user to move their head swiftly and always have a low-resolution image while waiting for the high-resolution tiles to be delivered. In practice, the latency is relatively small, so the user has a nearly continuous high-resolution image as they move their viewport within the 180-degree image.

This level of live stream quality is unprecedented and the first time that a fully-produced 8K live stream has been delivered to consumers – and on a global scale to boot.

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