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BBC to show World Cup in virtual reality

Broadcaster will trial virtual reality and ultra HD live streams of the FIFA World Cup through BBC iPlayer and a dedicated VR app

The BBC will trial virtual reality (VR) and ultra-high definition (HD) technology during its coverage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

The trials will be part of the broadcaster’s cross-platform plans for World Cup coverage, which include TV, radio and digital channels.

Matthew Postgate, BBC chief technology and product officer, said: “The BBC has brought major live broadcasting breakthroughs to UK audiences throughout the history of the World Cup. From the very first tournament on TV in 1954 and England’s finest hour in 1966, to the first colour World Cup in 1970 and full HD in 2006. Now, with these trials, we are giving audiences yet another taste of the future.”

The BBC Sport VR – FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 app, which will be available to download for free on Apple, Android, Gear VR, Oculus Go and PlayStation VR, will enable users to watch the 33 matches the BBC is covering in real time.

The application allows various views of each game, including a virtual luxury private box or a seat behind one of the goals.

Viewers can also view live statistics about the game while it is in progress, or watch daily highlights and other on-demand content when there is no game taking place.

The BBC has been working on a number of research and development projects in recent years to prepare for a digital future and cater to consumers who increasingly expect to have customised content delivered to them any time on any device.

This includes the possibility of virtual reality TV in the future, as well as content based on a person’s interests and location.

For best performance when viewing the World Cup matches through VR, a connection of at least 10Mbit/s over WiFi is recommended, and when downloading the VR application, iOS 10 and above and Android 5 and above are needed.

BBC One’s 29 World Cup matches will be streamed in ultra-HD and high dynamic range (HDR) on BBC iPlayer for a limited number of first-come, first-served people – up to tens of thousands.

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Recommended for those with a compatible ultra-HD TV and an internet connection of at least 40Mbit/s for the full 3,840-pixel ultra-HD or 20Mbit/s for 2,560-pixel ultra-HD, the stream will be available from the BBC iPlayer home screen once live coverage begins.

The BBC has developed the technology to make these HD streams available alongside Japanese broadcast NHK, a hybrid log-gamma version of HDR designed to improve picture quality.

The broadcaster plans to gather data about its HD trial to help develop its user experience through this medium, and make plans for the future, when people are likely to expect events to be streamed across the internet in high quality to large audiences.

As audiences become more tech-savvy, the BBC has been investigating ways that people might want to consume content in the future. For example, in 2016 the broadcaster spoke about work it was doing on holographic TV development, which could give people a more immersive viewing experience.

The BBC has also run a pilot alongside Microsoft to test how users could use voice control to navigate the BBC iPlayer app, and it aims to redesign its digital iPlayer service by 2020 to better reflect the current content rental and streaming trend.

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