Intel 360 Replay technology makes its European debut at El Clásico

TV coverage gets the wow factor with a Matrix-style makeover

It’s an argument that rages from the beer halls of Berlin to the restaurants of Rio, from the Bay of Naples to the Manchester Ship Canal. What is the biggest game in club football? Of course, there is no definitive answer to the question but there’s one game which is perhaps whispered with more reverence than any other. And that game is called El Clásico. Or, for the uninitiated, FC Barcelona v Real Madrid.

The fixture attracts a staggering global audience of 400 million viewers and features some of the biggest names in world football – from the dazzling genius of Barca’s attacking triumvirate of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, to the power and passion of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale for the 11-time European champions. One of the great things about this game is that everyone has a point of view. But, thanks to technology, this point of view is now a little different.

“Digitization will eventually work its way into the judging process as well”

Following Intel’s acquisition of a company called Replay Technologies*, the two businesses pooled their joint resources to create Intel 360 Replay technology. This freeD* video rendering technology was recently launched in the US for baseball, basketball and NFL in the US but this is a first for European sports fans. The new partnership between Intel and La Liga means that Intel 360 Replay technology will be in place for all home league games for both FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.  

Capturing a sporting event involves setting up an array of up to 38 Teledyne Falcon 2* ultra high-definition cameras in the stadium and making space for just as many servers configured as a high-performance computing platform (HPC). It’s just one example of the “digitisation of sports” as Intel CEO Brian Krzanich calls it, a growth area that Intel is passionate about – from sensors that measure speed, rotation and G-force, to immersive VR technologies.

The Intel 360 Replay technology platform relies on volumetric pixels or voxels to generate immersive imagery; in short, a voxel is a 3D pixel, as Krzanich explains: “OK, what’s a voxel? Think of it as taking the complete volume of any arena and breaking it down in to a collection of small cubes. Once you have that complete set of voxels, you can use a large computer to put yourself anywhere on the court or the field and view 360 degrees around you.”

A large computer is probably a bit of an understatement, as the current set-up relies on a dedicated Intel® Xeon® processor-based server for each camera connected via fibre-optic cables. It’s perhaps not too surprising either given the tasks involved. The patented algorithms powering the freeD video format convert a grid of images from the 2D cameras to create a 3D environment showing all the action.

Real-time rendering of the scene provides viewpoints from any position within the sensor grid, whereas broadcast replays can show off the impossible views – they may look more like something from a feature film, but are configurable in an instant to play to TV audiences and on the stadium big screens.

With Intel 360 Replay technology, fans will be able to get up close and personal with the players on the pitch and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the thrills and the tantrums, the glory and the gory. The incredible mazy run by Messi, the perfectly-crafted Ronaldo free kick or the defensive mistake that decides the game. Watch them all from every angle you’ve ever dreamed of – and a few you haven’t.

The images are sharp and smear-free too, thanks to the Global Shutter* technology on each Teledyne camera, which electronically exposes all the pixels in an array simultaneously, avoiding rolling shutter distortion artefacts that are visible with conventional CMOS sensor capture techniques. All the cameras used in a stadium are in perfect sync too, to ensure that, for each frame, the action across all viewpoints is captured at precisely the same moment.

As the freeD video format becomes more widespread, home users will be able to interact with the match content from devices featuring 6th Generation (or newer) Intel® Core™ processors, enabling enthusiasts and athletes alike to marvel at the skill of some of the world’s best players. And for those critical moments, it should keep more than just an army of armchair referees satisfied – Krzanich reckons freeD video technology has more than just entertainment value: “I believe that this digitization will eventually work its way into the judging process as well. Did the ball hit the ground? Did he step over the line? How many rotations did a snowboarder just achieve?”

A realistic goal? When it comes to freeD video content, such a question certainly has more than one angle to it, as La Liga football fans can now see for themselves.

*Trademarks are the property of their owners

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