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Original Issue

Different Looks

For the better part of a century, man has been devising reasons
to stay away from the game. First, radio pulled voices out of the
air and into a box in our living room. Then that box sprouted a
cathode-ray tube, and, presto, we had TV, which soon gave us slow
motion, close-ups and instant replay, allowing for intimate views
of mouthed obscenities and crotch tugging. Now the quest to keep
us on our couch continues with a pair of new technologies: ABC
Panasonic Scanvision, an impressive swivel-and-twist replay
system the network has employed during the NHL finals; and the
raw-but-promising, 360-degree Be Here camera that NBC planned to
introduce this week during the NBA Finals.

If Scanvision sounds familiar, it's because it's a refinement of
EyeVision, the system of robotic cameras that CBS unveiled to
much hype but less effect during Super Bowl XXXV in January. Like
EyeVision, Scanvision employs about 30 cameras placed around the
arena that combine to produce one morphed shot. During the
Stanley Cup finals the results have been stunning, especially on
Avalanche center Dan Hinote's give-and-go goal in Game 3, when
the replay smoothly pivoted to show the play from start to finish
and from different vantage points. Jed Drake, senior vice
president of remote production for ESPN, which produces the games
for sister network ABC, attributes the improvement over EyeVision
to better resolution and more familiarity with the process.
"Editorially we have to be astute and know where to follow," says
Drake, "or we just have a bunch of cameras whipping around."

Less polished but more intriguing is the Be Here system, which
NBC was planning to roll out slowly during the NBA Finals. Be
Here uses doorknob-shaped cameras, which NBC is placing behind
each backboard. The camera produces a donut-shaped image of the
entire court and its surroundings. The image can be frozen,
flattened and otherwise manipulated. For the Finals, NBC hopes to
freeze shots and pan in and out while analyst Doug Collins
narrates how, for example, a three-point shooter got open in the
corner. Though the Be Here technology is in its infancy (and,
judging by the demonstration tape we saw, the resolution leaves
something to be desired), imagine if it had been available for,
say, Michael Jordan's Finals-winning jumper in 1998. In one image
NBC could have shown not only the shot but also the reaction of
the bench, the fans, the coaches, even the ball boys. Maybe the
only thing NBC couldn't have shown was your reaction as you
leaped from your couch.


During the Stanley Cup finals, the results from ABC's use of
Scanvision have been stunning.