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

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

Built with Canon’s Free-Viewpoint Video technology, it uses 110 data capture cameras positioned around the pitch to accurately track the player’s movements. It then combines that data in real-time with 3D models created of each player, rendering it as it would work while you’re playing NBA 2K. That creates the opportunity for virtual camera operators to show off the action from any angle, while virtual cameras fly across the floor like drones.

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

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 finish before deciding if this is really the future of broadcast.

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

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