Kinks with the virtual reality version of the Rio Olympics have been driving tech lovers crazy.
Thursday night, this early adopter lit into Comcast techies with his frustrations, as they showed off VR clips loaded onto Samsung Gear VR goggles to visitors at a Comcast Center Olympics celebration.
Twice we heard the response, "It's not our fault; it's an NBC Sports problem." Kind of ironic, since NBC is a Comcast division.
Comcast senior technical fellow Mark Francisco and colleagues agreed to take on the complaints quickly with the NBC powers that be. And by the next morning, one serious wrong was righted with a fresh update of the NBC Sports VR app on my Samsung Galaxy S7 smartphone.
Now I could finally watch a previously inaccessible four-hour replay of the opening ceremony in 360-degree, happening-all-around-me form on Gear VR goggles, not just 10 minutes of highlights. (Yes, Samsung has a VR showcase exclusive at the Olympics.)
Beach volleyball matches were now fully viewable, too, in VR fashion, instead of just the highlight segments that the quirky NBC Sports app was parsing out before.
Not all of my complaints could be cured so easily. The quality and positioning of VR cameras scoping out Rio arenas with wraparound lenses haven't been that great. And it's a 2D (not true 3D) VR "reality" that's being rendered despite the fact that separate left/right images are presented to the Gear VR goggles.
Things often look terrific, the imagery quite vivid and immersive, when VR cameras are positioned very close to the action - as you'll see in ringside coverage of Olympics boxing. There's no missing the sweat and grimaces on boxers' faces. Or the special flair that Japan's Kohei Uchimura put into the rings, high bar, and horse routines to earn the gold.
But from the end-zone camera locations at opening night ceremonies, or the back of the judging stand at the beach volleyball court, VR images are so soft-focused you can barely make out the three-letter nation codes on participants' uniforms. (It's also a bummer when a VR goggles wearer swings his head around and realizes that the stands are only a quarter occupied! Why don't they just give the tickets away?)
There's "serious competition" for good camera shooting spots in Olympics venues, said Francisco. VR teams are at the bottom of the pecking order.
And while it might be acceptable for a VR camera operator to jump onto the court during a practice session to capture an up-close demonstration, "you're never going to see that when gold medals are at stake."
Still, the technology will "quickly improve and win lots of converts," predicted this self-pronounced "super geek." In house, Comcast's dedicated VR team is working hardest on an app enabling Xfinity TV subscribers to watch any and all "TV Anywhere" content on VR glasses, giving you the sensation of viewing on a 150-inch screen.
Francisco actually spent most of his time Thursday night demonstrating Comcast's "exclusive 4K with HDR" capture of opening night festivities on an LG OLED 4K TV. Presented in a side-by-side comparison with a 2K Samsung set, the 4K's extra clarity and color intensity were visible on the LG during fiber-optic light-rope effects and when that "Girl From Ipanema" supermodel strutted across the arena floor in a silvery gown. But the HDR (high dynamic range) tweaking had been cranked too high, causing excess glare and loss of picture detail with participants wearing white. That too, will improve, he said.