The Evolving Technology Of The Super Bowl

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Dec 3, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; The Vince Lombardi Trophy displayed outside the fan zone before the game between the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-224800 ORIG FILE ID: 20151203_jla_ai8_545.jpg


As football fans gear up for the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl this Sunday, we can expect to see not only a great athletic game, but a host of dazzling new technology at play behind the scenes, working to seamlessly bring the game to millions of viewers. To really appreciate how sophisticated this sport has become, here’s a look at some of the ways Super Bowl technology has evolved in the last fifty years.

Camera Tech Has Come a Long Way

Back in 1967, Super Bowl 1 aired to viewers simultaneously on NBC and CBS—the only game to have been aired by two major networks at the same time. Unfortunately most of the footage from the game was wiped, as was standard practice at the time. Just this year the NFL was able to locate all 145 plays of the game on a few dozen different sources, stitch them together, enhance and color correct the footage, to bring the game back to life for the first time. The daytime game features tons of empty seats, despite $12 tickets, and of course no jumbo screen or pyrotechnics filled halftime show.

While Super Bowl 1 is a fun throwback for film buffs, camera technology has come a long way in the past fifty years, and so too has the viewing experience. For this year’s 50th anniversary, CBS Sports is debuting exciting new cameras to bring television viewers even closer to the live event experience. With last year’s game bringing in a record 140 million viewers, this year’s anniversary match between the Panthers and the Broncos is the perfect time to show off new technology.

CBS will have a suite of 70 cameras filming the Super Bowl, which is a big jump from the 40 cameras that covered last year’s game. The showstopper from the new cameras is sure to be the Eye Vision 360, a replay camera that can freeze any moment of play and circle 360 degrees around it, and then continue the play.

With a fleet of 36 cameras mounted near the red zone at the 25 yard line, the placement will allow the cameras to capture the entire field, and then render together into 360 degree views for replays.

Instant replay has become such a pivotal part of how football is both watched and played, so it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t until 1986 that the NFL first implemented a limited instant replay system.

Since then the process has gone through a number of changes, from nine inch monitors in a skybox to high definition multiple angle replays on the side of the field for referees to review. What began as a process with walkie talkies and stopwatches has since evolved to 360 degree HD cameras and an off site control center, where refs can consult directly with officiating experts every time a review is initiated.

Also new to this year’s Super Bowl are pylon cameras: eight high resolution cameras with high definition audio that will be affixed to the pylons on the edge of the endzone. These cameras are sure to capture some up close and personal touchdown footage, as well as provide another perspective on calls too close to make with the human eye.


Beyond The First And 10

Back in 1997, Sportvision first brought the magic of superimposed yard lines to those watching on live t.v. The “first and 10” line shows where the offense must reach to make a first down.

While this line appears magical on the screen, there’s actually a number of steps that go into creating it: first a laser in the center of the field is used to collect elevation points and map the contours of the field for a computerized rendering.

Broadcast cameras outfitted with Sportvision sensors are then able to keep the virtual field the same size and perspective, even as the cameras pan, zoom and tilt. Finally, production operators make sure the line moves in the correct direction from the play when a first down is reached, all before you see that magic yellow line on your t.v. screen.

In addition to the First and 10 line, this year’s new Matrix-like EyeVision 360 cameras will also be able to superimpose a virtual line on the play, enhancing the instant replay experience in much the same way that Sportvision enhanced live viewing with the invention of the First and Ten technology.