2016 Olympics, Up Close and Personal

People watching at home now can feel as if they’re on the track at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt dashes past and American Ashton Eaton strives for a decathlon medal.

It’s made possible by virtual reality coverage, another major step in Olympics technology, offered by Samsung Electronics Co.

The opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics and select competition—including track and field, gymnastics, basketball and diving—are being shown. The South Korean electronics company has partnered with Comcast’s NBCUniversal and Olympic Broadcasting Services to offer the coverage.

Samsung has exclusive virtual reality (VR) rights through NBC to broadcast the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro. Eighty of the 6,700 hours of programming will be included, and will be broadcast one day after the regular broadcast. Viewers will need to use a Galaxy smartphone and a Samsung Gear VR headset, and have a cable subscription and the NBC Sports app.

Residents of Brazil, where the games are being shown by media conglomerate Globo, don’t have access to NBC’s VR video. They are able to sample the VR coverage, however, by stopping by one of 13 Galaxy Studios.

Samsung’s venture is being viewed as a pilot program that will help to strengthen VR coverage at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Virtual reality is emerging as a major step in technology, but it is still in its nascent stages. Users have complained about overheated phones and motion sickness, among other things. Also, although the image quality is good, it is grainy and many people don’t like the bulky, space-age goggles that are used.

The Olympics have showcased other new technologies: The 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles introduced email to a wider audience and Seiko debuted its Quartz timing system at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

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