How La Liga is making Barcelona and Real Madrid games high tech

It's experimenting with VR and changing the TV experience for fans with 4K HDR.

La Liga, Spain's professional football (soccer) league, is home to two of the biggest clubs in the world: Barcelona and Real Madrid. And those teams are each anchored by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, respectively, who are the two biggest players in the sport. While that alone is a reason to keep up with La Liga every season, the league isn't resting on its laurels and is working hard to make the game experience for fans more interactive -- particularly those watching at home. Through a partnership with Intel, La Liga is now letting TV viewers have access to 360-degree replays, thanks to the same True View tech that was recently implemented in the NBA and NFL.

To bring that to life, La Liga and Intel have to place 38 cameras around a stadium, which then transform a series of stitched, 2D videos into one video that gives you a multi-angle view of highlight plays, like a goal or a penalty kick (which is enhanced by a pulley SkyCam hanging from above). Right now, the True View setup is only in place in Barcelona's Camp Nou and Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadiums, but soon it'll be ready in Atletico Madrid's and Sevilla's as well.

La Liga is also using True View to create what it calls the Laser Wall, an overlay graphic that displays a virtual straight line that gives viewers a clear picture during offside calls -- the 38 cameras make it more accurate to help avoid any controversies. Be The Player, for its part, offers a bird's-eye view of a player controlling the ball in live broadcasts. This is perfect for hard-core fans because it lets them see plays from the perspective of Messi, Ronaldo or other La Liga players. Down the road, La Liga said it could make specific plays available to watch on demand after a match so people can tinker with them. That would be better than having the Be the Player videos shown just as replays, controlled by the TV production team.

Naturally, La Liga is investing in 4K and HDR. At the moment, the league says it is producing two games every week of the season in UHD resolution and with high-dynamic range support, but it varies by country where people are actually able to watch them. In the US, for instance, BeIN Sports, the official provider of La Liga there, doesn't offer a 4K or HDR channel, so people in the states are out of luck for now. That said, La Liga says it hopes this changes soon, since that's the only thing holding it back from offering this to fans all over the US.

As it did with True View, La Liga is following in the NBA's footsteps by experimenting with virtual reality. The league showed me a couple of VR experiences at MWC 2018, powered by Samsung's VR, that focus on 360-degree video replays and a digital room where you can watch games and see stats in real time. The experiences themselves are fun, since you get a more immersive view compared to watching on TV, but it's no secret that sports can look pretty terrible in VR. That's not La Liga's problem, though, as it's only working with the tech that's available to it. Call me old fashioned, but I'd rather watch a Barcelona vs. Real Madrid game on TV.

What La Liga didn't talk about at its showcase in Barcelona was Video Assistant Referee (VAR), which was surprising considering it is FIFA's, the sport's governing body, first major adoption of technology. That said, a La Liga spokesperson told Engadget that it's still planning to start the 2018-2019 season with VAR, though the final decision will be up to the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and its referees. Assuming nothing major happens, though, La Liga will soon be the latest European league to have VAR in place, along with others around the world such as the US' Major League Soccer.

Once that's in place and combined with things like True View and 4K HDR, La Liga is setting itself up to be one of the most high-tech professional leagues -- not only in football but also in sports in general.

Catch up on the latest news from MWC 2018 right here.