Is this how we look at the next World Cup? | Science and technology news
How did you follow the World Cup?
In the living room? At your place? Given the kick-off times in Qatarmaybe you wear some in the office.
And with the sheer number of games played each day, chances are you’ve caught some of them on your phone; watch live or capture highlights on the go; Twitter or Whatsapp always just a swipe away so you can scream into space where you think Gareth Southgategoes wrong.
Not too many tournaments ago, the idea of seeing matches in the palm of your hand, wherever you are, was an unthinkable dream. But the World Championshipwith its quadrennial event and universal appeal, has always been an excellent barometer of changes in both technology and consumer habits.
From the first world championship in color in 1970, when pele-LED Brazil wowed the world in Mexico; to Germany in 2006, bringing us into the razor-sharp HD generation; and now the reality today that in China the broadcast rights of the tournament were won by the country’s version tick tock; we have certainly come a long way.
“I’m old enough to remember watching football in black and white,” says Peter Moore, speaking from a sun-drenched California that can only be imagined in color.
It is from here that the former EA Sports and Liverpool FC chief executive works on what he believes will be the next page in the history of World Cup broadcasting.
“The second goal for Japan,” he says of Germany’s surprising defeat in the opening game of Group E.
“Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, one of the best of the last decade, was to blame. I’d love to throw the camera in the box while he’s shooting to see exactly the view he had, to see what went wrong.”
Germany’s number one will be relieved to hear that the solution isn’t to strap a GoPro to your chest. Japanese match winner Takuma is also not expected to wear Asano smart glasses kind of like a dystopian Edgar Davids.
The solution instead harks back to Mr. Moore’s past at EA, the gaming giant behind blockbuster sports titles like Madden NFL, Tiger Woods PGA Tour and – best known of all – FIFA.
The impossible camera perspective
“The impossible camera angles that you can see in a video game weren’t possible in real life,” says Mr. Moore.
“And there’s a whole generation that’s used to holding the controller and seeing those angles.”
For more than 20 years, sports video games have allowed players to freeze the action and fly a virtual camera across the field with a precision and fluidity that real broadcasters can only dream of.
And as the images become more realistic, the possibility of blurring the line between the digital and the physical becomes more enticing.
Enter Unity, a video game software company best known for its eponymous engine, which it licenses to other developers to power their titles.
But just as fellow game studio Epic has used its Unreal Engine beyond games, particularly to create sets for Star Wars show The Mandalorian, Unity is diversifying its portfolio.
How does the technology work?
Mr. Moore heads Unity’s sports and live entertainment division and offered a brief tour of how the company’s technology has already been applied to mixed martial arts UFC.
The demo features two fighters undergoing “volumetric capture” on a sound stage in Los Angeles. Multiple cameras around them have picked up the fight, and the data is then converted into “voxels” – 3D pixels that, after being processed by a powerful computer program, can be spit out as photorealistic models.
The result is that the fighters appear as you would expect in real life footage, re-visualized through data and with the end viewer immersed in every angle.
You become your own cameraman.
“Video games come to life,” says Mr. Moore, nodding to his past as he blasts through battle on an iPad.
“It requires a lot of processing power and bandwidth, but like any technology I deal with, it’s evolving.”
The goal is for the recording equipment used on the sound stages to eventually move into the live venues.
Mr Moore claims that in a couple of years it will be “ubiquitous and accessible to anyone with a touchscreen device”, meaning it could be ready for England’s miraculous 2026 World Cup win.
Fans may scoff at the ambition, especially those who threw a four-figure sum at a 3D TV a decade ago, promising that this was the future of broadcasting.
And Unity also sees the technology as part of the metaverse we’ve heard so much about, and for some, it is nothing more than a big tech craze hatched in Silicon Valley.
But when Mr. Moore says it will be accessible to everyone, he really means everyone.
Were he still at his beloved Liverpool, which he left in 2020 after a three-year stint that included the club’s first Premier League title, he would propose it to manager Jurgen Klopp for analysis during matches.
And it’s become a dirty word among coaches, fans and pundits alike, but Mr Moore believes the technology could change even the way we think about VAR.
Anyway, England wins the World Cup, that would really be a miracle.