GoPro and the US National Hockey League has announced a partnership that for the first time would bring on-ice, point-of-view footage to a live ice-hockey broadcast. It's a major move and if you found yourself watching the X Games at all this weekend, you'll got to see the system in action.
Well, I was at the Games now and got a peek behind the hardware – and it's clear that while it's early days yet, this represents a gigantic leap forward in live sport broadcasting. Can you seen Sky doing this anytime soon?
The rig is so new it doesn't have an official name yet. It was announced last week to little fanfare as a partnership with Vislink, which provides the hardware component. It basically looks like a little box that attaches to the back of a GoPro Hero4 camera (though there's also a version that connects via a wire to give it other mounting options).
This little box allows a broadcast director to cut to it mid-stream, just like it was any other camera. Really, it's the form-factor that's the big deal here. After all, motorsport has offered live, in-car views for a long time now. The difference is that those are larger camera systems that run off of the car's 12-volt power system… and they costs tens of thousands of dollars. The fact that they've made it small and light enough that an athlete can wear it on their helmet is a big deal.
Colten Moore was wearing the rig on his helmet last night during his gold medal-winning run in the Snowmobile Speed and Style competition. You can see it around the 50-second mark in the video. It's simply an awesome (and utterly terrifying point of view) that's never been possible before during a live broadcast.
ESPN also tried it out as a follow-cam in the Slope Style event. Up until now, the follow cam was a large rig, carried with two hands, by a guy in skis that would go off to the side as athletes would go over the big jump. With the GoPro/Vislink rig, the follow cam can jump right behind the competitor, giving an eye-level view of the jumps as they happen.
For Sage Kotsenburg's second qualifying run, ESPN used the GoPro follow angle for the entire run. It was absolutely amazing.
The NHL Debut
This weekend, the cameras were also used in the NHL All-Star Game's skills competition. With referees being able to use a chest-mounted version, you could get live, on-ice shots, and one very sweet vantage point of face-offs if ported to a real game. And it streams in 720p HD and at a very smooth 60 frames per second, too.
But as cool and revolutionary as this already is, keep in mind that this isn't even the 1.0 version. For now, GoPros are still a certain size and are only going to be applicable to sports that feature helmets for the foreseeable. But let's take a minute to imagine what future versions of this might look like. It could probably be waterproofed easily enough – so imagine heading down to Cornwall and using it at Boardmasters, with a live view from the nose of a board as a surfer drops in on a 50ft wave.
Or let's look a little further in the future. You're sitting at home, watching the Super Bowl, or the latest NFL game to take over Wembley, seeing it from a linebacker's point of view. You say, "Meh, I'd rather see this from the quarterback angle." You use the remote on your smart TV, and switch to his live-feed instead. Or hell, maybe you'll be watching it in virtual reality, through the latest Oculus Rift. Reckon Chelsea's Petr Cech could squeeze one into his head guard?
Obviously, the camera and transmitter tech would have to be miniaturised even further before it's unobtrusive enough to be placed inside that kind of setup and not get in the way, but this version we're seeing today is an important first step in that direction.
There's still a lot about we don't know about this device. At the X Games, GoPro didn't let me get close enough to take a very clear picture of it. A little birdie told me that there's a good chance we'll see a more official launch at the NAB expo in mid-April.
Pricing? Consumer availability? We have no idea. But we hope to see this integrated into more sport broadcasting before then. It's a glimpse at the future, and it's more immersive than anything we've seen before. It's something to be excited about.