Just a fraction of the millions of people who watch the Olympics can actually be in the arena. But a partnership between Samsung and NBC is promising to make viewers at home feel like they're in the middle of the action.
The two companies are teaming up to provide some 85 hours of virtual reality content for Samsung Gear VR users, including footage of events such as basketball, gymnastics, track and field, diving, boxing, fencing and -- of course -- the opening and closing ceremonies.
"VR has the power to enable hundreds of millions of people around the world to have a real sense of presence and participation in the most universal celebration of humanity, which is the Olympic Games,” Olympic Broadcasting Services chief executive Yiannis Exarchos, said in a press release when the partnership was first announced in June.
At first glance, sports seems like a natural fit for virtual reality -- why pay through the nose for front-row tickets, or even nose-bleed seats, if you could have a great (digital) seat right in your living room? But as The Washington Post's Innovations blog pointed out earlier this year, actually watching a game is really only a part of the appeal for many sports fans.
The social element is hard to capture with your face buried in a headset -- especially one that will probably get uncomfortable halfway through a game. After all, it's hard to smack-talk with friends rooting for a rival team when you can't even see them.
But Samsung VR users won't have to choose between their headsets and watching the games live with their friends, at least for this year: The virtual reality experiences will be distributed as daily updates with a delay. For example, the opening ceremony is happening Friday at 7 p.m., but the virtual reality experience will be let loose Saturday.