In my previous blog, I discussed the enormous potential of a Virtual Reality World Cup after the BBC Sport launched a Virtual Reality (VR) app for this year's tournament. As a big football fan, I thought I would try out the app for myself and see what it was like. The app is free to download. Once it's installed, users can then insert their smartphone into a VR device and watch the action unfold.
My first time on VR did not disappoint. Straight away I thought that the app was a very cool concept. Being able to watch the football as if you're in a Russian stadium is brilliant and you see everything as if you were physically at the match. In fact, while watching a World Cup game on VR it was fascinating being able to see all the bench and staff run along the touchline to celebrate with the players after a goal. Something you're not normally able to witness watching a football match live on TV.
My second thought was that the different VR angles - although limited to three at this moment in time - are great. The standard VR view is from your own private BBC box in the stadium where you can see the whole pitch - just like if you were in a box of your own in real-life. The two other views are behind each goal. These views are great when there is plenty of action in the goalmouths or when a penalty is being taken - especially during a penalty shoot-out! You're also able to learn more about the habits of each goalkeeper. Both angles bring users a lot closer to the action, which are likely to be a unique experience for many.
For future VR football apps, it would be great to have more viewpoints, such as from the crowd, the subs bench, the managers on the touchline, as one of the referees or even as a player. It would also be great to be able to interact with more people through the app. Imagine watching a match in VR and jumping up and down with fans when a goal goes in. Or being in the BBC Sport viewing studio when a goal goes in and turning around to see Gary Lineker celebrating with the other football pundits. These new features would definitely add to the 'otherworldly' experience of VR and help to attract more users to experience it for the first time.
Thirdly, I thought that the whole process of accessing the app and watching the matches in VR was very quick and easy. Within 10 minutes, I had downloaded the app, loaded it up, plugged my smartphone into a VR device and was watching the football. Making VR as accessible as possible will be a significant step in encouraging further take-up. As I explained in the previous blog, VR devices are becoming a more affordable technology for users.
However, there are challenges watching football in VR. Most notably, the picture isn't as clear as watching the games on a standard HD TV. At times, this can make it difficult to watch the action. If I'm honest, I could probably watch the game for 30 minutes, but anything longer than that would be challenging. Switching between watching a match on the TV and on VR could be a possible solution.
A previous blog on the issue of focus for VR devices helped to unearth some of the visual challenges around mobile VR. With regards to watching football in VR, the challenge for our eyes is the conflict between the image on a smartphone screen being a few centimeters away and the actual VR experience of watching a football match in a stadium box being a far greater viewing distance. The difference between these two opposing distances can make it difficult for our brains to adjust, causing the blurred visuals. This explains why the visuals were clearer behind the goalmouths, as the conflict of distance between the smartphone screen and VR experience was far less. Improving the visual experience while watching football in VR is likely to be a priority objective for future apps.
Two new Arm products from the most recent premium product launch aim to get VR devices ready for more immersive visual experiences on VR. The new Mali-V76 VPU is designed to bring next generation visual experiences across a range of devices, including premium smartphones and VR headsets. Meanwhile, the new Mali-G76 GPU - which delivers 30 percent more efficiency and performance density compared to Mali-G72 - is designed to deliver the best possible user experience for all of the latest mobile technologies, from High Fidelity Mobile Gaming to VR. Users are also able to make the most of the VR experience, with the IP enabling better than ever battery life across multiple devices, making power-hungry VR possible over a longer period of time.
In my previous blog, I said that the BBC World Cup VR app has enormous potential. Having experienced it for the first time, I would stick by this statement. I found the whole experience to be incredibly unique and something that I would do again for future football matches.
Getting VR in football to the next level is likely to require an improvement on the visual elements - so watching the matches in VR is clearer - and additional cool new features to entice more people to try it for themselves. In my opinion, being able to interact with players, fans and pundits could be one way to really innovate the whole VR experience.
As a VR first-timer and football fan, I would encourage people to at least give VR in football - and sport in general - a try and see what they think. The BBC Sport VR app for the World Cup could be the start of something special for VR in sport as the technology continues to develop.