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SoftBank tests 5G VR viewing experience at Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks baseball game

Participants in the experiment wear VR goggles to enjoy the same 3-D panoramic views of the baseball game that are seen on a monitor in the background of the photo, at Fukuoka Yahuoku! Dome in Fukuoka, on March 21, 2019. (Mainichi/Arimasa Mori)

FUKUOKA -- SoftBank Corp. and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks baseball team carried out a 3-D viewing experiment using 5G mobile communication technology and virtual reality (VR) technology at a game here on March 21.

SoftBank hopes to use its unique position as a team owner to strengthen its video distribution technology, and plans to apply the technology in a range of spheres including other sports and concert viewing.

In the March 21 experiment, a 5G base station was set up at Yahuoku! Dome, the Hawks' home ground, during an exhibition game against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Four high-resolution cameras were set up by the net behind home plate, next to the benches near first and third bases, and near the right-side bleachers, to capture action inside the dome. The footage was then processed into a three-dimensional video with a broader periphery, and transmitted to VR goggles worn by viewers in a room at the venue.

Viewers were able to switch the angles from which they viewed the game at will -- for example from the camera set up by the bench near third base to the one by the net behind home plate.

In the future, once the area covered by 5G cellular communication technology expands, viewers could enjoy games farther away as long as they have the VR goggles. This means that friends spread far and wide across the nation could enjoy the same game at the same time through VR, even if none of them were physically at the baseball field.

"It's great that you can casually enjoy a baseball game at home," a 53-year-old Fukuoka man who participated in the experiment said. "I'd like to see the game from even more angles."

Makoto Noda, who heads SoftBank Corp.'s mobile network headquarters, has high hopes for the new technology. "Baseball, which is highly popular, will become one of the main pillars of video distribution," he says.

In the future, 5G is expected to become applicable to a wide range of fields, including self-driving cars, telemedicine and smart factories.

"We want to make a broad range of services available, without exclusively targeting just one field," Noda says.

He adds that SoftBank is planning to put more of its efforts into smoothing out the kinks in 5G communication technology, acknowledging, "For the services to be usable, a sound telecommunication environment is essential."

(Japanese original by Arimasa Mori, Business News Department)

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