Technology Takes Us Onto the Field

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Technology Takes Us Onto the Field
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

Serious sports fans work on their home theater environment to give themselves a higher level of immersion than even the fans at the event experience. A broadcast in high definition will let you see the details on a guy-s tattoo. Surround sound brings you the crunching of cleats on a snowy turf, and TiVo-type technologies allow you to replay that questionable fair catch as many times as it takes to ensure you that he never did have control of the ball before he stepped out of bounds.

The broadcast crew is working equally hard on their end to make you feel you-re watching the game as if you were standing on the sideline. This year-s Superbowl, broadcast on February 6 on Fox Sports, will bring you a step closer to that sideline position, just when you thought there was nothing much more to be invented. There are already thirty cameras set up around a major NFL game. Jib cameras fly above the field on wires. They actually travel with the players so you can move along with a wide receiver as he-s running his route down the field. They-re similar to dolly cams used now in Olympic swimming and track-and-field coverage. Those are the cameras that swoop along next to the runner. You sit on your living room couch pumping your arms up and down in synch with a sprinter because the camera makes you feel you-re in the race, too.

It-s kind of fun to see the old black and white footage of football games back in the -50-s when they had one master camera set way up at the top of the stands. A wide receiver looked like he was a quarter mile away, because he was.

When I worked at Fox Sports, I got to do a story on the technology of the first-and-ten line, a computerized yellow line that is laid onto the field to indicate the first down mark goal for folks at home. As with most inventions, a fan can-t imagine what it was like to watch a game without the first-and-ten line now. The head of technology at Fox told me at that time that the focus of future inventions was to be miniatures. And here they come. On Superbowl Sunday, there will be a dozen or so tiny cameras, each the size of a pencil eraser, embedded in the field. The lens will protrude only a centimeter or so above ground so that players will never notice them. This view will bring us right onto the line of scrimmage. We-re going to be able to look up a lineman-s nostrils and feel the visceral intensity that goes with the territory of 350-pound giants colliding with all their might. You might remember the turf cams, as they-re called, during October-s World Series. You had the sensation you were an ant hanging out a couple of feet from the batter. You could see the fuzz on his shoelaces. Well, the turf cam now peeps up on the football field, sort of like a tiny James Bond periscope.

It-s too bad the quarterback cam didn-t work out. They tried planting a miniature camera inside the quarterback-s helmet. You pumped back seven steps from the snap, looked left, looked right, and just as your arm was up and poised to throw, you saw two linebackers coming at you like bullets and, bam, you were smothered and at the bottom of a heavy pile. The problem with the quarterback cam was that you had to take Dramomine to watch it. The motion made you dizzy. They-re working on it.

In the end, it-s only the sport itself that will limit the camera and microphone technology we can use to bring the fan closer to the game. They-ve already tried and banished microphones in players- helmets. We could hear every single syllable. And that was the problem. The game needed an x-rating--the obscenities were clearly audible.

The folks who televise the Kentucky Derby only wish they could cover the race the way the filmmakers of Seabiscuit did. But cameras flying right above the horses- heads would disturb animals in an important race. Give the geniuses who are working on miniatures some time, though. They-ll get us there.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that-s The Score.



Diana Nyad