To turn the America’s Cup into a truly gripping professional sport, perhaps the greatest challenge is broadcasting it so that we can feel the adrenaline flowing on the cats and understand what the heck is going on. AC34 equipped each race boat with four remote-control HD cameras and more than a dozen microphones. In San Diego there were also three camera helicopters, multiple camera boats and a maze of containers that looked like ESPN studios inside. But the secret sauce is a new technology called LiveLine.
Previous broadcasts often cut away to gamelike virtual simulations of the race to illustrate the lay of the course, which boat was ahead and the tactics in play. That helped, and in fact one ACTV container houses the same simulation experts, though now their work is largely a backup in case the much trickier LiveLine fails. That’s because LiveLine — which overlays the boat’s name, speed, distance to mark and much more right on top of live helicopter video — is the perfect complement to the race narrators but is almost ridiculously difficult to do.
Frankly I’m still impressed with the yellow first-down line overlay that was so useful watching the Super Bowl, even though I’ve learned how it’s done. A video processing computer knows exactly where the camera is relative to the field’s geometry and to wireless sensors built into the down markers. The turf color is treated as a reverse mask, and thus the processor knows to lay the digital yellow line only over green, and it ends up looking like it was magically painted on the field. You’ve probably seen similar overlay magic done with hockey pucks, NASCAR racers and strike zones, but consider the dynamics of LiveLine with the camera in a helicopter and all the race elements so far away that even a miniscule geometry error will lead to an obvious overlay mismatch.
So LiveLine is where AC34’s latest boat and course telemetry really pays off, and apparently the helicopter is tracked with 10 times more precision in all directions than the boats are. Who put all this together? No less than the same team that invented the yellow down line and many other professional sport enhancements, which happens to be headed by a gentleman who is also an expert sailor. Check out “Stan Honey, Sailor-Geek Extraodinaire” to read about AC34 Director of Technology Stan Honey and say hallelujah for the existing fans of the America’s Cup and the new ones to come.
I don’t know if AC34 will succeed in its goal of turning ordinary Americans into fans, but I’m convinced that anyone who’s ever had a passing interest in how wind on the water can become speed and sport should zero in on the new Cup. I’m also aware that some sailors fear that once AC34 moves up to the bigger boats it might again become a battle of competing technologies and maybe even lawyers, but I have a different theory.
Larry Ellison may be one of the most competitive guys on earth, but wouldn’t a second Cup victory be sweetest if won on an ultrafair playing field in front of a huge crowd? In fact, I think Ellison may become a boating hero, not for winning the Cup once, twice or more, but for making it a truly great sporting event. Let’s watch and find out!
To view more photos of the America's Cup World Series, click here.
Author’s note: Ben Ellison is not related in any way to Larry Ellison but is Yachting’s electronics editor.
AC34 Demands Your Attention