Matt Stagg, Director of Mobile Strategy at BT Sport, on how immersive new technologies developed across BT Group could transform the sports viewing experience
Imagine being able to stand a few feet away from two heavyweight boxers in the midst of a title bout.
Or on the edge of a tarmac as MotoGP bikers fly past in the heat of a Grand Prix.
Imagine meeting your friends for a Premier League football or Premiership rugby match. To be able meet at the stadium, be amongst a crowd and watch all the action from any seat in the stands – all from the comfort of your sofa.
Volumetric video, a new technology similar to a holographic representation, but with the ability to live stream a real event with uncharted processing power and barely any latency time, could enable broadcasters to create a 3D sporting event on your coffee table or the floor of your living room.
Lightweight and easy to use wearable technology will enable viewers to experience the atmosphere of a live event – and see the action from all angles – without leaving their home.
I oversee mobile strategy at BT Sport. We find meaningful ways to innovate and evolve potential capabilities of your mobile device when it comes to experiencing sport, ranging from 5G cameras to entirely new immersive experiences. And we find ways to enhance BT Sport productions with the new capabilities 5G allow, before the experience reaches your mobile device.
Among many examples of our work around new experiences, a consortium of companies led by BT Group recently secured backing from the UK government’s 5G Create initiative, which helped us form 5G Edge-XR, a diverse consortium of specialist companies who are engaged in what until recently would have been the stuff of make-believe.
Together, 5G Edge-XR is developing a range of augmented reality experiences –ways to harness the latest broadcasting technology to heighten and improve how we experience all kinds of live sporting events.
New technologies like volumetric video are only made possible by the way the consortium of companies work together.
We work with AR and volumetric specialists like TheGridFactory and Condense Reality, immersive sound companies like Salsa Sound, along with academics at Bristol University and dance companies like Dance East. They are our partners, each with their own specialism. Pooling our shared expertise means we will soon be able to bring these emergent technologies to our subscribers.
So, in the not too distant future, when world-class sport events take place, we could bring the action to you and your customers, in three dimensions, the moment it takes place.
We find meaningful ways to innovate and evolve potential capabilities of your mobile device when it comes to experiencing sport, ranging from 5G cameras to entirely new immersive experiences.
Volumetric video records events in a three-dimensional capacity, so they are viewable on a mobile device.
The volumetrically captured object, be that a boxer fighting in a ring or a biker on a track, is processed in the cloud so it can be seamlessly streamed to a device or application with barely any latency, arriving on your device in real time, in complete clarity and without any buffering or rendering delays.
In other words, volumetric video will enable live events to be streamed online at high-end broadcast quality - but in three dimensions, allowing you to experience the action with your own eyes, as if it were happening right in front of you. And there will be virtually no lag time – the volumetric image will seamlessly synchronise with the live broadcast, so you get to experience the event in real time.
But how can broadcasters augment the experience of watching sport for fans attending the event in person?
Fans attending sports events have always looked for ways to improve the live experience with technology. I remember my dad taking a radio to a football match so we could listen to the live commentary as we watched the game. These days, fans use apps for replays and check social media for reaction as the game unfolds in front of them.
Sports broadcasters are able to collate huge amounts of data about a sporting event within a venue as it unfolds live. Relaying that data to viewers at home is a tried and tested way of improving the viewing experience.
Right now, sports fans in a stadium often miss out on that data - whether it’s expert commentary, replays, statistical analysis or broadcast perspectives.
With a combination of new capabilities in mobile devices and, in the future, new wearable technology, sports fans at the event will soon be able to access all the detail home viewers get – whilst enjoying the atmosphere of the occasion too.
We are making huge advancements in wearable technology. Enhanced glasses that, while appearing to be simple reading glasses, are capable of supplying a viewer in the stadium with all the data and commentary of a home viewer.
Augmented reality glasses are quickly becoming lighter, easier to use and more stylish, making them more accessible to an in-stadium sports fan.
Wearable technology like this could easily provide a fan in the stadium with everything a sports broadcaster’s live feed provides, allowing for a live sports occasion imbued with the editorially-driven broadcast experience.
If a season ticket holder who has sat in the same seat season after season wants to see a goal from the other side of the stadium, this technology could enable that.
If someone new to a ground wants to locate the nearest exit, toilet or food stand, an augmented mobile device could assist them.
If you want to discover all the statistics on your favourite footballer as he plays in front of you, or at what speed a MotoGP biker is taking a difficult corner, or how many punches a boxer has landed, that information is ready and waiting for you at any moment.
So, when world-class sport events take place, we could bring the action to you, in three dimensions, the moment it takes place.
The speed and latency of 5G will completely change the parameters of what we’re able to deliver - as a mobile network, and as a sport broadcaster.
When it comes to sport, 5G will enable new broadcasting techniques that will overcome some of the limitations of 4G. For the first time, we can guarantee available bandwidth, for example.
When it comes to volumetric video, 5G will mean a fully rendered three-dimensional footage can reach you instantaneously due to 5G’s incredibly low latency period and huge bandwidth capabilities.
And the collaborative work of 5G Edge-XR is opening up whole new areas of possibility when it comes to edge computing.
Right now, most applications use processors built into your device to stream an image. For some of the future immersive experiences, even the latest devices struggle with the workload required. When we start to use wearable devices, they will need to be lightweight. Offloading the processing power to remote computers ensures we can limit the weight and improve the style of this new generation of wearable devices.
The 5G Edge-XR consortium allows us to render augmented reality content on graphics processing units deployed within the 5G network. The processed footage, which is of a much better quality than the graphics rendering capabilities of a handheld or wearable device, are then sent to you with the help of the low latency capabilities of 5G.
The combination of 5G and edge computing means huge amounts of real-time data, like the digitised broadcast of a football match, travels smaller distances at a greater speed, and without being affected by other devices also trying to stream the same data.
It entirely changes what we, as a broadcast provider and network, could provide our subscribers. And it allows us to work with another dimension when it comes to your experience as a viewer.
Volumetric video, along with other augmented reality experiences BT are developing, will be the next step in our aim to provide our subscribers with the most immersive sporting experience possible.
We believe these technologies will transform how fans relate to sport. Passively watching sport will soon be a thing of the past. We will be able to fully immerse ourselves in the experience sensory of live stadium sport. And we believe these new technologies will be commonly used, accessible and popular
Volumetric video and associated augmented technologies for sports fans aren’t ready yet. But amazing new network capabilities, combined with the collaborative work of leading specialists, are moving us closer to launch everyday. I believe they will transform how we immerse ourselves in live sport, forever. We’re experiencing an incredibly exciting time for sports fans everywhere.