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Virtual Reality?

Promised in Japan’s bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, how far are we from recreating sports events virtually throughout stadia across the world using holograms? Elisha Chauhan finds out.

Japan stunned the world with its bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup when it proposed to pioneer technology that would enable football matches from the tournament to be played out in stadia, in real-time, across the 208 FIFA member countries through life-sized holograms.

The development of Japan’s ‘Full Court 3D Vision’ is dead in the water after the country lost out in its bid to Qatar – and was not considered for Tokyo’s 2020 summer Olympics – and though four years ago the Japan bid insisted the technology would be ready to roll out by 2016, industry experts are split as to whether the concept could ever become reality.

“The laws of physics won’t allow us to send photons [a type of light particle] into the centre of the room from a projector and have them suddenly change directions – like in a game of football – and into the eyes of the audience,” Michael Page, a professor at OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design) University, told SportBusiness International.

Page has been developing holograms for over three decades and is widely considered an industry leader on the topic. He adds that even if the technology was developed to replicate a football match using holograms or another optical illusion, the underlining problem remains of trying to stream the enormous amount of data around 208 different countries in real-time.

“If you have the technology to create the holographic scene, as well as the massive GPUs (graphics processing units) you need to generate the image, you then have serious bandwidth problems,” he says.

“At the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) it’s a challenge to get images across the room, let alone trying to beam the hologram across the world.”

According to Page, the amount of data needed to stream a holographic World Cup match – via wireless internet – is the same amount of computer-generated imagery data used to create three Toy Story films, and that’s only for holograms to appear on a 70-centimetres by one-metre surface, which is smaller than a standard desk. In addition to this, the playback would have a time delay of around 10 to 15 minutes as the data needs to be processed.

Off the Spectrum

Olav Christensen, CEO of Advanced Visual Consulting and former technical director of viZoo – a video design firm that has worked with clients such as BMW, adidas and Heineken – agrees with Page’s scepticism of Japan’s 2022 proposal.

“I can’t possibly imagine a holographic World Cup unless it was on a small and manageable scale,” he says.

“The amount of equipment needed would be staggering. It’s certainly an interesting project, but coming from a guy with a background in this industry, the concept scares the living daylights out of me.

“When we are dealing with holographic imagery, almost 99-per-cent of the time you would need a person against a background. If you record a football field with players running around, the sheer scale of it would make it incredibly difficult to reproduce holographically.”

Colour Coding

Another setback that Christensen envisions when trying to record and playback holograms of a football game is the pitch itself. Three-dimensional filming needs to be done through chroma keying, a special-effect technique that tends to use a green screen as a backdrop, which may cause complications given the pitch itself is green.

There could be a solution to this problem, though, as Alex Howes – director of immersive technologies at AV Concepts, a company that has produced life-sized holograms of professional basketball players that fans could interact and train with for sportswear giant Nike – says that an ultraviolet keying could be used instead of chroma keying as it is outside the colour spectrum.

Japan's 2022 FIFA World Cup bid proposed to create life-sized holograms of
matches in stadia across the 208 FIFA member countries

Howes is also more optimistic about Japan’s holographic World Cup proposal, and believes that there are a number of ways the illusion could be created in the future should enough funding be invested into the project. Beaming the images around the world is also not a problem he foresees, as large sports and entertainment facilities would have comprehensive and fast internet connections.

“The theory is possible, but there isn’t something on the shelf right now that could make the concept work,” he told SportBusiness International.

“I imagine one of the theories behind creating a holographic World Cup would be using a motionless tracking system, but that’s not to say each player might wear a microchip on their wrist to track their movements.

“There could be projectors or a laser-based system using video streams from Japan to other countries, and most venues around the world have good bandwidth connectivity that wouldn’t be limited to the normal domestic internet speed.”

Undoubtedly, technology this advanced would require serious financial backing, but as Page says: “If 15 years ago someone tried to imagine what the world’s technology would be like today, they would have missed it by a long shot, so I don’t think there’s anything we can’t do.”

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