Comcast Providing Live 8K Virtual Reality Coverage of the Beijing Winter Olympics

Comcast and NBCUniversal Feb. 4 announced the launch of the NBC Olympics VR by Xfinity app. Available for the first time in 8K resolution, the app (which is limited to pay-TV subscribers with an 8K-compatible TV) will feature more than 150 hours of live and on demand interactive virtual reality coverage of the Beijing Olympic Games, which officially begin today (Feb. 4).

“We strive to create innovative viewing experiences so immersive it rivals being at the Winter Olympics live,” Sophia Ahmad, EVP of Xfinity Consumer Services, said in a statement.

Developed in collaboration with product and technical teams across NBCUniversal and Comcast, the app leverages technical VR innovations from both companies.

“Our 8K virtual reality experience for the Winter Games will offer users a one-of-a-kind viewing experience where they feel as if they’re fully immersed in their favorite sports,” said Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics.

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VR/8K coverage includes live and on-demand coverage of figure skating, hockey and snowboarding. Select events will offer viewers the option to switch between different cameras to get alternative vantage points.

Coverage of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, where viewers will have an athlete-level view of the event and get to experience the rush of walking for their country as an Olympian.

Features and highlights from 10 additional sports throughout the Games, including alpine skiing, bobsled and speed skating.

Viewers can also host a virtual Olympics watch party and invite up to three friends to join their virtual suite where they can interact together as if they were in the same room. The NBC Olympics VR by Xfinity app is now available to download from the Meta Quest 2 app store.

ABI: 2020 Will Be the Year of Direct-to-Consumer Video, Not 8K TV

With the pending arrival of NBC Universal’s Peacock streaming service and WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, 2020 represents a major step toward an over-the-top video future where more content goes direct-to-consumer, reaching 900 million subscriptions worldwide, according to new data from ABI Research.

The research firm contends more consumers will be moving away from the traditional pay-TV bundle, while content access becomes more fragmented and consumers are presented with a growing list of distribution options.

“The ability to pick and choose which channels of content best fit [one’s] needs will only become increasingly more important,” Michael Inouye, video and cloud services principal analyst, said in a statement.

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The growing penchant among content owners to DTC is creating a more challenging market for “virtual multichannel video programming distributors” (vMVPDs). As a result, ABI said subscriber bases in some of the services have slowed, if not declined. The arrival of more DTC services in 2020 will further fragment the content landscape, making it an increasingly crowded space as more services vie for consumers’ content budgets.

Separately, the firm says rollout of next-generation 5G networks will accelerate. Analyst Khin Sandi Lynn said implementation of 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) will be great news for consumers. 5G FWA garners high interest from operators to replace last-mile fiber connectivity for residential broadband services.

“This allows greater service coverage and improved network delivery for customers served,” Lynn said.

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While there are still barriers to adoption, similar to traditional 5G (infrastructure is expensive and time-consuming to scale), many other operators and equipment vendors have already been trialing 5G FWA deployment across different regions, according to Lynn.

“Qualcomm’s recent announcement of 5G FWA partnerships, with more than 30 OEMs and ongoing spectrum acquisitions by operators indicates that the ecosystem is getting ready to speed up the rate of deployment,” she adds.

Meanwhile, Lynn said 8K rollout will remain largely industry hype.

“Announcements of 8K televisions by major vendors earlier in 2019 attracted much attention and raised many of questions within the industry,” Lynn said. “The fact is, 8K content is not available and the price of 8K TV sets are exorbitant. The transition from high definition to 4K will continue in 2020 with very limited 8K shipments — less than 1 million worldwide.”