Sky has announced a new Sky Sports virtual reality app that is set to launch later this summer, bringing up-close action to millions of customers.
Sky is branching out into VR proper with today's announcement of an upcoming virtual reality app that will be compatible with Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR, and Google Cardboard headsets. Speaking at the launch, Richard Nockles, Creative Director at Sky VR studios, said: "Sky being Sky, they're keen on innovation – we're focusing on experimentation. There's no set standard; it's a new genre."
The media giant confirmed it has experimented with Formula 1, Tour de France footage, and the Anthony Joshua fights. There's also going to be a VR promo featurette shot with David Beckham, which is "going to be launching at the end of August".
Nockles confirmed that there will be a launch event for Sky's VR app, and that the company will be supplying some cardboard headsets, but that a dedicated Sky VR headset is "a little bit further away". He also added: "Our primary task is to guide how this industry is going. It's an arrogant way to look at it, but we're effectively creating a new language."
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In a statement, Sky said: "This summer we will launch a Sky VR app, confirming Sky as the home of quality VR content, along with a new mission to create high-end productions, exclusive to Sky VR."
Hands-on with Sky VR
News and Features Editor James Laird had a chance to try out the Sky VR app ahead of time. Here's what he thought:
"I just demoed Sky's new VR app experience – we got a chance to see how boxing and football would translate to this new medium and while it's not there yet, it's every bit as exciting as it sounds. The Joshua fight in particular looked amazing – you could practically smell the spilt beer on the floor of the O2 arena. It's further confirmation that virtual reality is maturing and that immersive experiences are the future of media and content consumption."
Sky launched a dedicated studio for virtual reality – the aptly named Sky VR Studios – earlier this year, through which the company hopes to bring its "expertise in storytelling and unrivalled access to major cultural and sporting events to the creation of immersive virtual reality content".
"The Sky VR Studio allows us to add a new dimension to storytelling, taking viewers to extraordinary places and offering a unique perspective on a whole host of events," said Gary Davey, MD of Content at Sky, speaking at the launch of Sky VR Studio. "The development of VR technology is moving at an incredible pace and excitement is building about its potential."
Davey continued: "Our expertise across a wide range of video content, from original drama to live sport, gives us a unique ability to bring VR to life for customers. This is just the start and we're looking forward to creating more amazing VR content and exploring the possibilities with our tech and content partners."
Confirmed: The Sky Sports app will support the HTC Vive virtual reality headset
By 2020, global shipments of VR headsets are expected to hit 64.8 million per year, according to analyst firm IDC. That's significantly higher than the 42.41 million games consoles that Statista reports were shipped worldwide in 2015. IDC also predicts that even in 2016, over nine million headsets will be shipped, which is a stark contrast to the 350,000 headsets shipped last year.
The push for VR content follows Sky's recent decision to rebrand Sky Movies as Sky Cinema, and the company's commitment to bring 4K movies to the platform by the end of the year. Some of the Ultra HD films that Sky says its hoping will land on the service include: The Revenant, Angry Birds, Ghostbusters, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, and Mad Max: Fury Road.
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Do you own a VR headset yet? Let us know why – or why not – in the comments below.