Watch party gives a live, immersive view of the Olympics — without leaving Salt Lake City

“Let's go to Tokyo," Cosm CEO and President Jeb Terry said to a crowd of spectators in Salt Lake City Friday evening. And minutes later they were courtside, watching the Olympics live — all without leaving their seats.

The global tech company joined with NBC and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Foundation to host the world's first ever live immersive watch party, featuring the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Among the attendees at the party were at least seven former Olympians, friends and family of current Olympians and Olympic donors, most of whom were planning on being in Tokyo to watch the games before the attendance was limited because of the pandemic.

The event was a way to allow them to feel like they were there even with the restrictions, a silver lining in a hard year, said Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games.

The party took place in the Cosm Experience Center in a structure called DomeX, an LED dome with a diameter of 20 meters and 8K resolution. The screen stretches from the floor to the ceiling and curves around the audience horizontally 180 degrees to completely immerse them inside a digital world.

People attend a live immersive watch party for the Olympics at Cosm Experience Center in Salt Lake City on Friday.
People attend a live immersive watch party for the Olympics at Cosm Experience Center in Salt Lake City on Friday. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

“We want to give people access to exclusive events and create a shared experience — a shared reality that audiences can enjoy together. That's what we as humans crave: togetherness. Our goal is to bring the best of the world to a place where it can be shared with others," Terry said.

In this case, the shared reality was a live beach volleyball match. They heard the live sounds of the bumps and sets and spikes, as well as the minimal cheering from the minimal crowd.

“The only thing you're not going to feel is the humidity," Bullock said.

Because the LED screen is 30 times brighter than a typical screen and resolves issues like shadows, resolution, contrast and reflections, the viewers could see the players in daytime even though the sun was on its way down in Utah.

After all, said former Olympian Brandi Chastain, "The Olympics are going on. There's no time to sleep."

Utah company Evans & Sutherland, recently acquired by Cosm, calls itself the world’s first computer graphics company and has pioneered the planetarium and immersive computer graphics fields. The DomeX features the seventh iteration of the the 3D rendering engine and can show recorded, live and real-time content.

The screen is a freestanding aluminum and steel structure designed and built by Pennsylvania company Spitz NanoSeam. It has over 5,000 square feet of display with 29.5 million pixels and 8,000 magnetic modules with their own sources of power and data, so if one fails, the rest of the screen can still render.

“I've been doing this for over 30 years, and this is the best display I've ever seen," said Kirk Johnson, Evans & Sutherland executive vice president and general manager.

On the sides of the screen are widgets with rankings and scores that are updated live. The screen can also be split into separate boxes so viewers can watch multiple Olympic competitions at the same time.

Former Olympians Chastain, Summer Sanders, Dan Cnossen and David Boudia all spoke before the match started, addressing what it's like to beat the odds and become not only an Olympic athlete, but a medal-winning Olympic athlete.

“Every one of us had a dream of going to the Olympic Games," said four-time medalist diver David Boudia. "When I was told that I wasn't flexible enough, I laid in bed at night trying to sleep in the splits."

Chastain remembers watching the U.S. men's hockey team win the gold medal when she was a child, and she thought, "I want to do that."

“I didn't even know what 'that' was, but I knew I wanted it," she said.

Watching the hard work and the patriotism gives people goosebumps, she continued, which is exactly what Terry says is also the goal of the 4D experience of the DomeX.

The company has three main applications in mind for domes like these: science education, theme parks and sports entertainment. They want to use “all the Rs — AR, VR, XR" to bring people's passions to life, Terry explained.

Eventually that will even include thematic food and beverages. For instance, if you're watching an Arsenal soccer match, you could be eating fish and chips.

“It's the most dynamic viewing experience in the world, and we're very close to being able to bring it to market," Terry said. “This is the first in the world like this, but we're planning to roll these out at a global scale. We think that's the fantastic opportunity in the market right now, and we're just scratching the surface."