A Peek into the Video Future

Aardvark switches gears this weekend, and offers his thoughts on how new technologies will revolutionize the way that fans watch football. After reading his article, and pondering it, I have only one comment: ME WANT NOW!! ME WANT NOW!<P><I>Opinions expressed may not represent those of Bernie Kosar or the staff of Bernie's Insiders</I>

Sometimes you feel like it's 1902, and you can see how the technology that wowed us just months ago is already outdated and will take leaps in a matter of a few more months.

It was 99 years ago on December 17th that the Wright Brothers managed to fly their motorized contraption for about 2 minutes. Talk about wind aided -- they were the beneficiaries of the omnipresent winds of the Outer Banks and Kitty Hawk. But it was a start. And coming off an age when progress was measured in decades, look at what happened to aviation in just 10-20 more years.

It is the same with digital technology. Now we can tell how old a not-so-old movie is by the size of the portable telephones. Even in those Friends reruns, Monica and Chandler are picking up cordless telephones that looked like they were halfway to the walkie talkies used by GI's in Korea.

Even today, we see the more computer-adept among us come up with some interesting stuff. Dabesst once put up several digital frame grabs of each of the last four plays from the Browns ill fated stall against the Colts.

On the one hand, we marvel at this new tool. On the other hand we realize that technical limitations make these pictures awfully fuzzy. We can already see how we're living in 1902, and how much better this will look in just a few months, much less a few years.

In another thread on Pure Football, Just Thinking made this comment about the difficulty in review and analysis: "There's more that i miss than i can see. the camera shows the offensive backfield best. after the receiver takes off i have no idea how the secondary rotations work. i have no idea how the safeties are set before the snap much of the time. i miss play at linebacker, too. there are others on this forum who see more than i can on their screen.

I'm not a techno-geek by any stretch of the imagination. But I do work in broadcasting, and I can tell you that the future is going to aid football fans immeasurably. The technology is coming. Much of it's already here. Sure, consumers will be kicking and dragging their feet, and adoption will be slow.

But consider how many homes had VCR's in the mid-1980's. Today, over 3 out of 4 homes have them. Satellite dishes were a novelty just a decade ago. Today, over 12% households have them. In a few years, the way the majority of us view football will drastically change.

You've seen High Definition sets in the stores. They're more than just great for watching DVD's with surround sound. TV will be so much different. Understand that a picture whose resolution goes from 480... to 720 or even 1080... don't worry about the number stands for, just know that the higher number means more detail, and 1080 is a lot more detail than 480. Okay, sit-coms won't look radically different, but certain genres really benefit: nature, science, the Victoria's Secret lingerie show. Oh yea, and sports.

Which sport will benefit the most? Football.

Why? Some sports have adapted better to television than others. The rule of thumb in television production is that the bigger the "ball" and the smaller the playing surface, the more watchable the sport on television. That's why basketball has done well whereas soccer (field way too big), and hockey ("ball" way too small) have fared less well. Yea, you can argue that a sport's popularity can override that to an extent, but just go with me here.

Despite the genius of the dearly departed Roone Arledge, football has been limited by the very thing that Just Thinking described: it's played in the wrong dimensions for our tv sets; we can only see so much of the field on any given shot, so it's hard to see plays (at least passes) develop. Of course we could settle for a very, very wide shot like in the scout's camera angle from the top of the stadium, but then the players are too tiny.

And like all sports, football benefits from not only the video detail of HD, but-- more importantly-- from the widescreen format.

Very few people have digital sets now. And if they do, they probably have some sort of "Home Theatre" system that allows them to enjoy DVD's. Even fewer people have High Def tuners and can watch broadcasting channels in HD (I believe all the Cleveland stations have been broadcasting in digital w/ HD capability for over a year now as mandated by the FCC. Of course the stations grumble because they had to pay millions for the conversion, and will need years for their audience to play catch up on the technology).

The present tv format is 4x3: 4 units wide by 3 units tall. With that format, we can see the Browns on offense with Green in the backfield, and on the other side, we can see the defensive line and maybe the linebackers. If Couch attempts a pass of more than about 6 yards, the receiver is not in the shot-- the camera has to pan to follow the action.

So for years that's been tv's limitation: when Couch makes a 15-20 yard pass down the middle, we hold our breath as the camera pans to reveal..... Morgan wide open on a slant? KJ covered by two defenders? No one because Campbell took the wrong route?

The digital widescreen format is 16 x 9. That means it's 16 units wide by 9 units high (Instead of 4x3 or 12x9 with today's NTSC analog format). That's an extra 25% width. So when the camera frames the offense with Green just inside the frame on one side... we can not only see the defense line and maybe the lb's on the other side. We can see the safeties. When Couch goes back to pass, the camera doesn't have to pan unless it's about a 40 yard bomb. We can see the receivers run their routes. We can see who's open and who isn't on pretty much any route under, say, 15 yards... AND STILL SEE COUCH in the picture. It IS like being at the game as the viewer can see so much more of the field.

A year or two ago, someone shot an Alabama-Auburn game in HD. The video detail is astounding, but it was like watching a whole new game. You see plays develop. You see receivers run their routes. You see how the entire defense reacts to a reverse.

Digital may also allow us to select additional camera angles. You've seen PIP with another game in the DVE box in the upper corner? Digital may allow you to select one of the other camera angles. If the production is isolating on KJ or Courtney Brown all day, you can follow that or record it.

What will revolutionize analysis of the game is server technology. A few years from now, VHS will go the way of home Beta decks in many homes. We'll all have TIVO-type systems, which are nothing more than hard drives. It may take a while longer, but videophiles will be able to do crude versions of home editing that production houses do now with their non-linear system. Record, or "digitize" a game, then you can start slicing and dicing: make separate video files for certain types of plays. You can have a disc containing nothing but kickoff returns from 2002, the 50 best bone crunching hits by the Browns, or create your Steve Heiden highlights file (guaranteed to be 2k). All you're doing is sorting video files as if they were word files.

If NFL teams don't already use some of this technology, they should. This will do for ease of analysis what the VCR did to films - send the old technology out to pasture. Thanks to the Browns scouting department, Daylon McCutheon will be able to watch 8 games worth of Hines Wards patterns on his portable DVD player in his hotel room.

Even with all the possibilities digital technology allows us or will allow us in watching and reviewing games, it still won't help us with interpretation. Even with their VCR's, people won't agr

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