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Penn State Athletics: Virtual Reality System Impressive Even In Infancy

by on October 13, 2016 4:30 PM

I turned around and Penn State linebacker Jason Cabinda was walking past me, hand in a cast, but still as happy as ever watching his teammates stretch before Penn State's afternoon game against Temple. He didn't even seem to notice that I was there.

Then again, I wasn't.

In truth I was a few miles from Beaver Stadium and more than a few weeks removed from the game. Instead I was standing in a room on the far western reaches of Penn State's campus in a building where the athletic program and Penn State's connection to the Department of Defense through the Applied Research Lab (ARL) have yielded a new way to get fans behind the scenes.

Penn State and ARL have been venturing into virtual reality for nearly 15-years, only now just starting to turn technology that has been used for national security into something far less serious. Even so, no phones or cameras were allowed in the room.

Officially named LionVision VR, Penn State athletic's foray into virtual reality is set to debut at the end of October following Penn State's game against Ohio State.

At launch a $30 annual subscription gives you at least 30 pieces of content and for the moment a Penn State branded Dodocase, a modest cardboard lens structure that turns your phone (iOS and Android) into a virtual reality system. The password protected application that runs the software on your phone is supported by EON Sports, the third partner in this venture that has worked with the PGA, the French Open and other major sports franchises.

What exactly that content will be is something that Penn State is continuing to evaluate and explore, but in short if it's interesting and a camera can go there, it might just happen. Locker room speeches, practices, pregame activities, really nothing is off the table. The system for as impressive as it is, is clearly in its infancy. Penn State has only filmed 360 video for football but is already exploring ways to capture content for men's basketball and hockey. All videos are fairly short, a minute or two. The hope is shorter formats will help avoid any motion sickness issues, and also be more about that specific moment (running out of the tunnel for example) rather than simply standing around with nothing to do.

The long term plan is to provide content for all 31 sports in both the 2D and 360 video format. According to Penn State assistant AD Jim Nachtman the quality and complexity of the content will only continue to grow and grow aggressively over the first year of the service's existence.

More functionally, the experience itself is best described as Google street view, but instead of a 360 photo, it's a 360 video from a stationary point. Picture standing at midfield of Beaver Stadium with players running around you, turning your head to see the sights and sounds as if you were really there. As someone who was anticipating being let down, the system was nothing short of impressive.

Long term Nachtman says live streaming a 360 view is something that Penn State is interesting in attempting within the first subscription cycle. Not seen as a viable way to watch the game but rather an alternate view. Imagine watching a Penn State soccer game from inside the goal or hockey from between the benches. It's a third screen viewing experience.

How far and expansive this becomes really appears to be up to Penn State, but from Day 1 it's an impressive premise and if the university puts its resources behind continually improving it, this is likely a must-have for any fan with even a remote interest in behind the scenes access. A $30 price point makes it a family inexpensive investment, especially if it reaches its potential down the road.  

You can read more about it here.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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