TV coverage of football has come a long, long way since the days of Elton Welsby’s none-more-'80s flecked jackets, Richard Keys' antediluvian attitudes to women and Andy’s Townsend’s gimmicky Tactics Truck.
These days the sheer breadth of expert analysis and detailed heatmaps really bring the sport to life.
But for all that, for many fans watching at home remains a poor substitute for being at the game itself.
The good news is that with the advent of 360-degree Virtual Reality (VR) football coverage, which makes it feel like you’re really in the stadium watching the game unfold, it might not be that way for too much longer.
The better news is that BT Sport has this week announced it’s giving everyone the chance to watch the Champions League Final in lush 360-degree VR for free. And you don’t even need to be a BT customer.
Here we outline exactly how you can enjoy the Real Madrid and Juventus clash on 3rd June and get that much closer to the action.
What is VR 360-degree vision?
It’s an immersive, interactive viewing technology that makes it feel like you’re really ‘there’ at the event that’s unfolding before you.
When you don a VR headset and you turn your head to the left or right, or up or down, you’ll see exactly what you would if you were in that location.
You can even turn right around and take a look at the view behind you.
In the case of BT’s VR 360-degree coverage of the Champions League Final, you’re positioned pitch-side in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.
So if you want, you can admire the curvature of the stadium roof. Or choose to focus on the play or watch for players' off-the-ball antics. And even check out the fans in the seats behind you.
What is BT giving away?
To get the fully immersive VR 360-degree experience, you need a smartphone and a VR headset.
The good news is that BT is offering a free Virtual Reality Google Cardboard headset (essentially a re-branded version of Google's cardboard headset) to anyone who wants one.
Once you’ve secured a headset (and we'll tell you how in a bit), you, download the BT VR app and insert your handset. Then select the ‘Cardboard’ mode when prompted.
You’ll then be presented with a so-called virtual lounge environment. From here, you move the cursor dot to the virtual Play button, click on it with the 'presser' on the top right of the headset and the 360-degree stream will start.
As well as looking around to see what’s what, you can switch between eight cameras. When you’re in Cardboard mode, you just need to look down and there’s a console, where you can select the camera you want.
How do I get one?
If you’ve got an EE high-street store in your locality, head down between now and the day of the game (3rd June) and pick one up.
Commuters can also grab their free headset from London Waterloo, London Liverpool Street and Birmingham New Street stations on Friday 2nd June. Or from the BT Sport stand at the UEFA Champions League Village in Cardiff Bay on the weekend of the final.
BT was initially taking orders for the free headset online and posting them out for free. But we've been advised that stock from this source has since run out.
Is this for BT customers only?
No. Anyone can pick up a free headset from BT, irrespective of whether you’re a BT customer or not.
What if I don’t manage to pick up a VR headset?
If, for whatever reason, you don’t get it together to grab a free headset, you can still watch the game in 360-degree VR on your smartphone. But the experience won't be quite as immersive.
To do so, you’ll need to download the BT Sport VR app and select the ‘Smartphone’ mode when prompted.
Once you’ve got the app (see the download links in this section), you’ll be able to watch the game on your device, while switching between eight cameras for an entirely personalised viewing experience.
And you can still take a look around the stadium from each of these cameras, by either moving your phone in the direction you want to go, or scrolling on the screen.
Fancy changing camera angle? You can do that by tilting your phone forward or simply scroll down to bring up a ‘console’, where you’ll be presented with a selection of eight cameras.
If you decide you don’t fancy exerting that much control over viewing angles, you can select ‘auto’ and BT will choose for you.
You can find the iPhone/iPad version right here.
Got an Android device? You’ll find the BT VR app here.
Do I need a particular phone to use the BT Sport VR app?
The BT Sport VR app is compatible with all iPhones after the 5S edition. And you’ll need to be running iOS 8 or later.
Android device owners will need a handset or tablet powered by Android 5.0 (Lollipop) or later. But BT advises that, even so, a very small minority of devices, including the Tesco Hudl, won't run the app.
Alas, if you own a Windows phone you’re out of luck. But you can still watch the game for free on your TV.
Do Oculus Rift or Gear VR headsets support BT Sport's VR app?
They certainly do. You don't need to use BT's own-branded headset to enjoy the game in VR. And if you've got a Google Cardboard headset, that'll work too.
Anything else I need to know?
To watch the game in VR 360-degree TV on your smartphone, you’ll need a minimum broadband speed of 10Mbps.
If you try to watch with a connection speed below that, you’ll probably encounter bad picture quality. That’s if the video stream even loads.
Whilst you could technically use a 4G mobile internet connection to view the game, the quality is unlikely to be anything like as good.
I’m not interested in VR. Can I just watch the game as normal?
You can. The final is also being broadcast free to watch on your TV.
Here’s everywhere you’ll be able to see it:
- Freeview on BT Sport Showcase HD
- BT TV
- Virgin Media
- Live on BT Sport’s YouTube channel
- On BT’s site
- BT Sport App, which provides extra statistics, angles and exclusive content