Next month, from September 9th until October 23rd, New Zealand will welcome the Rugby World Cup 2011. This will no doubt be an unforgettable time; an event that is to Kiwis what William and Kate’s wedding was to Brits. You may think that sports and technology do not mix, but in fact, technology of all kinds plays a huge part in bringing sporting events, especially ones of this calibre, to life. After all, how would those of us not lucky enough to be attending the games live catch all of the action if it weren’t for the video cameras recording the games and our TVs playing them? And what better time to take advantage of the many new and exciting technological developments we have seen over the last few years thAn during a worldwide celebration? Like it or not (and we definitely like it!) technology is becoming a ubiquitous part of our daily lives, and events like this one are a perfect demonstration of that.
We’re here to walk you through some of the amazing technology going into the 2011 Rugby World Cup, as well as offer some advice on picking the best TV for watching the games, where to watch the games for free, setting up your home theatre and keeping up with the whole thing online. Sports fan or not, this is some fascinating stuff!
PANASONIC’S SUPER SCREENS
A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of touring Eden Park for a viewing and demonstration of the new Panasonic Super Screens that have been installed for the Rugby World Cup. Going in, I wasn’t sure what all the hype was about – they’re just big screens right? Wrong. I was blown away! Although we have been using outdoor LED screens for at least 25 years, these are not just your average screens. These 110 square metre monstrosities are the equivalent of a 606 inch television set, with each one made up of 1080 LED panels and 1.1 MILLION pixels!
Since the screens need to be visible in complete summer sunlight, they have more than 2000 times the level of brightness you would find in the average home television. They also provide a much wider angle of viewing, and should anything go wrong during a game (for example a pixel is lost), the panels can be swapped out extremely easily and quickly, without even disrupting the action on screen!
The screens were first installed in September of last year, which has allowed engineers nearly a year to play with, test and perfect them before the upcoming Rugby World Cup. There will also be at least two engineers stationed at Eden Park full time during the games to prevent any disasters.
When touring the premises, we were actually given the opportunity to climb up into the screens for a behind the scenes look. You might be wondering how this is possible, but the screens are actually three story high structures about the size of a small house! Once inside, we got a close look at the panels that make up the picture on screen, and also got to see the extensive ventilation system installed to keep the structure cool even in mid summer heat. You will probably be surprised to learn that even with such an elaborate cooling system, the screens generate the amount of power equivalent to just one house fan, making them extremely energy efficient.
THE EDEN PARK CONTROL ROOM
When creating the screens and setting up the control room, the engineers had the "five S’s” in mind:
small control area, simple to operate
can be used for future events as well, such as the Cricket World Cup and FIFA Games
prevent the possibility of hacking
something that can be sold to patrons
In addition to the five S’s, their main priorities were that the screens be as big as possible and to achieve patron interaction. For this reason, in addition to the two Super Screens, there are currently 262 plasma televisions in place throughout the stadium, with another 30 to 40 more being installed in time for the Rugby World Cup. These can be used for screening of the games as well as for digital signage. Both the super screens and the 262 plasmas are centralized, meaning they can be controlled from any device, such as an iPad or iPhone.
The control room is surprisingly small and actually rather underwhelming. Our Panasonic guide explained that many technical people are shocked at the small size and sheer simplicity of the area – but that was the intention. The room consists of a vision mixer, audio mixer, a number of viewing screens and a simple, touch screen controller for scaling, brightness and picture/picture.
All of the technology we toured at the stadium has been taken from the history of past Olympic Games, and New Zealand is only the second place in the world to have these next generation Super Screens installed!
We have seen 3D technology becoming more and more popular and mainstream ever since James Cameron’s Avatar. Now, for the first time, we will see the Rugby World Cup broadcast in 3D, after Rugby World Cup Limited (RWCL) appointed 3DLive as official 3D broadcaster for RWC 2011 in New Zealand.
This will provide viewers with a unique and intimate experience, even if they can’t be at the stadium watching the games in person. The sheer immediacy and visual clarity of the action will give viewers the feeling of being on the pitch themselves, and is definitely something to get excited about!
3DLive will be delivering a 3D feed of the semi-finals, Bronze Final and Final. RWCL Chairman Bernard Lapasset was recently quoted saying, "This announcement represents a significant development for Rugby World Cup and underlines our commitment to ensuring that Rugby fans around the world are able to enjoy the latest broadcast technology.”
He goes on to explain that the Rugby World Cup is a chance for innovation and tradition to walk hand in hand and says, "We are proud that Rugby World Cup can serve as a platform for advancing technology and the viewing experience.”
Some would argue that watching sports on a screen, no matter how clear or three dimensional it might be, is not the same as being there in person. While this might be true to an extent – you can never quite encapsulate the spirit and excitement of being at a live sporting event – if you are more interested in watching the actual game and technique, 3D TV can’t be beat. It really does give you the feeling of sitting in the front row. "It’s an experience that’s as close as you’ll get to being at the live match,” adds 3DLive Director, Ronel Schodt.
Plus, who’s to say that you can’t have just as much fun watching the game from home, in the company of great friends, food, beer and technology. Which brings us to our next point...
YOUR HOME THEATRE
Any avid sports fan will probably tell you that when it comes to watching sport, just any old TV simply won’t do. Movement, especially unpredictable action like in sports games, is one of the trickiest elements to render properly, and choosing the right TV can make a world of difference to your sport viewing. Most of us know by now that high definition is the only way to go when it comes to sports, and now we are even beginning to see 3D technology incorporated as well, but there are some other key features to look out for when TV shopping.
Traditionally, plasma displays tend to offer the most cohesive movement. One of the problems we often saw with early LCDs was a motion-response lag where pixels fell out of sync with the image on the screen resulting in a ghosting effect, where images stay on the screen just a bit longer than they are supposed to. However, nowadays with so many amazing advancements in both technologies, it is difficult to choose one over the other as the clear winner.
Some things to consider when looking for a new TV specifically for watching sport are the response time, refresh rate and integrated image processing. Response time is the time it takes for a pixel to change from active to inactive (from black to white). This is measured in milliseconds and the lower the response time, the better the movement, especially if you are viewing the action on a very large screen.
Refresh rate is the number of times per second that an image is scanned. The standard TV system uses 60Hz, but there are some screens that double the rate featuring 120Hz, or even up to 240 Hz, which ensures a smoother picture.
Integrated image processing is the process that scans the incoming signals and picture lines to reduce screen flicker.
Of course size also matters. The bigger the screen, the better experience you are going to get. There is no way around it. If you are serious about sport viewing, you should be looking at a 42-inch TV set or larger, especially if you plan to host big viewing parties.
Alternatively, you can consider a projector for viewing the games. We wrote a feature on how to buy a projector in last month’s issue of NetGuide, but for those who missed out, here is a brief summary:
The most important features to consider when buying a projector for your home theatre are resolution, contrast ratios and connectivity.
Resolution describes the number of pixels displayed in the image. Put simply, the higher the resolution, the better the image. Obviously, you want the best possible quality, to capture the stadium experience in your own home. We recommend looking for a projector with a native 10:16 aspect ratio, which allows you to maximize your screen space for the best possible viewing. For outstanding theatre quality, go for full high definition 1080p, which is best enjoyed on the big screen achieved only with a projector.
The contrast ratio describes the difference between the level of white and black produced by the projector. What this means is, the higher the contrast, the better the clarity in dark areas of the picture. When choosing a projector, look for contrast ratios of at least 2,000:1 or higher.
Connectivity is important because the projector must have the appropriate connectivity for the sources you intend on using. HDMI is the best digital interface for AV equipment, and enables users to achieve the full high definition 1080p image mentioned above.
WHERE CAN YOU WATCH THE GAMES FOR FREE?
Thankfully for us New Zealanders, this couldn’t be any easier! The RWCL has announced that the New Zealand free-to-air broadcast rights for the Rugby World Cup 2011 have been awarded to a consortium formed between Maori TV, TVNZ and Mediaworks TV (TV3).
This means that New Zealanders will be able to watch live free-to-air broadcast of 16 key matches, including the Final, the Bronze Final, both semi-finals, the two quarter-finals featuring the qualifiers from New Zealand’s pool, the New Zealand team’s Pool matches and the Opening Match. This confirmed coverage means that New Zealand will see the largest amount of live free-to-air international Rugby since the 2007 Rugby World Cup, ensuring wall-to-wall coverage of the third largest sporting event.
To view the match schedule visit tinyurl.com/3p2c9qh
In the spirit of the Rugby World Cup, the city of Wellington will be rolling out free wi-fi throughout the city centre. The areas of coverage will range from Westpac Stadium up to the Embassy end of Courtenay Place. Although some of the costs will be offset by sponsorship from TradeMe, the company that thought up the idea, the council is said to be funding the free network at a cost of approximately $216,000 per year. Users will be able to connect for free in half hour time blocks.
Thanks to this exciting new development, TradeMe head of operations Mike O’Donnell expects between 500 and 1000 people will log on daily, although the actual numbers are dependent on the time of year, the weather and the events taking place. Needless to say, this will be extremely popular during next month’s Rugby World Cup and phenomenal for tourism.
Although there are a few other cities around the world, like New York City, that have seen similar projects develop, this is definitely a first for New Zealand and will make Wellington one of only a few cities worldwide to offer residents and visitors free downtown wi-fi access.
OFFICIAL RWC 2011 VIDEO GAME
Just in case you can’t get enough of the Rugby World Cup, August 26th will see the launch of the official Rugby World Cup 2011 video game for the XBOX 360 and PS3 gaming platforms. The game promises to "reflect in detail the incredible action and passion of rugby’s showcase sporting event with the most accurate Rugby experience ever created”. The game will allow players to choose between 20 participating teams and play out national rivalries in authentic match venues with true rugby stars.
To see more, check out the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/RWC2011game
WELCOMING THE WORLD
Earlier this year, ANZ held a competition to be entered by Kiwis on the best way to welcome the world to the Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand. Below is the winning idea as well as a link to view winner Pulusea Seumanu’s competition video and blog:
The Human Animation by Pulusea Seumanu
This idea is called Human Animation because it involves school children, sports clubs and people from all over New Zealand coming together for one day to create a unique, live event.
Using crowd direction specialists, choreographers and designers, we would create a breat-taking welcome message that’s the length of a rugby pitch. Clothing, cards, colour and movement would be co-ordinated in a mass spectacle created by thousands of kiwis. The rehearsal and performance could be filmed and uploaded to the web, as well as shown on TV.