Vantrix Wants to Put Sports Fans in Front Row with Virtual Reality

Imagine watching a mixed martial arts fight from the first row or heading down to the pit in the middle of car race to see what things look like there.

For most of us, these experiences are out of reach – too expensive, too hard to access.

But now one Montreal company is trying to bring people a little closer to those experiences with virtual reality.

“The idea is to convey the feeling of being there,” says Kjell Kolstad, Vantrix’s vice-president for cloud services. “Think of somebody in the first row, best seat in the house, we place the camera there and we can then sell that seat virtually to millions of users.”

Vantrix has developed a cloud-based system that enables immersive video to be streamed directly from events to viewers and it says it can do that more easily – and with better quality – than its competitors.

The system works with a special camera, developed by another Montreal-based company, ImmerVision.

“Think of it as an ultra fisheye lens without any distortion,” Kolstad says.

For sporting events, it allows for a panoramic view similar to the one someone would have by moving their head – over 180-degrees side-to-side and around 130-degrees up and down.bWhat’s most important, though, is that it’s a single lens. That means Vantrix doesn’t have to do any software stitching – putting multiple videos together to create a single panoramic.

“Software stitching is, to us, kind of like a bad word. It slows things down, it degrades the experience, I’ve not yet seen any sticking software that can do this seamlessly,” Kolstad says.

The single-lens camera also simplifies things, there’s no need for elaborate rigs with multiple cameras and complicated lighting systems to ensure everything looks the same on all of them. Vantrix works in the background, processing the video and streaming it to viewers, who can watch it on a virtual reality headset or through an app based player that allows viewers to use touch-based controls to change their view.

“You can sit in the front row, you could look left, you could decide not to follow the action on the court in front of you, you could look at your neighbour,” he says.

Kolstad also sees the potential for the Vantrix system to be used as part of a “second-screen” experience, and that opens up additional camera angles.

Vantrix has filmed combat sports from above and car races from the pit. In both cases, viewers can look around focusing on whatever part of the action interests them. There are other options, too.

“We can do object tracking, for example,” says Kolstad. That means that viewers click on something that’s not even part of the game, like a player’s shoes, and follow them.

For broadcasters and rights holders like leagues, the appeal is obvious.

“Being able to sell the best seat in the house one million times is a very attractive proposition,” he says.