The first NBA broadcast rendered with volumetric video puts basketball in the uncanny valley

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Tonight the Brooklyn Nets and the Dallas Mavericks game is notable for reasons other than the basketball genius of Kevin Durant and Luka Doncic, it’s the first opportunity for us to watch a full game broadcast live with new technology. This season the Nets local broadcasts on Yes Network have used volumetric video capabilities for “Netaverse” highlight clips, replays, and in-arena video, but this time ESPN is using it to broadcast an entire game start to finish.

Built with Canon’s Free-Viewpoint Video tech, it uses 110 data capturing cameras placed around the court to carefully track player movement. Then it combines that data in real-time with 3D models that have been built of each player, and renders it, very similar to how things would work while you’re playing NBA 2K. That creates the ability for virtual camera operators to show off the action from any angle they want to, as virtual cameras swoop around the floor like drones.

So far, the effect is impressive, even if the models have some glitchy artifacting and the arena isn’t as nicely rendered as you’d see in a game of NBA 2K22. The amount that real player movements make up for any graininess is hard to explain, as it makes it hard to tell the difference between a normal broadcast, and this rendered one.

The regular NBA broadcast is currently live on ESPN, while you can watch the NBA CourtView broadcast on ESPNews or ESPN Plus. A clip posted by the NBA on Twitter gives an idea of what it looks like, but I’ll wait for the game to end before I decide if this is really the future of broadcasting.

Correction, March 16th 9:47PM ET: An earlier version of this story referred to the New Jersey Nets. They are in fact now in Brooklyn. We regret the error.



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