If you're watching the X Games on ESPN this weekend you'll get to see the new GoPro POV system in action. I'm at the Games now and got a peek at the hardware, and it's clear that while it's early days yet, this represents a gigantic leap forward in live sports broadcasting.
GoPro and the National Hockey League announced a partnership that for the first time would bring on-ice, POV footage to a live hockey broadcast. What I saw at the X Games was just a taste of what's to come.
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 will provide 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, motorsports like NASCAR have 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 metal 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.
Today, ESPN is trying 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. (We'll link to it if it ends up online.)
This weekend, the cameras will be used in the NHL All-Star Game's skills competition and possibly during the game itself. We don't know yet if athletes will be wearing it on their heads during the game (but damn, here's hoping), but it seems likely that the referees could use a chest mounted version, so you'd still be getting live, on-ice shots, and one very sweet vantage point of faceoffs. And it streams in 720p HD and at a very smooth 60 frames per second.
But as cool and revolutionary as this already is, keep in mind that this isn't even the 1.0 version. Let's take a minute to imagine what future versions of this might look like. It could probably be waterproofed easily enough. Imagine using it at the Mavericks Surf Contest, with a live view from the nose of a board as a surfer drops in on a 50-foot wave.
Or let's look a little further in the future. You're sitting at home, watching the Super Bowl, seeing it from the center's point of view. You say, "Meh, I'd rather see this from Colin Kaepernick's POV." You use the remote on your smart TV, and switch to the quarterback's live-feed. Or hell, maybe you'll be watching it in virtual reality, through the latest Oculus Rift.
Obviously, the camera and transmitter tech would have to be miniaturized even further before it's unobtrusive enough to be placed inside a football helmet 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 right now, GoPro isn't letting 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 sports broadcasts before then. It's a glimpse at the future of sports broadcasting, and it's more immersive than anything we've seen before. It's something to be excited about.