It’s Virtually Like Being There
Seeing a picture or video of the football team running out into the field is one thing. Standing in the middle of it and dodging the players as they race over to the sideline is something else. That’s the idea behind LionVisionVR, a new virtual reality app being introduced by the athletic department.
“It’s bringing the viewer somewhere they just couldn’t go,” says assistant athletic director Jim Nachtman ’90, who previewed the tech on Thursday at Penn State’s Applied Research Lab. “We can remind people how cool it is to be back in Beaver Stadium, how phenomenal it is to be in Pegula Ice Arena, or how great it is to be in Rec Hall when the lights go out and there’s a wrestling match.
“I think fans, at times, get tired of hearing you say how great the event is. Let’s show them how great the event is. We’re hopeful this technology can help us do it.”
Standing in an A/V lab with a headset on is a far cry from being on the field at Beaver Stadium, but the experience puts the user right in the middle of the latter. As players rushed by, as a band member played the Alma Mater, or even as Joey Julius lined up a warmup kick, media members trying the 360-degree, VR experience wobbled to gain footing as the scenes unfolded around them in their headsets.
Video gamers and tech enthusiasts are already familiar with the platform, but the athletic department is hoping to bring Penn State fans into the mix through LionVisionVR, a subscription-based app set to launch during the weekend of the “White Out” game with Ohio State on Oct. 22. Using a headset similar to Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear, LionVisionVR uses a 3-D viewing experience to put fans at the center of some iconic Penn State sports experiences: on the field pregame at Beaver Stadium, with the team as it arrives to the stadium, or in the postgame press conference. For now, the experiences are limited to football, but the department plans to eventually include all 31 varsity sports.
The athletic department, along with its tech partner, EON Sports VR, will set up display booths at Fan Fest during Ohio State week to let fans try the new app. Subscriptions will start at $29.95 a year, and fans who pre-order before Oct. 24 will receive a free headset compatible with most smartphones.
The app was developed in partnership with EON, which has helped Major League Baseball with VR applications, and the Applied Research Lab at University Park. The goal is to find a way to tap into a market that is expected to top $8 billion by 2020, says Tim Shaw ’85, head of the synthetic environment applications lab at the ARL. “This is a new platform and everybody’s trying to figure out what to do with it,” he says.
The tool may eventually be a recruiting tool, too. Officials acknowledge that they still have compliance hurdles to overcome, but there may come a day when a coach can take a headset on the road to show off Penn State to potential recruits.
“If Coach (Char) Morett-Curtiss is gonna go to Norway to recruit a student-athlete—maybe the student athlete has already been here, but the student athlete’s mom, or dad, or grandma, is not gonna come over to Penn State, but she has this with her and she can share some of the experiences—you can’t predict what that impact is gonna have,” says Nachtman. “Here’s a tool that’s gonna be available to us, and to our coaches, and to our student athletes, and to the fans—we just want people to experience Penn State.”
For more information, including how to subscribe, visit GoPSUSports.com/ot/lionvision.html.
—B.J. Reyes ’95 Com