Australians are a lucky bunch. While the Socceroo games are all free courtesy of SBS, if you have a VR headset, you can also experience the game differently.
Watching the sport with your friends is definitely a social experience, but it’s not always social. In fact, with one of SBS’ features, it’s a little anti-social, and yet still very, very cool.
Included in the SBS World Cup 2018 app is a feature that might seem a little strange, but once you get it, everything makes a lot of sense (bugs excluded, which we’ll get to).
Available for most phones, SBS has included support for VR viewing, relying on a separate app that talks to the regular FIFA World Cup 2018 SBS app, logs you in, and lets you watch the World Cup from a few different viewpoints.
It’s a system that essentially brings you into your own personal box at the game, completely with match details, player information, and the ability to watch what’s going on not just from the live SBS feed on virtual screens, but to sit literally at the corner of the goal posts and watch as the players attempt to kick them in.
The experience is very well set out, and you can even watch the whole game from each goal post if you like, or just sit there and watch the drones in Russia do their little dance, something that we’ll admit grabbed our attention for longer than it probably should have.
Getting the experience from your phone to your eyes does require an extra accessory, of course, with a VR headset needed to make the experience complete. Depending on what phone you have, however, there are two ways of doing this.
If you have a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, SBS has included support for the Gear VR headset, allowing you to plug it in and get the comfort of the game from the Samsung Oculus Gear VR, it works very well there. There’s a VR FIFA 2018 app in the Oculus app store on the phone, which you’ll need to make the connection.
All other phones can find Google’s Cardboard or VR headsets modelled on Cardboard will work here, provided you download the extra VR 2018 FIFA SBS app from either the Apple App or Google Play stores, respectively.
As a heads up, you need both apps — standard SBS FIFA 2018 World Cup and SBS VR FIFA 2018 World Cup — to make the connections work, as they talk to each other to make the link, with one being the app and the other working as a login (as far as we can tell).
Inside the app, you’ll find a cute little virtual box available to you, with the ability to watch the game from the sidelines as if you were there, and then some little circular targets you can stare or gaze at which will send you to different parts of the field, with the goal posts being the options.
It’s a pretty cool way to experience the big game, though one that can be a little nerve-wracking, as you watch your team anxiously defend and attack.
VR headsets aren’t remarkably expensive, either, with the Cardboard-styled options in plastic sitting around $20 to $30, while ones made from the cardboard material can be had online for only a couple of bucks.
Samsung’s Gear VR edges closer to the $200 mark, but the experience found in Gear VR is a little better with lenses that can be adjusted, facial padding, and a VR app store with a whole lot more to experience (plus you need a compatible Samsung smartphone, so there’s that, too).
There are some bugs in SBS’ VR experience that we noticed, such as in the Gear VR app, we found the stats didn’t work, surprising since it worked on the standard Google VR app.
Bizarrely, SBS has made the Google VR app without support for Google’s Daydream headset, which seems one of the most unusual exclusions given Daydream was considered the replacement for Cardboard a good two years ago. No official support means the moment you load the VR app in the headset, you’ll be greeted with an error message telling you it’s not compatible, and one you can quickly get past simply by ignoring it and using it anyway.
Still, the VR app is one of the more interesting ways to experience the World Cup, and if you know someone who isn’t normally into sports but loves technology, this might just get them over the edge. It worked for us.