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NBA captures All-Star events in virtual reality to bring courtside experience to fans

Inside The 2015 Consumer Electronics Show

Inside The 2015 Consumer Electronics Show

Bloomberg via Getty Images

NEW YORK -- We’re still in the early stages of virtual reality experiences becoming widely available to consumers.

But with the recent release of the Samsung Gear VR headset and the MilkVR app, the NBA is making sure to get in on the ground level by bringing its fans a virtual courtside experience -- beginning with a full slate of the All-Star weekend events.

From the official release:
“The NBA announced today that it will capture the 64th NBA All-Star Game, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, Sprite® Slam Dunk and Slam Dunk Practice in virtual reality, bringing the courtside experience to fans.”

“Highlight packages from each event will be available in the near future through Samsung’s Milk VR™ and will allow fans to view NBA action like never before - through a 360-degree immersive video experience. Samsung’s Milk VR was unveiled at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.” ...

“With basketball enthusiasts all over the world, it’s paramount that we explore new ways to bring fans even closer to the game,” said Jeff Marsilio, NBA Vice President of Global Media Distribution. “Virtual reality delivers amazing vantage points like the NBA All-Star Game from a courtside seat or Sprite Slam Dunk from the baseline. We’re very excited about the possibilities and look forward to rolling out the content to our fans.”

I got a chance to demo the experience at the NBA’s annual Technology Summit last week, and while in my opinion it’s not quite ready for primetime, you can certainly see the possibilities.

The demonstration video was a clip of about two minutes from the October 2014 Miami Heat vs. Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Global Games matchup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. You are essentially sitting courtside at center court, and can turn your head in any direction to view either end of the floor, or up into the stands.

The players appear to be somewhat three-dimensional, and the live action from that vantage point is definitely a unique perspective that most fans aren’t fortunate enough to get to enjoy in person. While the image quality isn’t quite yet close to what we’re used to seeing on our HD monitors, the immersive experience is worth the trade-off -- if only for a few minutes at a time.

Right now, I believe the VR experience for NBA content will be best for shorter highlight packages, rather than complete games or events like the ones that went down over All-Star weekend. But as the technology continues to evolve, and after getting a glimpse of the device’s potential, a day where we might spend the duration of a live event watching with the headset strapped on doesn’t seem too difficult to envision.