Besides dazzling feats of athleticism, dazzling new technologies will be on display at the Olympics.

About
217 million viewers in the US alone tuned in to the London Olympics
four years ago, making it the most watched TV event in history. The
television audience is expected to increase for the Rio Olympics, which
formally open Friday. Others will tune in online or watch the games in
person in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

That makes the Olympics an
excellent showcase for new and emerging technologies. Such brands as
Visa and Samsung are taking the opportunity to show off their wares.

Visa’s payment ring
Visa,
a 30-year Olympics sponsor, is running the payment systems at the
Olympics. Visa is equipping about 4,000 payment terminals at souvenir
shops, concession stands and other Olympic venues with a wireless
technology called near-field-communication, or NFC. It’s the technology
that powers mobile-payment services such as Apple Pay, Android Pay and
Samsung Pay, though only Samsung’s has launched in Brazil.

Visa is
giving payments rings to 59 athletes to wear. With a tap on an NFC
payment terminal, they can charge their Visa accounts. Giving the ring
to Olympic athletes like swimmer Missy Franklin and decathlete Ashton
Eaton lets Visa test the technology, while garnering buzz as athletes
tweet about them and wear them around the Olympic village.

Samsung’s special edition Galaxy
Samsung,
another Olympic sponsor, is delivering a special Olympic Games edition
of its Galaxy S7 Edge phone to 12,500 Olympians. The phone is branded
with the Olympic rings and has Olympics-themed wallpapers loaded on the
device. The company also made 2,016 of the Olympic phones for the public
to buy in selected countries, including Brazil, the US and South
Korea.

One feature Samsung expects to make a splash: The phones
will come with a flag app, which athletes will be encouraged to hold up
as they walk together by country during Friday’s opening ceremonies.

“They
can use the entire screen of the S7 to become a flag,” said Pio
Schunker, Samsung’s global head of brand integrated marketing. “They
will be waving the national flag through the S7.”

NBC gets into VR, Getty goes 360
Expect
to see virtual-reality content, along with 360-degree video and images.
NBC, which has television and online rights in the US, plans 85 hours
of VR coverage through the NBC Sports app on Samsung’s Gear VR headset.
VR events will include opening and closing ceremonies, men’s
basketball, gymnastics and track and field. They will typically be shown
on a one-day delay.

Getty, the Olympics’ official photography
agency, launched a virtual-reality division in June to focus on
360-degree images. Getty shot some 360-degree images at the London
Olympics in 2012 as the technology was emerging. This time in Rio, every
Getty photographer will have a 360-degree camera.

“We are only on the cusp of what will be a tectonic plate shift in VR,” Getty CEO Dawn Airey said.

Meanwhile,
Facebook’s Oculus VR business, which developed the technology behind
Gear VR, plans to showcase more than 400 360-degree images from various
photographers. It will be available through the Oculus 360 Photos app on
Gear VR and Oculus’ own Rift headset.

High-tech coverage
NBC
owner Comcast Corp. is showcasing its X1 set-top box, giving its
customers a way to search for live coverage and replays by country,
athlete and sport. It’s also integrating voice search into the system.
Viewers, for instance, can get the latest medal count by speaking, “How
is the USA doing?” The company is also offering a way to zip to
gold-medal event highlights and restart events that have already begun.

The
high-tech coverage makes use of the box’s connection to the internet
and increasing presence in Comcast subscriber homes. Comcast says about
40 percent of its 22.4 million video customers have X1. Comcast is
aiming to reach 50 percent by the end of the year.

The X1
innovation is one way Comcast is trying to help viewers sort through
some 6,000 hours of Olympics coverage on television and online. If it
boosts audiences for the Olympics, it’ll also help Comcast recoup some
of the $4.4 billion that NBC paid for the US broadcast rights over six
years.



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