Intel doubles down on VR sports with Voke purchase

Zoomable, 3D-animated video isn't viewable on your broadcast TV, though. Hmm...

Very few people have likely either seen or heard of VR sports at this point, but that hasn’t stopped Intel from quickly snapping up its second startup, Voke, to lock up what it calls “immersive sports experiences.”

Intel said Thursday that it has bought Voke, described as a leader in bringing “live, virtual reality experiences to consumers.” “Imagine being able to witness a slam dunk from the defender’s perspective or the defensive rush from the quarterback’s perspective,” James Carwana, the general manager of Intel’s Sports Group, wrote in a blog post. “This kind of experience may sound futuristic, but it’s closer than you think.”

Voke uses an array of paired-lens, stereoscopic cameras to capture events like the Final Four and New York’s Fashion Week, then allows users to hopscotch around them to view the action from their choice of perspective.

That’s somewhat similar to Intel’s second VR acqusition, Replay Technologies, which Intel bought in March. Replay uses what it calls “freeD” cameras scattered around a basketball court, and combines the video inside Intel’s own servers. The aggregated, stitched-together video feed essentially turns a live feed of a basketball game into a live 3D model of the action, which users can also rotate or zoom in and out of to experience the action as they want. It appears that Voke’s technology may be used to provide more realistic video images that could be later stitched together using the Replay technology.

Voke’s technology can be viewed via phones, the Web, or the PC, as well as a VR headset. The company partnered with Oculus and Facebook to broadcast the NCAA men’s basketball final in 3D.

Why this matters: If you’ve sat through any of Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich’s recent speeches, you’ve probably seen Intel’s newfound love of data represented in a variety of ways: 4K camera-equipped drones, or measuring the “vert” of a BMX biker as she flies through the air. All of these either use an array of sensors or machine interpretation of live video, generating tons of data for Intel’s processors to crunch. Meanwhile, Intel’s hoping that a new generation of fans who tweet and blog and play fantasy football regularly will be interested in a sports broadcast experience that can be manipulated and assessed in real time, turning fans into analysts.

Culturally, that means one major change, too: Because broadcasters like NBC can’t deliver an interactive experience, that means games delivered via the Voke technology would be viewable only on a PC or smartphone. Meanwhile, so-called smart TVs have typically only been able to display streaming media like Netflix. Could Intel have something more powerful in mind?

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Mark Hachman

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