XOS Digital Brings HD Instant Replay to SEC

The SEC will take the leap into HD instant replay, after agreeing to become the first BCS conference to implement XOS Digital’s HD replay system. The new HD system will be installed at every SEC school before the start of the 2010 football season.

XOS will provide the actual replay system as well as any fiber-infrastructure installation needed at SEC stadiums. Currently, XOS is conducting audits of each school’s facilities and expects to carry out installations throughout the summer.

“We’ve done phase 1 of the audits, and now we’re going to start with the phone interviews,” says Bryan Bedford, director of business development, XOS Integrated Solutions Group, at XOS Digital. “I would assume we would be done with those in the next couple of weeks. We’re hoping to be on these campuses sometime in May to start.”

The XOS system promises to provide replay officials with the cleanest HD video possible. The uncompressed HD feed is taken directly from the TV broadcasters’ truck and sent up to the replay booth via a fiber pathway.

“We take the line feed from the truck. We can use whatever flavor of HD that the truck gives us. Whether it be 1080i, 720p, it doesn’t matter,” says Bedford. “Our uncompressed HD coming off the truck is as clean as it could possibly be. There is zero compression. You’re talking about roughly 25 times more information than a Blu-ray player and almost 100 times better quality than what the viewer at home is getting.”

When a questionable call occurs on the field, the replay booth pages the on-field officials to stop the game. The review of the play is then sent up to the replay booth and XOS HD Replay. A three-person crew — a primary replay official, a communicator, and a technician — have at their disposal two video monitors providing several different angles of each play. As each camera angle comes in from the truck (varying from a minimum of four to more than 20, depending on the game’s importance), the technician uses a touchscreen to create and label a thumbnail of each angle for the replay official to review. The primary replay official then views these angles, discusses them with the communicator, and makes the final decision, which is then radioed down to the official on the field.

In addition, the system allows the SEC to export this video and game data to its media-delivery platforms for further analysis by conference officials.

“Instead of waiting until Sunday or Monday, video can be transported to the conference office almost immediately,” says Bedford. “If they have to make a public comment during the week, they need all that replay information. There may be a commissioner or associate commissioner that was at a different game that week and he needs to see that replay in order to make a public comment.”

Currently, there are no plans to extend the XOS HD replay system for use in other SEC sports.

“This is a big initiative unto itself,” says Bedford. “The way replay is done in basketball and other sports is a bit different. Football is the focus now.”

He describes the installation of the XOS system as having two separate parts: the actual system and the transmission pathway to support it. The system itself — which comprises two monitors, a touchscreen, and the primary server — is essentially wheeled in ready to go. It is the fiber infrastructure needed for transmission that represents the bulk of the installation.

“We haven’t been to all 12 replay booths yet, so it will be difficult to know what every installation will look like,” says Bedford. “But the short and skinny of it is, there will need to be a fiber pathway, obviously power to the booth, and then we’ll just need to make sure that we have any other transmission equipment on each side of the fiber.”

A chief reason behind XOS’s partnership with Bexel Broadcast Services late last year was to gain the ability to take on massive fiber integration undertakings like the SEC project. Bexel will perform all the fiber installation and is currently conducting individual interviews with each school to ascertain the degree of readiness for each stadium.

“We are confident that whatever challenges we may be faced with at these 12 unique football stadiums, our fiber integration team will be well-equipped for the successful completion prior to this upcoming football season,” says Lee Estroff, director of technical sales, Bexel Broadcast Services.

The fact that every SEC game is televised makes XOS and Bexel’s job much easier, as much of the fiber pathway is already present. However, as is the case with all conferences, some SEC facilities are much farther ahead than others in terms of HD capabilities.

“It would be a bit premature to say that [all SEC stadiums are HD-ready],” says Bedford. “There are varying degrees of investment and infrastructure that need to happen, and that would be the case with any other conference in the country as well. There are schools that have made the commitment and are way out front, and others that haven’t.”

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