/ Technology

Is watching sport in VR worth a shot?

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.

Early days?

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.


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I don’t follow football, but I don’t see what UN and a rant about ladies in M&S has got to do with the topic.

We find all sorts of ways to enhance pleasure and will continue to do so. That is why tv was invented. Some pleasurable inventions will be more successful than others. VR is a great tool for exploration of things and sights you could not otherwise achieve easily. If it enhances a fan’s enjoyment of a game I see no problem, as long as they do not wander into the road while their mind and eyes are elsewhere.

We have a VR system and although it’s comparatively early days, yet, what it can already do is quite astonishing. I might be tempted to watch downhill skiing or ski jumping in VR, as well as Luge and Toboggan.

And what on earth is ‘UN reality’?

I think that was a misprint for ‘unreality’. I was confused at first.

There are obviously three concepts – ‘reality’, ‘virtual reality’, and ‘unreality’. But on a TV screen they are all distortions of the actuality [just look at the way the goal nets change shape when the replays are shown from different angles]. The amazing thing is that our brains can cope with this and compensate for it.

I used to work with someone who, when he wanted his view accepted, would begin “The reality is….” As he was MD he virtually always got his own way anyway. Some of his pronouncements were unreal…………………

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D’you mean brains can’t work as well as Irises and optic nerves? Not sure what the Iris has to do with anything, but the optic nerves and the brain are really extensions of each other.

Or are you saying that VR is a dreadfully bad thing? If it was I would expect the makers of such devices to be paying billions for damage caused, unless there’s some conspiracy preventing us from getting to know…

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Scarring of corneas was always a potential problem when they were reshaped. one reason I avoided it and stick with contact lenses. However there have, I believe, been many successful operations, including lens replacement, particularly good for those who had cataracts

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duncan lucas says:Today 15:52If you had read my links you would find out the effect of expanded irises while watching VR effects the brain . I am not saying its a “terrible bad thing ” …etc.

I did read your links, Duncan, but they’re three years out of date which, in an industry as fast moving as the VR industry is a lifetime. And they say nothing new. We have known for a long time that any close screen work causes blink rate to decline rather quickly, and that’s not pleasant for the eyes, causing tiredness and discomfort.

It makes sense (and the warnings are clear on this) to use the headsets for only short periods at a time. And they’re not that pleasant to use for extended periods, certainly, but they’re not demanding anything of the eyes or primary visual cortex that hasn’t been asked throughout the ages.

But the fact is that the learning potential of the VR systems – once they get a decent FOV – is almost limitless and the sheer pleasure of using a set will, one hopes, only increase.

And drawing a comparison between a potentially dangerous eye operation with only 50% success rate even now, and a completely non-invasive entertainment system such as VR shows a seriously flawed understanding of comparative risk.

I was not suggesting Optical Express were a reliable operator, duncan. Yes, I have followed those Convos.

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Part of the link says ““There’s not been a lot of research done in the field and that’s the concern because it is unknown,” he said.

“Virtual reality is wonderful technology and will play a big role in our future, but the reality is that we just don’t know yet what the impact it will have on people’s eyes in the long run.”

And it’s 18 months old, Duncan, which is nowhere near as recent as we need studies to be.

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One issue is that VR sets have not been in use by the public long enough to form definitive opinions on the dangers, if indeed there are any. But meanwhile we have vast numbers of ‘experts’ willing to tell anyone who will listen of he possible dangers. Often, I imagine the same ‘experts’ who blamed children’s TV shows for the ‘moral decline’ in youngsters.

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re VR – Just like mobile phone dangers were “possible”. Proper research needs to decide when possible dangers become very possible or unlikely. Scaremongering is of no help, unless someone knows something crucial that no one else has picked up.

There has been extensive research on noise over many leading to, for example, H&S requirements.

Duncan: you cannot compare the potential (and real) dangers associated with excessive noise levels, on which a massive amount of research has been done and the dangers of which have been known for many years, with the possible effects of using VR systems, where the visual cortex is not being obviously strained and damaged the way the auditory system is by vibrations. Sound and vision work in entirely different ways; the very nature of sound is potentially damaging, since it employs rarefaction and compression in the air to produce what we know as ‘sounds’, and which are the same processes which have long been known to cause partial or total deafness. Light and vision work in utterly different ways.

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I would rather go neither.

The final link in the introduction does not work but I presume this is the relevant page: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/virtual-reality-headsets/article/how-to-try-vr-for-free-on-iphone-and-android

I’ve experienced VR a few times in the past year, but not at home. Colour TV was a great advance for those who watched snooker, although it made it somewhat more predictable. Who knows what VR will bring?

I recall that lead in petrol was a good idea despite previous research showing it was a bad idea. We should never be complacent about the power of people intent on making money to provide newer research – generally more favourable to the current scheme.

Is VR is a good thing? I thing in special cases it may be but Iam very wary of the intensity of the light output so close the eyes. Rather like the introduction of personal radios without sensible volume limits we may find that a restriction on viewing time is very necessary.

Apparently the best thing about it is porn, the gaming detail is interesting.

I do not have a VR headset so perhaps someone who does can post an insight into there most popular use.

We do and I had no idea there was porn. But I think it;s only from internet sites.

For me, anyway, the most popular uses are the VR sims: deep sea diving’s one of my favourites, followed by the roller coaster sim and any flying sims. But I can only manage 20 minutes of immersion before coming up for air.

On the optics front I doubt they do anywhere near as much damage as walking around on a sunny day in mid summer, or driving into the sun.

On the lead in petrol point it’s been thought lethal for as long as I can remember, but the BBC discovered that was possibly a criminal link:


Lead was included (as tetraethyl lead) for the benefit of engines. The manufacturers were forced to improve the materials used in their engines and change the chemical composition of petrol. The lead content of petrol was reduced but what forced its removal was the introduction of three-way catalytic converters to remove benzene and other carcinogens, since any lead would render them ineffective.

Like Ian I knew that lead in petrol was harmful for many years. I think I first read about this in New Scientist when I was at school. I wonder what they have to say about VR.

Lead was included in paints many years ago. You just need to be careful when burning off or sanding down any very old paint. Old painted toys not good to chew or suck either. Arsenic was used in wallpaper in Victorian times and was responsible for sickness and death.

Interesting history of lead in petrol, with a sad ending. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-40593353

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