FreeD is set to change the way we watch sports. FreeD is set to change the way we watch sports. FreeD instant replay was used during the NBA All-Star Game festivities. (Photo: Bob Donnan - Pool/Getty Images)

3D instant replay is changing the way we watch sports

Now fans can experience 360-degree replays in real time.

How sports fans experience a sporting event on TV is about to drastically change.

If you watched the recent NBA Slam Dunk Contest or the Super Bowl on TV, you might have noticed that traditional 2D instant replay was given a 360-degree makeover a few times. The technology behind it is called freeD – a nod to how it "frees" a scene of dimensions – and you should get ready for a whole lot more of it.

FreeD has actually been around for a few years thanks to Replay Technologies, an Israeli company with offices in Tel Aviv, Dallas and California, though it was used mostly as a gimmick during broadcasts. Now, it's powered by 6G Intel core processors and Intel server technology, and the speed at which freeD works is far superior to what it once was. Image quality has gotten a significant upgrade, too. FreeD can operate in real time, meaning it can be incorporated into live broadcasts, giving viewers a new, 360-degree perspective on the game as it unfolds. So it's no surprise that Replay Technologies was named one of the top 10 most innovative companies in sports by Fast Company.

It can also personalize how fans experience post-game, too. Just imagine being able to decide from which perspective you want to watch highlights of the day's games. “Eventually, perhaps sooner than we think, we will live in a world where video is a complete 3D representation of reality, merging existing concepts of entertainment,” said Preston Philips, a VP at Replay Technologies.

So how does it work? With a lot of cameras and a lot of computing. For the Super Bowl, Replay and CBS installed 5K cameras (36 of them – think HDTV on steroids) on upper levels of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. For the NBA All-Star game, the magic number was 28. The content was then distilled into one shot by an Intel high-performance computing (HPC) system that converts the 2D data into 3D “voxels" – a term Replay uses to refer to its proprietary digital video format that can alter color based on the viewing angle.

While announcing the partnership between Intel and Replay in January at the Consumer Electronics Show, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich made no secret of his belief in freeD. "What you are seeing here is the power to redefine what it means to watch and experience sports,” he said.

So far the new perspective on sports freeD offers has earned thumbs up from pretty much everyone. It's already being used in some capacity by American sports teams in the MLB, NFL and NBA, and don't be surprised if your favorite team is using it on a more regular basis very soon.

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