Yesterday marked the start of the 2016 Youth Olympic winter games held in Norway. VR video company NextVR was on the scene to stream the opening ceremony and will be capturing highlights throughout the event.

With the Olympic tradition of alternating between summer and winter games, the winter Youth Olympic Games are held this year in Lillehammer Norway and invite athletes 14 to 18 years old for 10 days of international sporting competition.

Thanks to NextVR and the power of virtual reality, I got to tune in to the spectacular opening ceremony as it unfolded live, half way across the world. The company streamed the event through their Gear VR app. If you missed it, you can tune in for a recording at any time.

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Photo courtesy Al Tielemans/YIS/IOC

The opening ceremony was held at the Lysgårdsbakkene Ski Jumping Arena, the same venue that hosted the opening ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer in 1994. NextVR positioned a number of VR cameras around the ceremony venue, allowing the view to strategically shift from one perspective to the next as I watched.

The choreographed ceremony started slowly and featured a huge cast of athletes on skis, many of which came down the ski jump hill and did tricks right near my vantage point. The event saw action happening all around, but unfolded almost like a theater production, with a young protagonist dressed in a teal blue outfit.

Once the Olympic torch made its way into the scene, the action picked up as it was carried by the teal dressed protagonoist up to a small red tent atop a nearby hill out of which emerged the 12 year old Princess Ingrid Alexandra of Norway who was handed the torch. The two walked hand-in-hand to a staircase that ascended to the top of the cauldron which would burn the Olympic flame once lit by the torch. My view at this point was directly next to the cauldron.

As the princess approached to light the flame, the music and the crowd fell silent. Feeling like I was actually standing there myself made the flame’s ignition feel powerful as the crowd around me cheered and I felt like I was part of the moment.

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Photo courtesy Jon Buckle/YIS/IOC

And that’s when the spectacular firework show, synced to the music, kicked off. I haven’t ever seen fireworks captured as VR video prior to this moment, and while there was something lost in not feeling the heart-shaking booms (as the music was the primary audio source), it was surely the most engaging firework show I’ve ever seen remotely.

As someone who uses virtual reality often, it was clear how highly engaging this event was to me through the headset; when I removed it I had the sensation that I had just been teleported back to my office after being somewhere else on the planet for 15 minutes.

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The opening ceremony was captured in NextVR’s now signature 180 degree format, which concentrates the available quality in a stereoscopic view in front of you. The view behind you fades to a static graphic branded for the Youth Olympic Games. For the most part the placement of the cameras made this no problem, but a few of the positions had me feeling like the edges were encroaching a bit on where I wanted to look. All things considered, they did a surprisingly adept job of directing camera placement for the event considering its complexity and wide use of space.

And while NextVR’s VR video quality is some of the best out there, the darkness of the nighttime event proved challenging for the output. The darkest areas of the scene were quick to show swaths of compression artifacts which were doubly distracting due to stereo-mismatch between the artifacts and the actual view beneath them. The artifacts were quickly chased away as the scene progressed and began to light up, especially as the fireworks bathed the entire area in daytime light.

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Photo courtesy Jed Leicester/YIS/IOC

NextVR will be capturing more of the 2016 Youth Olympic Games as they unfold throughout the week. The NextVR app indicates we’ll have an opportunity to see figure skating, half pipe, ski jumping and speed skating soon enough. Stay tuned!

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • Shabaz H

    I wonder why they take a 360degree capable device and limit themselves to 180? Perhaps easier to churn out content? Or maybe its just not being able to get access to a position where 360 is available? Cool that it was live-streamed. But overall not much different than watching it 2D, no?

    • David Herrington

      They have said in the past that it is due to streaming limitations. 360 degrees isn’t always necessary when 95% of the action is 180 degrees in front of you, so they limit the cameras POV so they can stream faster.