How to watch the 2016 Olympics in VR (unless you live in the UK)

July 26, 2016


Samsung has teamed up with US broadcaster NBC, giving Olympics 2016 fans the chance to watch the Rio games in glorious Virtual Reality. But don’t get too excited if you live in the UK, as the Olympics VR coverage isn’t for you. Here’s how to watch the 2016 Olympics in VR, which events will be shot in VR and when they will be available to stream.

Which Olympics 2016 events will be available to watch in VR?

NBC and Samsung have revealed that there will be a total of 85 hours of VR Olympics programming available to watch this year, including the opening and closing ceremonies, basketball semifinals and finals and, naturally, beach volleyball.

When will the Olympics 2016 VR coverage be available to watch?

The Olympics 2016 VR programming won’t go out live, but will instead be released after each featured Olympics event has already finished. Judging by the start date of August 6, that means everything will appear a day later on VR. Not a massive problem, as most VR viewers will simply want to experience the Olympics close up, as if they were really there, rather than keeping up to date with the results.

This Olympics Virtual Reality coverage should be truly immersive and take you incredibly close to the action; even ticket holders won’t get this sort of access to the sports.

How can I watch the 2016 Olympics in VR?

To watch the 2016 Olympics in glorious VR in the US, you’ll need both a Samsung Galaxy phone like the Galaxy S6 or S7, as well as Samsung’s Gear VR. You’ll also need the NBC Sports app, which is free to download from Google Play.

To access the VR coverage of the Olympics via the NBC app, you’ll also need to authenticate your pay TV details. This is quite common in the US, and allows cable channels to provide access to their content only to customers who pay to receive their broadcast service. The upshot is, you need to sign in to the NBC app with relevant details to access the VR Olympics content.

Can UK residents watch the 2016 Olympics in VR?

Things are a little problematic for UK viewers, however. The Olympics 2016 VR experience is a US-only deal, and because of the way the Olympics operates, it’s unlikely we’ll get access to the VR events unless the BBC seals a similar deal.

The BBC has previously mentioned that both 360-degree video and 4K are something that it will be testing over in Rio. A 4K feed will be available, but the BBC won’t actually be airing it anywhere. Similarly, while it has mentioned being interested in 360-degree video, there doesn’t seem to be any plans to offer access to the service to the general public, as NBC is doing.

Standing in the way of the BBC being able to present VR in a meaningful way is the fact that it doesn’t really have anywhere to put such material. Using a third-party host like YouTube or Facebook is undesirable and may not be allowed under the strict IOC rules for broadcasters. The BBC is also much more reluctant to sign deals that exclude users on other devices. The notion of a Samsung exclusive would be unpalatable for the Corporation.

For now it seems like only the US will be getting its VR on in Rio, but hopefully, we’ll see some news soon that will cheer us non-European Brits up post-Brexit. We’ve asked the BBC to clarify, so we’ll post any response we get right here.

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