Sky heads to the F1 pit lane for its big VR push – and we've taken it for a spin

Sky VR Studio stepping up work on virtual reality content

Forget regular old TV - Sky is branching out into virtual reality in a big way.

It’s just announced a dedicated in-house VR production team, Sky VR Studio, and invaded the Williams F1 garage for the first few bits of content.

The two films, shot during F1 testing in Barcelona, are both set to launch on Friday. They’ll give racing fans an unprecedented 360-degree view of the pit lane, team garage and the Barcelona circuit.

Sky’s aiming to expand VR out to its sports, movies, news and entertainment brands later in the year.

This isn’t the first time Sky’s shown an interest in VR, either: it produces 360-degree videos for Sky News, and trialled VR headsets at the Star Wars: The Force Awakens premiere to give fans a view of the red carpet.

Stuff stuck its noggin inside a Gear VR headset this morning for a sneak peek at some of Sky’s first VR videos. The first was a special edition of Ted’s Notebook, a regular segment on Sky’s F1 channel, in which presenter Ted Kravitz takes viewers behind the scenes at a race.

The VR version puts the camera rig on the edge of the pit wall, in the middle of a scrum of journalists as Kravitz interviews Red Bull’s Dany Kvyat, and over the driver’s head during a pit stop. The second F1 video takes viewers inside Williams’ garage and out onto the track with the car. At one point it pulls up so close to the camera that it’s like standing on the front wing as it takes a corner at the Circuit de Catalunya.

We also went inside Calais’s ‘Jungle’ refugee camp, first on a walk through with Jude Law (no, we couldn’t work out why either), and then as a Sky News reporter speaks to residents and shows the makeshift church and shops that have been built there. As with most VR videos we’ve seen, resolution could do with a boost – faces in the background were little more than pink blurs – but that’s something that’ll only improve over time.

The lasting impression was that all the videos gave a far greater impression of what it was like to be there than just watching it on TV ever could. For now these are all short complementary pieces rather than full-on VR shows in their own right, but with the tech still in its infancy everybody’s still experimenting with what does and doesn’t work.

But the move is well-timed, seeing how both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are set to arrive in the next month. There’s been plenty of news about games coming out of GDC this week, but other VR content is still lacking. Hopefully Sky can fix that.

Sky VR Studio is working on over 20 different films right now, ranging from major sporting events to big cultural one-offs, with releases expected throughout 2016. That includes a new view on heavyweight boxing for Anthony Joshua’s world title bid, and following Team Sky through this year’s Tour de France.

Eventually, Sky’s aiming to have its own dedicated VR app, but in the meantime, the F1 VR experiences will be launching on Facebook’s 360 Video platform. That means Galaxy S7 owners will be able to watch on a Gear VR, and anyone waiting for their Oculus Rift will have something to watch when it arrives.