Football's coming home - to your PC

There will be no need to skive off work to watch World Cup matches this summer, thanks to a new 3D graphics system that brings the action to your computer screen, writes David Fox
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The Independent Culture
Stuck in front of a PC when you would rather be watching the big match? Soon you will be able to do both, thanks to a new system that will be putting the World Cup on the Internet, and will allow you watch a live Premiership match wherever you are in the world, without the aid of television.

The system, VirtuaLive, turns broadcast video into computer-game-like graphics, allowing you view the action from any angle, even a player's point of view. Not only is it more interactive than video, it also works well with standard 28.8K modems and can even work with older 14.4K versions.

"The big advantage of 3D graphics over video is the bandwidth," says Dr Miky Tamir, co-founder of its Israeli inventors, Orad Hi Tech Systems. "Once you have downloaded the models of the players and the stadium, you just have to update the positions of their legs, heads, etc. So, very little data need be sent for real-time transmission."

The viewer displayed in users' Web browsers is designed to show an image about a quarter the size of the monitor screen, and although it is not as realistic as video, "it is still very convincing, and the fact that you can change the viewpoint and play it interactively is very important," he says.

The viewer also displays match information, such as the score, and has various buttons for selecting which viewpoint you want (there is a choice, initially, of four participants, such as the referee, the linesman, the goalkeeper), or you can move around the pitch like a flying camera, using cursor controls. A VCR-like controller allows you to slow down, pause or rewind any action (and then see it from different angles). The system can also relay the original stadium sound, plus a commentary.

VirtuaLive has already been bought by broadcasters in Australia, Argentina and Mexico, and Orad is currently in discussion with several TV companies in the UK, at least one of whom will definitely be using it for World Cup highlights this summer.

The only drawback is that, at present, it takes at least 10 minutes, and some manual intervention, to produce each segment of highlights. This is because the computer has to recognise and track the ball and each player visually. This causes problems when one player blocks another and the computer needs human help to locate him. However, by next year Orad will have perfected a real-time microwave tracking system, Sportrack, using credit-card-sized transponders on each player and inside the ball. As it should take only a second to generate the graphics, it essentially means that matches can be carried live; viewers will then be able to watch the match from the viewpoint of any player.

VirtuaLive is based on two of Orad's TV products already used by many broadcasters, notably BSkyB. Digital Replay tracks the ball and players, and is used by commentators to analyse movements. Virtual Replay adds to this by creating 3D graphic images of the state of play, based on standard video images, and can allow viewers see the action from any angle, such as from the goal line, in the case of disputed goals, or to see what the referee would have seen - had he been paying attention.

To produce a VirtuaLive match requires both packages and a powerful Silicon Graphics computer to run them, and costs about $350,000. But as the system can also be used for on-air work, the marginal cost is small. To help pay for it, broadcasters can sell full-motion 3D billboard advertising around the virtual stadium, which can be hyperlinked to sponsors' own websites.

Orad also makes the world's best-selling virtual studio systems, which allow broadcasters to build sets electronically, then place moving cameras and presenters in them fairly convincingly. Its latest version, Soccer- Set, allows commentators to walk around among the graphical players created by Virtual Replay, and point out what really happened. It is also developing versions of VirtuaLive for other sports, such as American football, ice hockey and tennis.

A demonstration of the system will be available on the VirtuaLive website (www. by the end of next month, as will links to all the broadcasters using the system. However, to view the results, users will need version 4.0 of either Netscape or Internet Explorer, which come with the necessary Cosmo VRML 2.0 graphics player built in.