America's Cup: New TV graphics will be a sporting first

34th America’s Cup - AC45 Test Event - Day 9 - TV Production

The yellow first-down line that has become a staple of football broadcasts is coming to the America's Cup.

Thanks to improved graphics, viewers sitting in front of their TVs or computer screens will easily be able to tell which boat is ahead, see the line the boats will use as a final guide into the next turning mark and know when the fast 45-foot catamarans are within a certain number of boat lengths of the mark.

Graphic of a digitized arrow and circle over a photo showing the wind direction. The yellow first-down line that has become a staple of football broadcasts is coming to the 34th America’s Cup.
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It's all part of the modernized America's Cup, which is trying to become more fan-friendly by using wing-sailed catamarans, shorter races and courses that allow easy viewing from shore.

The technology, called LiveLine, will debut with the first stop of the America's Cup World Series Aug. 6-14 in Cascais, Portugal. The AC World Series this year and next is a buildup to the 2013 America's Cup on San Francisco Bay.

Stan Honey, who helped develop the yellow first-down line more than a decade ago, chuckled at the comparison.
'I guess some of the technology certainly is going to be included,' said Honey, director of technology for the America's Cup Event Authority. 'Obviously the thing we are highlighting is a little different. Basically, the principle objective is to take something that's important to a sport and hard to see, and make it easy to see.'

In a sport like sailing, that's huge. But it took some doing.

'The main technical difference is, in football, the cameras are mounted on tripods. You know where they are,' Honey said. 'It's real easy to measure pan and tilt. In sailing, the camera is in a helicopter and it's much tougher. You have to know the location of the copter to within a couple of centimeters. Also, the attitude, which is roll, pitch and yaw. You have to measure that really accurately, otherwise you put the lines in wrong place in the video. If you're 1,500 feet away from the racecourse and have the angle wrong, then you'll put the lines in the wrong place. So that's tougher.'

In past America's Cups, viewers would see either a live shot of the boats in which it was hard to tell which one was ahead, or an animated view with a line indicating which boat was ahead.

Now they'll see a live shot of the catamarans with superimposed graphics.

03/05/2011 - Auckland (NZL) - 34th America's Cup - AC45 Test Event - Day 9 - TV Production

'That's one of the frustrating things that we've all kind of experienced in previous cups,' said Honey, who lives in Palo Alto, south of San Francisco. 'If you look at the live video you can't really tell who's ahead. If you're looking at an animated view, you can see where they are on the course, who's gaining or losing, but not why, that a halyard just broke on one of the boats.'

05/05/2011 - Auckland (NZL) - 34th America's Cup - AC45 Test Event - Day 9
The lines that will appear on the screen are the start-finish lines; ahead-behind lines; the laylines, which are the lines on either side of the course that show the approach to a mark; and the course boundaries. There will be circles indicating three boat lengths at the windward mark and six lengths at the downwind mark to define the zone in which the overlap rules apply.

Capsizes will be a bonus, and there have been plenty of those as sailors adjust to the new boats.

Organizers say this augmented reality from a helicopter will be the first time live graphic insertions have been done from a moving platform. It's driven by a GPS system that measures the race boats, mark boat and helicopter locations to two centimeters, and the attitude of the helicopter to one-twentieth of a degree.

'It's complicated and expensive,' said Honey, who, besides being a technical whiz, is an accomplished sailor.

He holds a master's degree in electrical engineering from Stanford and has won two Emmys for technical innovation in sports television, for the first-down line and the K-Zone for baseball.

He also was named Rolex Yachtsman of the Year in 2010 after serving as navigator on the giant trimaran Groupama 3, which set the record for the fastest nonstop circumnavigation, a remarkable 48 days, 7 hours, 44 minutes and 52 seconds, to claim the Jules Verne Trophy. He previously was nominated for the award following his turn as the winning navigator during the 2005-06 Volvo Ocean Race with ABN AMRO One.

America's Cup organizers held test sessions in New Zealand earlier this year and continued to refine the broadcast system in San Francisco.

Oh, and it doesn't necessarily have to be a yellow line.

'That'll ultimately come down to a decision the director and producer will make,' Honey said. 'I like white or yellow, but the software can make any color you want.'

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