The NBA now comes live in VR once a week this season

Strap on your headset. You'll be able to tune into a regular schedule of live basketball games in virtual reality.

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Terry Collins
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Soon you'll be able to watch NBA games in virtual reality every week.

James Martin/CNET

Basketball fans will now be able to really get up close to watch LeBron James slam it home.

In a high-tech alley-oop, NBA Digital and NextVR are teaming up this season to show one game a week in virtual reality. The multiyear deal, announced Thursday, also marks the first time games will shown in VR by a pro sports league on a regular basis.

The tip-off broadcast takes place when the Sacramento Kings host the San Antonio Spurs at the Kings' new tech-splashy arena, the Golden 1 Center on Oct. 27. The games will be available on the NBA's League Pass subscription service, and a full VR viewing schedule will be announced later this month.

Additionally, VOKE VR will stream the Kings-Spurs pregame show on Facebook Live. The Kings own part of VOKE.

Watching these games won't be quite the same as gathering round the big-screen TV or parking yourself in the crowd at your local watering hole. The VR experience requires strapping on a headset that closes out the rest of the world as it pulls you into the action.

For the time being, that'll have to be the Samsung Gear VR. Later in the season, the Next VR app is expected to expand to other headsets.

Tech companies in the past year have made a full-court press into virtual reality, the latest being Sony, which just this month unveiled its PlayStation VR headset. Other contenders include the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.

NextVR is positioning itself to become a major player in virtual reality. Already this year the Laguna Beach, California, company has shown the US Open and Masters golf tournaments, the MLB Home Run Derby, pro boxing, Nascar's Daytona 500 and the Big East college basketball tournament, as well as live concerts.

Basketball, though, could be the sweet spot.

"The fast-pace nature of the game and the intimacy of seeing the players up close on the court -- it's the perfect sport for VR," Brad Allen, NextVR's executive chairman, said in an interview a day before the announcement.

The NBA's association with NextVR dates back almost three seasons, Jeff Marsilio, the league's associate vice president of global media, said. Last year, the pair broadcast the first live pro sports event in VR when then-NBA champion Golden State Warriors tipped off the season against the New Orleans Pelicans.

"Live events is a priority of the league. We broadcast games in more than 200 countries, and many of those fans don't have access to go to games," he said. "If we can fulfill the promise of VR, it can be the next best thing."

That's made for a lot of experimentation between the two organizations. During the 2013-14 season, NextVR recorded a Warriors game against the Denver Nuggets. It also captured moments from the 2015 All-Star weekend as well as five games during the 2015 NBA Finals between the Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. The NBA and NextVR each say the technology continues to evolve.

The 25 NBA virtual reality broadcasts this season will have their own play-by-play announcers providing VR-specific commentary. And instead of just a camera stationed courtside, games will be shown from multiple unmanned camera angles -- including from behind the basket -- along with optimized graphics, Marsilio said.

The games, which can be found by downloading the NextVR app for Samsung GearVR and accessing the NBA Channel, will also capture in-arena entertainment and behind-the-scenes arena footage during breaks, Allen added.

"You've got to make this really compelling experience when you consider someone is wearing headsets for the entire game," he said. "That's what we will be constantly striving for."

Marsilio agrees.

"We're hoping to bring in a new element each week," he said.

Updated on Oct. 20 at 5:10 p.m. PT: Updated to include Kings pregame show.