Intel Gets Into the FreeD Sportscasting Game

Intel on Wednesday announced its intent to acquire Replay Technologies, the company known for elevating the NBA All-Star Weekend with cutting-edge 3D graphics.

Replay develops and maintains what it calls “freeD” — that is, free dimensional — technology. Sports fans may have noticed the Matrix-esque effect employed at other sporting events.

The novel technique relies on an array of cameras, plus software to stitch all of the angles together seamlessly, which requires some muscular compute power and agile servers. Computer power and server scalability are two things Intel knows well.

For last month’s NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto, Intel and Replay Technologies positioned 28 ultraHD cameras around the Air Canada arena. Those cameras were connected to Intel-based servers.

That combination allowed the broadcasters to deliver replays at almost every angle, just moments after the plays they featured.

Immersive Sports

Through its acquisition of Replay, Intel hopes to scale what it terms “immersive sports.”

The data-driven technology will fuel continued expansion of the cloud, which should drive revenue growth and profit for Intel, suggested Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

Along with the server synergies, Intel’s acquisition of Replay dovetails nicely with its RealSense camera efforts, he pointed out. RealSense facilitates gesture-based interaction between human and machine by employing depth-sensing capabilities in camera technologies.

“The results, particularly for sports, are compelling, because it gives the viewer an unusual level of control over what they see,” Enderle said.

In a questionable call, they can really see all of the angles — as I expect, eventually, the referees will as well,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Hurdle Hopping

Intel’s efforts to scale up its immersive sports agenda may not move as smoothly as freeD gliding across ultraHD cameras.

Intel will at least have to be successful in its negotiations with leagues and teams, noted Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie Research.

However, it shouldn’t be a hard sell.

“The idea of 360-degree cameras isn’t new, or novel,” Peddie told the E-Commerce Times. “Stitching software isn’t new.”

There are no real technological or manufacturing barriers to be overcome, he added, so it should be quite reliable.

Also, Intel is an engineers’ company, Peddie said. “They won’t let something into the wild that isn’t bulletproof.”

The Next Race

These days, it’s hard to hear anything about camera arrays without virtual reality lighting up some synapses — and this move has implications in that space, according to Enderle.

“There are a lot of horses in that race, but Intel does have the resources and historic focus to at least place in this one,” he said. Still, “even with all of the help, this will still be a costly endeavor.”

If the VR wave motivated Intel to acquire Replay, the company had to feel it could bring “something significant to market within 24 months or so,” Enderle said.

“I expect, this is closer to being ready than we think,” he added, “and once Intel resources the effort, whatever timeline existed will be substantially shortened.”

Quinten Plummer is a longtime technology reporter and an avid PC gamer who explored local news for a few years, covering law enforcement and government beats, before returning to writing about things run by ones and zeros and the people who make them. If it pushes pixels or improves lives, he wants to learn all he can about it.

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