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NBA partners with Verizon Media to bring games to Oculus Venues




NBA games are coming to Oculus Venues thanks to an innovative partnership with Verizon Media that has the potential to transform VR into a new means for absent fans to experience live sports

Quick read

➨ After a hiatus following the outbreak of Covid-19, the professional basketball league in the US is returning to Disney World in Orlando, but with a new format and without fans in attendance
➨ To bring an immersive, arena-like experience to fans, RYOT will produce live NBA games in 360° video and transport the physical games taking place at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex to fans at home via their Oculus devices
➨ Thanks to a VR partnership with Oculus, more than a dozen live NBA games will be distributed via Oculus Venues on Quest and Go from today through to 14 August

The story

The National Basketball Association (NBA) in the US is turning to VR to make up for the fact that the league’s return today will be without fans present.

Verizon Media divisions Yahoo Sport and RYOT, a VR production studio, will serve as official marketing and immersive product partners, respectively, for the league restart, kicking off today in Florida.

After a hiatus following the outbreak of Covid-19, the professional basketball league in the US is returning to Disney World in Orlando, but with a new format and without fans in attendance.

To bring an immersive, arena-like experience to fans, RYOT will produce live NBA games in 360° video and transport the physical games taking place at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex to fans at home via their Oculus devices.

Thanks to a VR partnership with Oculus, more than a dozen live NBA games will be distributed via Oculus Venues on Quest and Go from today through to 14 August.

The NBA is encouraging basketball fans to purchase an Oculus Quest headset as part of the partnership.

Guru Gowrappan, chief executive officer of Verizon Media, described the NBA’s foray into immersive technology as “exactly the kind of innovative solution we love to create with our partners”.

Gowrappan continued: “RYOT’s powerful VR capabilities will deliver a truly immersive live experience at home, creating a seamless experience between the physical and digital world.”

“Working with the NBA to redefine the fan’s experience of the game has amazing implications for the future of sports and entertainment.”

As an official marketing partner, Yahoo Sports will engage fans through fantasy and sports betting in new ways, including the right to create sports betting content and expanding its existing distribution of the league’s premium live game subscription product, to include gaming integrations.

Bill Koenig, president of global content and media distribution at the NBA, said: “As the NBA Restart tips off this week, our expanded relationship with Yahoo Sports will offer a variety of unique ways for fans to engage with the NBA.”

“With everything from fantasy games, sports betting integrations, gaming-focused content and NBA games in VR, there will be no shortage of opportunities to get closer to the game.”

The return of live sports around the world without fans in stadiums and arenas forced their organisers to turn to innovative partners such as Verizon Media to boost coverage and access.

Without ticket and merchandise sales, professional sports face a significant revenue shortfall that could continue for potentially months and years to come.

It will be interesting to see whether the arrival of a brand such as the NBA on Oculus will boost Quest headset sales and in turn transform VR into a viable distribution platform for a professional sports league in desperate need of new revenue streams.

Let VRWorldTech know what you think via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or

Main image: RYOT will produce live NBA games in 360° video



Facebook Researchers Develop Bleeding-edge Facial Reconstruction Tech So You Can Make Goofy Faces in VR




Facebook Reality Labs, the company’s R&D division, has been leading the charge on making virtual reality avatars realistic enough to cross the dreaded ‘uncanney valley’. New research from the group aims to support novel facial expressions so that your friends will accurately see your silly faces VR.

Most avatars used in virtual reality today are more cartoon than human, largely as a way to avoid the ‘uncanny valley’ problem—where more ‘realistic’ avatars become increasingly visually off-putting as they get near, but not near enough, to how a human actually looks and moves.

The Predecessor: Codec Avatars

The ‘Codec Avatar’ project at Facebook Reality Labs aims to cross the uncanny valley by using a combination of machine learning and computer vision to create hyper-realistic representations of users. By training the system to understand what a person’s face looks like and then tasking it with recreating that look based on inputs from cameras inside of a VR headset, the project has demonstrated some truly impressive results.

Recreating typical facial poses with enough accuracy to be convincing is already a challenge, but then there’s a myriad of edge-cases to deal with, any of which can throw the whole system off and dive the avatar right back into the uncanny valley.

The big challenge, Facebook researchers say, is that it’s “impractical to have a uniform sample of all possible [facial] expressions” because there’s simply so many different ways that one can contort their face. Ultimately this means there’s a gap in the system’s example data, leaving it confused when it sees something new.

The Successor: Modular Codec Avatars

Image courtesy Facebook Reality Labs

Researchers Hang Chu, Shugao Ma, Fernando De la Torre, Sanja Fidler, and Yaser Sheikh from the University of Toronto, Vector Institute, and Facebook Reality Labs, propose a solution in a newly published research paper titled Expressive Telepresence via Modular Codec Avatars.

While the original Codec Avatar system looks to match an entire facial expression from its dataset to the input that it sees, the Modular Codec Avatar system divides the task by individual facial features—like each eye and the mouth—allowing it to synthesize the most accurate pose by fusing the best match from several different poses in its knowledge.

In Modular Codec Avatars, a modular encoder first extracts information inside each single headset-mounted camera view. This is followed by a modular synthesizer that estimates a full face expression along with its blending weights from the information extracted within the same modular branch. Finally, multiple estimated 3D faces are aggregated from different modules and blended together to form the final face output.

The goal is to improve the range of expressions that can be accurately represented without needing to feed the system more training data. You could say that the Modular Codec Avatar system is designed to be better at making inferences about what a face should look like compared to the original Codec Avatar system which relied more on direct comparison.

The Challenge of Representing Goofy Faces

One of the major benefits of this approach is improving the system’s ability to recreate novel facial expressions which it wasn’t trained against in the first place—like when people intentionally contort their faces in ways which are funny specifically because people don’t normally make such faces. The researchers called out this particular benefit in their paper, saying that “making funny expressions is part of social interaction. The Modular Codec Avatar model can naturally better facilitate this task due to stronger expressiveness.”

They tested this by making ‘artificial’ funny faces by randomly shuffling face features from completely different poses (ie: left eye from {pose A}, right eye from {pose B}, and mouth from {pose C}) and looked to see if the system could produce realistic results given the unexpectedly dissimilar feature input.

Image courtesy Facebook Reality Labs

“It can be seen [in the figure above] that Modular Codec Avatars produce natural flexible expressions, even though such expressions have never been seen holistically in the training set,” the researchers say.

As the ultimate challenge for this aspect of the system, I’d love to see its attempt at recreating the incredible facial contortions of Jim Carrey.

Eye Amplification

Beyond making funny faces, the researchers found that the Modular Codec Avatar system can also improve facial realism by negating the difference in eye-pose that is inherent with wearing a headset.

In practical VR telepresence, we observe users often do not open their eyes to the full natural extend. This maybe due to muscle pressure from the headset wearing, and display light sources near the eyes. We introduce an eye amplification control knob to address this issue.

This allows the system to subtly modify the eyes to be closer to how they would actually look if the user wasn’t wearing a headset.

Image courtesy Facebook Reality Labs

– – – – –

While the idea of recreating faces by fusing together features from disparate pieces of example data isn’t itself entirely new, the researchers say that “instead of using linear or shallow features on the 3D mesh [like prior methods], our modules take place in latent spaces learned by deep neural networks. This enables capturing of complex non-linear effects, and producing facial animation with a new level of realism.”

The approach is also an effort to make this kind of avatar representation a bit more practical. The training data necessary to achieve good results with Codec Avatars requires first capturing the real user’s face across many complex facial poses. Modular Codec Avatars achieve similar results with greater expressiveness on less training data.

It’ll still be a while before anyone without access to a face-scanning lightstage will be able to be represented so accurately in VR, but with continued progress it seems plausible that one day users could capture their own face model quickly and easily through a smartphone app and then upload it as the basis for an avatar which crosses the uncanny valley.


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Psychedelic VR Exhibition Terminus Comes to Oculus Rift




The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people, businesses and organisations to completely overhaul how they operate, either closing completely or enhancing their online presence. New Zealand artists Jess Johnson and Simon Ward were touring their Terminus exhibition when the pandemic struck, so they’ve now brought it to Oculus Rift for you at home to enjoy.

Terminus VR

Created as a five-part psychedelic virtual reality (VR) experience, Terminus was commissioned by the National Gallery of Australia. Already shown at the Heide Museum of Contemporary Art (Melbourne), Jack Hanley Gallery (New York), and Nanzuka Gallery (Tokyo) before the lockdowns commenced, once that happened Johnson and Ward then went about compiling the various parts for home audiences.

Presented as a sort of ‘choose-your-own-adventure’, Terminus lets you journey through five trippy realms, Fleshold Crossing; Unknown; Scumm Engine; Gog & Magog and Tumblewych.

“As an artist, I’m really excited by the psychological implications of being able to position an audience essentially within my artwork. I think VR is the most effective conduit from one brain to another that’s ever existed. With VR you can seduce someone into accepting an entirely new reality,” says Johnson in a statement.

Terminus VR

“Instead of using VR to simulate reality we’ve tried to make Jess’s world a dream space where the rules of reality don’t apply,” Ward adds.

2020 has seen other examples of artists looking to connect in virtual ways, two of the most recent via The Museum of Other Realities. Fashion show The Fabric of Reality and Cannes XR Virtual both held events inside the app.

Terminus is available now via the Oculus Store for £5.99 GBP/$7.99 USD. For the latest Oculus Rift releases, keep reading VRFocus.


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Remote AR multiplayer for gaming and entertainment




Vlad Vodolazov

1. How to use subtle AR filters to survive your Zoom meetings?

2. The First No-Headset Virtual Monitor

3. Augmented reality (AR) is the future of Restaurant Menu?

4. Creating remote MR productions


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