Your NBA viewing now comes in VR once a week

Soon you'll be seeing NBA in virtual reality every week.

James Martin/CNET

Basketball and virtual reality fans will now be able to really get up close to watch LeBron James slam it home.

The National Basketball Association and NextVR are teaming up this season to show one game a week in virtual reality. The multiyear deal announced Thursday also marks the first time games will shown in VR by a pro sports league on a regular basis.

The games will be available on the NBA's League Pass subscription service. The first broadcast takes place when the Sacramento Kings host the San Antonio Spurs at the Kings' new tech-splashy arena, the Golden 1 Center on Oct. 27. A full VR viewing schedule will be announced later this month.

Showing NBA games in virtual reality has been a gradual process as the league's association with NextVR dates back almost three seasons, Jeff Marsilio, the NBA's associate vice president of global media, told CNET Wednesday. Last year, the NBA and NextVR broadcast the first live pro sports event in VR when then-NBA champion Golden State Warriors tipped off the season against the New Orleans Pelicans.

"Live events is a priority of the league. We broadcast games in more than 200 countries and many of those fans don't have access to go to games," he said. "If we can fulfill the promise of VR, it can be the next best thing."

The NBA deal also comes as the Laguna Beach, California-based NextVR is further positioning as a major player in virtual reality. Already this year NextVR has shown US Open and The Masters golf tournaments, the MLB Home Run Derby, pro boxing, NASCAR's Daytona 500 and the Big East college basketball tournament as well as live concerts.

"The NBA is really ideally suited for virtual reality just because the fast pace nature of the game and the intimacy of seeing the players up close on the court, it's the perfect sport for VR," Brad Allen, NextVR's executive chairman said Wednesday. "This is historic in terms of fan engagement."

It's also the fruition of experimentation between the two organizations. During the 2013-14 season, NextVR recorded a Warriors game against the Denver Nuggets. The company also captured moments from the 2015 All-Star weekend as well as five games during the 2015 NBA Finals between the Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. The NBA and NextVR each say the technology continues to evolve.

The 25 NBA virtual reality broadcasts this season will have its own play-by-play announcers providing VR-specific commentary. And instead of just a camera stationed courtside, games will be shown from multiple unmanned camera angles -- including from behind the basket -- along with optimized graphics, Marsilio said.

The games, which can be found by downloading the NextVR app for Samsung GearVR and accessing the NBA Channel, will also capture in-arena entertainment and behind-the-scenes arena footage during breaks, Allen added.

"You've got to make this really compelling experience when you consider someone is wearing headsets for the entire game," he said. "That's what we will be constantly striving for."

Marsilio agrees.

"We're hoping to bring in a new element each week," he said.


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