As Cristiano Ronaldo took his free-kick against Spain at this year’s World Cup, I was stood right by the goal. The stadium erupted around me – I’d just experienced the moment in VR. But was it as good as it sounds?
When the BBC confirmed it was going to offer VR coverage for this year’s headline-grabbing footy tournament, I was delighted. Having tried plenty of VR headsets and experiences in the past, I was keen to see how the BBC was taking things to the next level with its ‘cutting-edge’ app.
So what does the free World Cup VR app offer? Download it and you’re given access to your own private box on the half way line, positioned high enough for you to have a good view of the whole pitch.
With those seats, you get a nice taste of the atmosphere too, as passionate supporters bounce around you when a ball flies into the net.
In the corner of your screen is a small floating video player that shows coverage as it looks on the TV. When a replay is shown on the TV, that video will temporarily fill the space in front of you so you don’t miss out.
A glance at the goal at either end of the pitch lets you instantly teleport to that spot, and I was only staring at a blank screen for about 10 seconds before everything loaded in.
After that initial stage of thinking ‘this is unique, I’m watching football in virtual reality’ passes, is there anything on offer to convince you to watch full 90-minute games this way?
I’ve enjoyed watching football in VR, but my eyes can’t take more than 20 minutes at a time. Constantly darting around the pitch for the best view has left me feeling dizzy a couple of times. It won’t come as a surprise to hear that watching your team without wearing a pair of chunky, high-tech goggles is the more comfortable option.
But despite this, I think virtual reality is fantastic fun, and the fact that the BBC is getting behind it is great news for its future. It’s still early days, but I hope that VR continues to evolve. I’d love to see more sporting events covered in this way.
Try it for yourself
To watch the World Cup in VR, you’ll need a smartphone and a headset. As you’ll see from our range of virtual reality headset reviews, you can grab a cheap set for as little as £15.
Load up the app on your smartphone, slide your mobile inside the headset, hold it up to your eyes like a pair of binoculars and look around to explore. The app works with both iOS and Android mobiles, but how smooth your experience is will depend on your internet connection.
I’ve been using the BBC’s app on a £200 Oculus Go, but the app looks the same regardless of the hardware you’re using. If you’re tempted to try virtual reality, our guide on how to try VR for free on iPhone and Android will help you get started.
I’m curious to see if sports coverage like this can convince football fans to give VR a go, and if we’ll see the tech rolled out to other sports.
It’s a shame that the BBC hasn’t included Wimbledon this year, as I think getting up close to the tennis, with its much smaller playing area, really has potential to be a more intimate experience than the wide, open spaces of a football pitch.
Can you see yourself spending money on a VR headset to watch sport? Wimbledon? The World Cup? I’d love to hear your thoughts.