Exciting New Ways to Watch the Olympics

Watching the Olympics has come a long way from a few hours of coverage in the evenings on one TV channel that only included races and games in which the U.S.A. team were participating. This year’s coverage can satisfy any way that you might like to watch the Olympics whether it’s in high quality 4K HDR with Dolby Atmos sound on your TV, an enhanced stream that includes, expanded stats and information about the athletes and performances or streaming live and video on demand in virtual reality that makes you feel like you are in PyeongChang watching the Olympics.

In 2014, NBC bought the broadcast rights to the Olympics through 2032. This should give the media giant time to improve on Olympic coverage to keep in step with new technologies and viewer’s preferences. This year, Xfinity cable, owned by NBC, is offering the largest number of video options, including a couple of live channels and dozens of video on demand (VOD) options with highlights and replays of competitions. Broadcasts on cable and satellite have not only increased the quantity of coverage but the quality of the video and audio as well. Xfinity, DirecTV and Dish are offering a 4K HDR channel with Dolby Atmos.

The 4K coverage is not live. Instead, the channel shows competition the day after it takes place. On Dish, the 4K channel broadcasts from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (PST) at which time the NBC's prime-time coverage takes over. As clear as 1080p video can be, the 4K HDR broadcast takes clarity to the next level. During the speed skating competitions, you can clearly see flecks of ice flying off the skater's blades as well as the reflection of the skaters on the ice. And when the announcers talk about ice condition, it's easy to see it for yourself. Never before has the texture of black ski pants or sequined skater skirts been so clear.

For the first time, cable and satellite providers are including Dolby Atmos sound. Even though I'm limited to a 7.1 surround-sound setup, I still felt like I was in the middle of the action during the skating competitions as sound of the chipping ice flew by me.

If you want to immerse yourself further, you can do it with a VR headset. The Olympic Broadcasting Service is delivering Virtual Reality content but you'll need the NBC Sports Olympic VR App (available for Android and iPhone) to watch the 360- or 180-degree videos they are producing. The app works with most basic virtual reality headsets, including the Google Daydream or the Galaxy Phone in combination with a Galaxy Gear headset. The promise of VR is that you feel like you are actually at the venue but without the discomfort of standing out in the cold.

NBC’s Olympic VR videos include VOD highlights and complete competitions as well as live coverage. While it was exciting to feel like I was at the Olympics, the VR experience was inconsistent and more of a novelty than a way that I would want to watch all of the Olympic games.

Each sport includes a video with a first-person view that lets you “be the athlete.” While experiencing the thrill of speeding down a ski slope should be exciting, it wasn't what I expected. While skiing in VR, suddenly I was looking at my back and had to swing around to “face forward” again, which disrupted any sense of reality. It’s not clear why this was so poorly executed. The VR video for curling was also very confusing until a “broom” swept in front of my face and I realized it was shot from the point of view of the stone sliding down the ice.

Some of the competition videos are shot in a full 360 degrees, while others provide a 180-degree view. Since most of the action takes place in front of the viewer I didn't mind not being able to see what was behind me — unless I was watching snowboarding in the half-pipe. Shaun White and Ayumo Hirano flipped so high in front of me that they flew right out of top of the 180-degree view.

More stats are available in the VR live videos than on broadcast TV. Live VR coverage gives the option of choosing between a number of cameras to get a specific view of the action, or to choose “VR Cast” that automatically switches between cameras based on where the athletes are located. In the downhill and snowboarding competitions, there is a camera at the start, two in the middle, and a camera at the end of the course. VR Cast switches camera angles as the boarder flies by while a screen showing the TV broadcast is displayed above the action. I really enjoyed the on-ice POV during the figure skating competition — it gave me a real sense of being there, allowing me to better experience the power, athleticism, and emotion of the skating pairs as they sped by me.

Authentication is required for the NBC sports app whether streaming in VR on a media player or mobile device. Although NBC teases non-subscribers with 30 minutes of free video, full coverage requires logging in with your cable or satellite credentials. Streaming coverage is available via the NBC Sports app on Amazon Fire TVs, Apple TV, Roku, select Samsung TVs, Windows 10, and on web browsers. For cord cutters who have abandoned cable, there are live streaming options online that provide access to NBC Sports with a seven-day free trial or single month subscription. Hulu Live, YouTube Live, Playstation Vue, and Fubo TV all include NBC sports. Sling TV includes NBC Sports with a Sling Blue subscription in select areas where NBC is available.

For those who are watching on a 1080p TV, the Olympic coverage has improved there, too. NBC will show over 1,800 hours of games this year — almost twice the 1,000 hours of streaming and broadcast video that aired during the 2014 Olympics. One of the issues with past Olympic coverage was that viewers would miss important action during commercials breaks. This time around, NBC is placing commercials on a split screen during crucial moments — such as waiting for scores in figure skating — and returning to the games immediately to show live results.

No matter how you like to watch the Olympics, there is a broadcast option to suit your taste. For a schedule of upcoming live and VOD streams, check out this CBS News article.

Victorspoli's picture

Barb - obviously you've never used the NBC Sports app on an AppleTV. First, you can't just subscribe to use it if you are a cable cutter. You need to use your neighbor's cable info to log in.

Then the app stutters and shows endless commercials, ruining the experience. And the bugs bugs bugs. NBC has included "shortcuts" to moments within coverage, but they always land in the wrong place and rewind and FF don't work most times. I attempted to watch on two nights and finally gave up. Check Reddit and some of the other forums to see how widespread these issues are. The app has only 1.5 stars out of 5 on the Apple store.

What a disaster in this day and age - why can't they give the Olympics to Netflix or someone else who at least has the bandwidth and can let you directly subscribe.