Phone tucked away in a locker and mind not totally prepared for what was in store, I walked into the Synthetic Environment Applications Laboratory in Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory building without expectation.
A few minutes later, a new world of sorts was introduced.
Lion Vision VR, Penn State athletics’ virtual reality subscription service, is a couple weeks away from launch, and some of the behind-the-scenes experiences offered were showcased to media members Thursday afternoon.
The immersive nature and the potential of the program was clear.
“It’s going to be like you’re actually there,” said Michael Cross, assistant athletic director of new business development. “Anywhere we can put a camera is an opportunity for us to let our fans experience what it’s like to be at Penn State as a student-athlete.”
Cross and fellow Penn State assistant athletic director Jim Nachtman, working with the Applied Research Laboratory’s Tim Shaw and EON Sports VR, have developed Lion Vision VR as a way to give fans a “visual and audio perspective of real-life experience.”
During its launch year, Lion Vision VR will cost $29.95 for an annual subscription to a password-protected, cellphone app that provides virtual reality content. Fans who subscribe by Oct. 24 will receive a Penn State branded headset to view the virtual reality content.
In its infancy stage, Lion Vision VR is focusing on start-and-stop experiences, keying in on Penn State football pregame moments that have been filmed with advanced camera equipment — for example, coaches and players running out of the tunnel, the drum major flip, and the Nittany Lion at midfield calling for crowd noise.
With the headset provided and a pair of ear buds, you have full 360 motion ability coupled with the noise of the crowd and Blue Band. The program isn’t recording in Dolby Surround Sound, but it’s as if you’re on the field at Beaver Stadium witnessing it firsthand.
“To go full 360, and then have the coach and the guys run by you, to feel that, to hear that, it’s definitely a different experience,” Nachtman said.
“If you’re watching the team run out and on your right shoulder a trumpeter starts playing, you swear it’s there,” Shaw added. “From the human perception perspective, your mind can be fooled pretty quickly. ... It’s pretty compelling.”
The plan is for Lion Vision VR to quickly expand to other Penn State sports. Nachtman said he’d like to be “aggressive” this month in providing men’s and women’s soccer and field hockey content, while they’ve already completed tests at Pegula Ice Arena and the Bryce Jordan Center.
Eventually, all 31 Penn State sports will be covered.
“We’ve got this massive list that’s quickly exploding with experiences we’d like to offer our fans,” Nachtman said, “and that’s where we plan on going.”
Somewhere down the line, Cross and Nachtman can see Lion Vision VR offering streaming of live events.
However, due to the large scale of events at Beaver Stadium, Pegula Ice Arena, Rec Hall and the Bryce Jordan Center, the live streaming wouldn’t be utilized to replace watching games on TV.
To Nachtman, it wouldn’t even be a secondary-screen experience for those watching at home.
“You’re watching the game on the big screen, you’re still monitoring social media on your second screen, I think it’s a third-screen experience,” Nachtman said of Lion Vision VR’s future live streaming capabilities. “It’s going to give you something else to look at. It could enhance what we’re already doing.”
For any curious fan looking to test out Lion Vision VR before subscribing, Penn State athletics will have a booth at FanFest outside Beaver Stadium on Oct. 22 before Penn State’s White Out game against Ohio State.
And Cross made sure to note that the Lion Vision VR team will be set up to capture moments from the game between the Nittany Lions and No. 2 Buckeyes.
“We’re just starting this,” Nachtman noted. “We’re really crawling. Virtual reality is not brand new, but it’s new to us, and it’s new to the college landscape.
“It’s been a fun process.”