NFL Opener to Highlight Intel’s Latest Video Wizardry
If you’re a New England Patriots fan and want to see Tom Brady’s view of a just-completed touchdown pass, Intel aims to oblige. (Or if you’re a hater, Intel can also generate his view of an interception.)
Just in time for Thursday night’s National Football League season opener at Gillette Stadium, Intel says it has embedded its high-tech cameras and processing power in 11 NFL stadiums. The goal is to give ticket holders what Intel calls an “immersive, 360-degree” experience of replays.
In 2016, the chip giant acquired 3D video specialist Replay Technology and then virtual reality startup Voke to boost its live sports efforts. And last season, it installed its video gear in three NFL stadiums in Houston, Baltimore, and San Francisco.
Now, as part of a multi-year deal with the entire league, Intel (INTC) has put 38 cameras—each about the size of a Pringles can—at strategic points in 11 NFL stadiums. (Last year’s venues had to make do with a mere 28 cameras.)
The cameras bristle with sensors that let Intel create different views from all over the field. “We map millions of voxels—or 3-D pixels,” Preston Phillips, managing director Intel’s sports group, tells Fortune. For non-techies, pixels are the tiny two-dimensional dots that together make up on-screen images.
The latest incarnation of Intel’s “FreeD” technology should be on display at Thursday’s New England Patriots home opener against the Kansas City Chiefs. Given that NFL commissioner and Patriots nemesis Roger Goodell will be there, you have to wonder if anyone will notice the fancy video, but I digress.
Related: Five Ways Tech is Tackling Football
The cameras themselves do not move but the massive amounts of data they collect let Intel technicians in the control room create any viewpoint needed.
“On computer side we can drop a pin anywhere on field of play, on the quarterback’s helmet or wherever, and provide that perspective,” Phillips says.
That takes a ton of processing power, which Intel provides with three FreeD “supercomputers” running Intel Core i7 chips, at the site. This is no wireless connection given how data-rich these images are. Each camera is connected by optical fiber to the computers. The cameras, each of which has its own processor, capture about one terabyte of data every minute, he said. A terabyte of is roughly equal to about two million average-sized photographs.
On the output side, Intel converts the data into a compressed MPEG file that is ready for viewing. The Intel techies work with team and league personnel who choose which images to run on the Jumbotrons or the NFL mobile app, YouTube channel, and NFL.com website.
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NFL broadcast partners CBS, Fox, and ESPN will also be able to use FreeD videos at the start of the season. Broadcast coverage is due to start Sunday during the Fox Carolina-San Francisco game and the New Orleans-Minnesota ESPN game Monday night.
Intel would not disclose how many years this partnership will last or what it is worth.