- Indiana University is the first in higher ed to install freeD™ replay technology.
- HPC-powered replays treat fans to 360º highlights, and open a new era in coaching.
- IU students are the first to master the new technology.
- User-directed, immersive viewing experiences are on the way.
What do you get when big data and high-performance computing team up with sports broadcasting? The answer: A media revolution, and Indiana University (IU) athletics is at ground zero.
Now that freeD™ replay technology has been installed in Assembly Hall, IU’s historic basketball arena, fans are being treated to 360º, Matrix-style views of sports highlights. This new technology promises an immersive viewing experience and an exponential increase in athletic training information.
“Think about how it will electrify a crowd,” observes Jeremy Gray, associate athletic director at Indiana University. “Not just when a player throws down a spectacular dunk in real time, but again 90 seconds later seeing a replay of it in that style. It's a second standing ovation for every single great play made in your stadium — and that's a terrific thing.”
The first university to host the technology, IU netted the media innovation courtesy of entrepreneur and IU alumnus, Mark Cuban. Cuban donated $5 million to IU in June of 2015 to launch the Mark Cuban Center for Sports Media and Technology. Assembly Hall joins 14 professional stadiums worldwide with the technology; it will be installed in the neighboring football field, Memorial Stadium, over the summer.
The magic starts with 28 ultra-high resolution cameras mounted around the court. These 5,000 pixel cameras stream data-rich video to an HPC cluster behind the scenes. Stitched together, these streams create a virtual camera, offering producers an unlimited set of perspectives from which to create replay highlights.
“When we grab those images we can actually construct all pixels from all cameras, and find them in 3D space,” says Anton Mikhel, image processor at Replay Technologies, parent company of freeD™ technology. “We can move around in the scene and reach the action like never before.”
The cameras are the eyes, but it’s the computational power at the heart that makes the magic happen. Forty servers supercharged with six-core Intel generation seven processors, 64 GB of RAM, and Nvidia GTX 980 graphic processing units bring the processing speed to about five teraFLOPS — that’s five trillion operations per second.
At 3 GB of raw data per frame, and 12 GB per second, a full game would rack up ~55 TB — easily overwhelming most computer storage capacity. To accommodate this load, data is shared laterally among the 240 cores. Since ~ 30 seconds are grabbed at a time, only 8 TB is accumulated per game.
How much data is that? If you were to stream a normal Netflix movie, it would take approximately 48 weeks of streaming without pause to accumulate the same amount of data.
The media breakthrough promises to transform the fan experience: 360º views of slam dunks, homeruns, interceptions, stolen bases, and more. Intel's recent acquisition all but ensures large scale integration. But freeD™ technology is more than just fun and games. Using this HPC-powered technology, athletic trainers can view the field of play — and the players — from literally any angle, and provide instruction previously inaccessible.
“It's one thing to look at film from 100 feet up looking straight down on the court,” notes Galen Clavio, associate professor of sports media at Indiana University. “You can tell some things that way, but to be able to go back and really be able to instruct your players in why they need to move, where they need to move, and how their movements affect what else is going on the floor — freeD™ offers a huge step forward for anybody who's in coaching.”
Cornering the market
Perhaps the strongest advantage for IU — beyond the extraordinary fan experience and potential for athletic instruction — is the opportunity to train the video technicians of tomorrow. In partnership with Replay Technologies, IU has pioneered a course in this emerging technology. Eleven students recently completed the seminar, joining only four others in the world trained to operate the revolutionary replay technology.
“As the world's only university with this technology, it really sets us apart from all of our competitors when we try to recruit a student interested in sports media and technology,” says Andrew Rosner, assistant athletic director at the Cuban center. “Students can come to IU and get hands-on experience using technology that nobody else in the world is able to train on.”
Brave new world
Imagine a completely photorealistic holographic conversation, or choosing your own view of a sporting event with 360º of freedom. Add in a virtual reality headset and you’ll be able to roam within a movie, concert, or sporting event. Horror and detective movies will never be the same.
“3D video will ultimately replace 2D video in all applications in life,” predicts Matteo Shapira, chief technology officer at Replay Technologies. “Starting from sports, and then moving on to other forms of media, ultimately it will usher in a ‘social’ revolution, allowing us to immerse ourselves in a 3D representation of reality.”
Beyond entertainment, Shapira muses, immersive media will enable families to reunite though thousands of miles apart. You’ll be able to take a Yoga class with classmates from around the world, creatively brainstorm with far-flung colleagues, or go shopping with friends without having to leave the house.
With this potential on the horizon it’s easy to see why sports media is poised on the cusp of a revolution. While you wait, sit back and watch IU basketball like you’ve never seen it before.