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The Technology Behind the Magic Yellow Line 261

Posted by timothy
from the don't-eat-the-yellow-line dept.
CurtMonash writes "Fandome offers a fascinating video explaining how the first-down line on football broadcasts actually works. Evidently, theres a lot of processing both to calculate the exact location being photographed on the field — including optical sensors and two steps of encoding — and to draw a line in exactly the right place onscreen. For those who don't want to watch the whole video, highlights are here."
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The Technology Behind the Magic Yellow Line

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  • New trend (Score:5, Interesting)

    by plankrwf (929870) on Friday January 09, 2009 @02:41AM (#26383431)

    Hmmm... A new trend? No longer reading 'have not RTFA' but 'have not Viewed TFA'?
    Dear oh dear, what is /. coming to.

  • Watch the video (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Baricom (763970) on Friday January 09, 2009 @02:42AM (#26383435)

    I already knew in pretty significant detail how all this works, but there was a lot of additional information in the video that never made it to the PR-sanitized behind-the-scenes descriptions of the technology.

    Plus, you get to see the ugly UI that appears to have been built as an afterthought - just like the UI of all the other industrial television software I've operated.

    • Re:Watch the video (Score:5, Insightful)

      by direktorxxx (1054680) on Friday January 09, 2009 @02:59AM (#26383507)

      Plus, you get to see the ugly UI that appears to have been built as an afterthought - just like the UI of all the other industrial television software I've operated.

      It's true, 90% of software that I've used in a television studio has a poorly designed, or worse, broken, user interface. Gets the job done but in the most convoluted way. The only well made interfaces are the ones by major companies who have been around for a while, ie Newtek, Adobe, Pinnacle, Chyron.

      • Re:Watch the video (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Spy Hunter (317220) on Friday January 09, 2009 @03:40AM (#26383687) Journal

        Well, when you have a user base in the dozens, and operating the UI is the user's entire job, it doesn't have to be intuitive or even easy. It's cheaper to teach a few dozen guys how to use a bad UI than it is to design and program a really good UI.

        Honestly, the UI in the video didn't seem too bad though (from a 10-second impression). Sure it was ugly but it seemed to have useful features for the operator; did you notice when the guy dragged the line of scrimmage past the first down marker it automatically reset the first down marker to +10 yards?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by tedgyz (515156) *

          I have developed this maxim:
          Software quality is indirectly proportional to it's cost and/or user-base.

          I worked at a company that charged millions of $$ for it's software, including up to $1M to fly someone out to install it. It was the biggest steaming pile I ever witnessed.

          • Case in point: SPSS.

            $1500 for a single processor liscense. The UI is ugly as all-get-out and the graphical analysis functions are grotesque.

            Sure it gets the job done, but it's not 1/4 as intuitive and nice-looking as Sigma Plot; which, admittedly, lacks the functionality of SPSS...

          • by cayenne8 (626475)
            "I worked at a company that charged millions of $$ for it's software, including up to $1M to fly someone out to install it. It was the biggest steaming pile I ever witnessed."

            Oh c'mon...PeopleSoft isn't that bad....

      • by Hatta (162192)

        90% of software that I've used has a poorly designed, or worse, broken, user interface.

    • by Bios_Hakr (68586)

      I thought the niftiest part was using the second audio channel to pipe modem tones to the broadcasting booth. I always love an interesting hack...

    • I would expect the Ugly UI, is because it was custom written code. And like most software development projects it is more expensive then people think. So lets trim on the fancy UI and just get the job done code. A fancy UI that is fool proof is a lot of coding often more then the code that gives the results you want

  • by cleatsupkeep (1132585) on Friday January 09, 2009 @02:44AM (#26383439) Homepage

    Would be a field that uses clear/transparent turf. and all colors on the field are defined by lights under it. The white in the 10/20/30... could be done dynamically, the end zones could be designed dynamically and relit, heck, you could switch from a green field to Boise State's blue.

    This could be used to make the same field a football field, soccer field, lacrosse, field hockey... all without the the clutter of all the lines on one field.

    This might be tricky with turf technology currently, but I feel like a first technology to do this might be a basketball court (lights for basketball, volleyball, etc)...

    It probably isn't feasible, but would be interesting.

    • by wicka (985217) on Friday January 09, 2009 @02:47AM (#26383457)
      ...grass.
    • by RockMFR (1022315) on Friday January 09, 2009 @02:47AM (#26383459)
      Was this idea invented by Shampoo?
    • by Ihmhi (1206036) <i_have_mental_health_issues@yahoo.com> on Friday January 09, 2009 @03:21AM (#26383619)

      You're thinking a bit too far ahead, I think. I say we just hack some Roombas with spraypaint cans and GPS and let them sort it all out.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ozbon (99708)

        Thanks for that - if I'd been drinking at the time, you'd now owe me for a new keyboard.

    • by Kickasso (210195) on Friday January 09, 2009 @03:27AM (#26383643)

      Lessee. The football field is 360 by 160 feet. You need a resolution of at least 1 inch This is very coarse, really, but let's say it's 1 inch. This means your field is a giant 4320 by 1920 color screen right here. Which is, like, quad HDTV or something like that. You know what? Fuck the game, let's see some movies.

      • Let's not. If they ever build it, then some porn studio is just gonna try to rent it for the world's biggest bukkake.
      • ... You know what? Fuck the game, let's see some movies.

        Yeah, dirty movies! Of course, watching some dude with a hammer 30 or 40 yards long could make certain views feel inferior.....

    • You see the OLED display used by China during the opening games? Just a bit bigger, and they would've been able to implement your idea. You just need a buyer now.

    • by Deag (250823)

      I think this has already been invented, just not used, I remember reading somewhere about an artificial turf that was like fiber optics for each blade of grass and could change the color of any part of the field. It would even re trace the footsteps of a player to show everyone if he went out of bounds.

      Found a link - http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20070313.wsb-turf13/BNStory/specialSmallBusiness/home [theglobeandmail.com]

  • by MerlynEmrys67 (583469) on Friday January 09, 2009 @02:45AM (#26383443)
    Yeah - it is one guy and as long as he doesn't put on an annoyingly green tie - it all just works. It is actually amazing how much technology is behind simple video effects done seamlessly. I thought it was funny when Forest Gump won the oscar for special effects - everyone was like... that isn't a special effects movie... I was like - that is the point
    • by iluvcapra (782887) on Friday January 09, 2009 @03:21AM (#26383613)

      Yeah - it is one guy and as long as he doesn't put on an annoyingly green tie - it all just works.

      There are several substantive differences:

      • The green or blue weather map is a straight chromakey, the matted background is opaque and the removed background is monochromatic. The first-down line/overlays have to be added to a surface of varying (but reasonably predictable) colors, and it's laid over the action, with objects "in front" (not grass) matted out of the overlay. This is very complicated.
      • The camera is in motion, panning and tilting while the overlay is happening. The weatherman always does his schtick in front of a camera on "lockdown," because if the camera moved, the weatherman would move (w/r/t the frame) on a different plane from his chromakeyed background.

      I'd read the article if it weren't slashdotted, it appears very interesting...

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Thelasko (1196535)

        The green or blue weather map is a straight chromakey, the matted background is opaque and the removed background is monochromatic. The first-down line/overlays have to be added to a surface of varying (but reasonably predictable) colors, and it's laid over the action, with objects "in front" (not grass) matted out of the overlay. This is very complicated.

        What's more interesting is that it works in Green Bay, [wikipedia.org] where the field may randomly switch from green to white in a matter of minutes, and the player's on the field are wearing green.

    • by Splab (574204)

      Here in Denmark they have (at least on one of the national channels, don't watch the other) switched the blue/green screen with a huge plasma/LCD TV, it works just as well without the hassle of additional processing.

      Speaking of TV processing, CNN is using a really cool technology for "3D" interviews: http://gizmodo.com/5076663/how-the-cnn-holographic-interview-system-works [gizmodo.com] . (Note, they call it hologram, but it is by no means holographic, it's just a very cool way of presenting interviews, the guy in the st

  • by Laser_iCE (1125271) on Friday January 09, 2009 @02:47AM (#26383453)
    are the ones on the platforms at train stations. (In QLD anyway) The closest thing we have to this in sports around here is either during swimming, or between balls during a test match, when the commentators are bored and start drawing lines all over my TV.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 09, 2009 @03:22AM (#26383621)

    I thought Football was a game played with your feet! What the article discusses is a bastardised form of Rugby.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Dupple (1016592)
      I believe the game under discussion is known as hand egg
    • Haven't read the article, but you're saying it was about American Football and not about Football at all?

    • I'm usually good with technology but I don't get football analogies. Could someone explain the technology behind this magic yellow line with a car analogy?
    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Or as they say, "Why is it that Americans have to put on all that padding just to play rugby?"

      The answer is that we don't: Women's rugby in particular is one of the faster-growing collegiate sports. And the Americans are slowly learning how to really play the game properly:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkU3zR-dsXU [youtube.com]

      • Re:Flamebait +1 (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Neoprofin (871029) <neoprofin.hotmail@com> on Friday January 09, 2009 @10:25AM (#26386753)
        May I remind you that the U.S. is the only country to win to win 2 Olympic golds in Rubgy, and it happens to also be the only two years they competed, primarily with a team of (american) football players and track athletes?

        If the IOC hadn't dropped Rugby from the summer games it'd be interesting to see how developed Rugby in America would be. The reason for the padding, like it or not, is that American football developed into a game with much larger, stronger, faster, players rather than a slogged out game of endurance. It's not a question of superiority or toughness, there are few American football players who I think would be able to play an entire Rugby match in the style they play now, on the other hand I don't see a lot of Rugby players who I think would particularly effective on the NFL field trying to push around guys who would regularly 100lbs heavier and who are built and trained to be very good at pushing for 40 seconds at a time then taking a break.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Pollardito (781263)

          The reason for the padding, like it or not, is that American football developed into a game with much larger, stronger, faster, players rather than a slogged out game of endurance.

          the helmets are there to prevent head injuries, and the padding is there to protect people's bodies from the helmets

    • by washort (6555)

      No, it's a game you play on your feet, as opposed to on horseback or something. Soccer is a bastardised form of rugby too. So, there's "American football", "soccer football", and "rugby football".

      • by Smivs (1197859)

        Soccer is a bastardised form of rugby too.

        Strictly not. Games like Rugby (and American 'Football') have been around since ancient Greek times, and 'Rugby' was developed at Rugby College from a similar game where hands could be used but the ball could not be carried forward. The distinctive features of 'proper' Football are that the ball is spherical (not egg-shaped) and that the hands (including arms and shoulders) must not be used. The body and head can, however, so even proper Football should logically be called 'Foot, Body and Head ball'. I won

    • by Hatta (162192)

      I thought Football was a game played with your feet!

      It is. If you think otherwise, I encourage you to try playing Football without your feet.

  • Amazing... (Score:3, Funny)

    by OneSmartFellow (716217) on Friday January 09, 2009 @04:26AM (#26383873)
    ... All that technology applied to paint a yellow line in a completely arbitrary position. The rules need to be changed so that the location of the ball touching the ground is the location of the line. Also, the ball should have some kind of RFID chip in it, and the entire field should be built on top of a fine mesh of RFID sensors. Until then the location of the line is subject to too much human error, and as a result completely arbitrarily placed anyway.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by cobraR478 (1416353)
      The yellow line is for television broadcasts. It has no impact on the actual game. It does not exist in the NFL rulebook. However, your idea wouldn't work anyways even if implemented as a system of determining the position of the ball. You would have to have a mechanism to determine where the ball is when a player is tackled or goes out of bounds. Basically, you would have to determine the position of the ball when any part of the person carrying the ball touches the ground, except their hands or feet.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ITFromHome (1432373)
      "completely arbitrary position"
      The referees of the NFL (which I am not) would tend to disagree. I'm not trying to start a sports discussion off-topic but remember that the yellow line is only for home viewers. The measurments of the first down are very exact once the referee makes the initial spot of the ball. The NFL will NEVER take away that power from on-field persons...but back to the yellow line. TV viewers have a perspective which selects only the players at the start of the play that eventually
    • The line where the ball or a player carrying the ball is called down is called the line of scrimmage.

      I have seen that line pained too, it is white. Some how the players and the refs know exactly where those lines are. It is hard to to know when watching on TV so they add that to the video.
    • by Thelasko (1196535)

      Until then the location of the line is subject to too much human error, and as a result completely arbitrarily placed anyway.

      I was watching a Purdue game this year and the commentators were having a debate over the accuracy of the yellow line. It went something like this:

      commentator 1: The yellow line is only in the correct location if the field is perfectly straight.
      commentator 2: Purdue is an engineering school, I'm pretty sure the field is straight.

  • Always wondered how they did that but never bothered to look it up. I thought they were doing surface analysis and then extracting the numbers, that would be a really hard problem, looks like they found a similar solution. I guess they must leave the cameras in place as I'd suspect it would be a real pain if you moved the camera after each game and then had to recalibrate.
  • its a 3:30 minute video...do you really need highlights of a 3:30 minute video?

    I'd have liked to see actual examples of the colour failing to draw on certain surfaces, etc

  • Perhaps you could link the damn video, instead of (as usual) a link to the blog that links to the video? :(

    http://www.fandome.com/video/107610/The-Mystery-of-the-Yellow-Line/ [fandome.com]

  • by Animats (122034) on Friday January 09, 2009 @11:53AM (#26388091) Homepage

    Not being a sports fan, I don't see much of this stuff, but I once visited the company in Silicon Valley that makes the gear. [sportvision.com] The "yellow line" is one of the easier applications. It's basically a camera with encoders driving a fairly simple video processor. Calibration is manual; there's a setup display that shows the normal lines of a football field, and someone aligns the corners to match the real image from the camera. When the generated image matches the real one, the system is in alignment.

    That's 1998 technology. The newer systems have gone way beyond that. Ads on billboards are sometimes replaced using the same system. Ads you see on the air may not be what people in the stadium are seeing. There's player tracking, ball tracking, the "virtual strike zone" for baseball, GPS-based tracking for NASCAR, and virtual billboard insertion into everything.

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