Feb 10, 2022 - Sports

A new way to watch hoops

Animated illustration of a film projector with  one of the reels replaced by a basketball

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

"The metaverse" has become a catch-all term to describe virtual recreations of our world. Now the Brooklyn Nets are getting in on the action with "The Netaverse."

Why it matters: While "The Netaverse" isn't fully immersive yet (i.e. it's on the TV broadcast, not a VR headset), the camera technology used to create a 3D rendering of the court could change how we watch basketball.

"When it comes to the metaverse, people are asking: okay, what are these digital worlds for? Here, the use case is very clear: It promises an enhanced way to experience an NBA game that simply wasn't possible before."
— John Abbamondi, CEO of Nets parent company BSE Global

How it works: Canon has installed 100 cameras around the court at Barclays Center, which capture volumetric data rather than video.

  • That data is then used to recreate the on-court action, resulting in a life-like virtual world that looks a lot like "NBA 2K."
  • This "free viewpoint system," as Canon calls it, is exactly that: Because the entire court is captured, the "camera" can move around freely and be placed anywhere.
  • "The Netaverse" is currently being used for replays on YES Network, and will eventually be part of the live broadcast.

What they're saying: "The first time I saw it, I was blown away," says YES Network producer Frank DiGraci. "It combines so many camera angles we've had in the past and actually puts you on the court."

  • "Picture yourself standing on the 'B' logo at center court looking at the basket — that's where this can put you. And then it can take you with the player as he drives towards the basket."
  • "We can even go under the court," says Ken Ito, senior director of Canon USA's Innovation Center. "Now, I'm not sure there's really a use case for that, but we can do it."

The big picture: DiGraci says "The Netaverse" could eventually get its own alternate stream on the YES app, where viewers could do things like pick a player and follow him around the court.

  • Abbamondi says VR headsets are an obvious future application, which feels like a huge leap: Imagine watching basketball in a fully immersive world where you're sitting on the actual court.
  • He's confident that these virtual renderings will ultimately be indistinguishable from real video, minus the physical constraints and limited camera angles.

Looking ahead: Canon's system will be on display at this month's All-Star Game, where it will be used for replays.

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