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Ultra HD, GLT Among New Technologies at This Year’s World Cup

Host country Brazil’s efforts to take the World Cup from defending champion Spain will surely be the top story line at this year’s FIFA World Cup, but an influx of new technologies into the world’s most popular tournament is sure to make some headlines as well.

Chief among those is the use of sophisticated goal-line technology (GLT) to determine when the ball has completely crossed the goal line. In the wake of controversial calls in prior international football championships FIFA, which was previously opposed such technology, has officially sanctioned and implemented GLT systems at all 64 World Cup matches to be played in twelve cities across Brazil. Using a system of seven cameras strategically focused on each goal and tied to a powerful image processing computer, the system will deliver accurate information about whether the ball has crossed the plane of the goal with an accuracy of 5 millimeters — all in less than a second. Using GLT, FIFA hopes to improve accuracy by helping referees to make the correct call, every time.

Individual teams are using new technology for training purposes as well. Defending 2010 World Cup champion team, Spain, has employed high-speed analytic technologies to enhance player training, including specialized sensors on balls and players, which enable data from every move on the pitch to be analyzed in real-time, to accurately determine which players are quickest to the ball, and which routes are most likely to lead to goals scored.

And as fans of perennial favorite countries such as Spain, Germany and Brazil cheer on their teams, they will enjoy broadcast coverage using the most technologically advanced high-definition video quality available. Back in 2010, the big news for viewers was a first-time ability to view matches in real-time on their PCs and smart phones. During this summer’s tournament, the first-ever use of Ultra HD (UHD) broadcasts will be made available to UHD TV viewers, and to select theatre-goers around the globe.

It’s expected at least three matches will be telecast in UHD (also called 4K TV), which utilizes 4,000 pixels, or nearly four times the 1,080 vertical pixels available on HDTVs today. The UHD experience will result in more saturated colors, deeper greens and brighter yellows. And because the highest-quality frames per second will increase from 30 to 60, video will be sharper and smoother, and movements will be more natural, enabling viewers to see more of every player’s expressions during play. FIFA has partnered with Sony to shoot and transmit select matches in Ultra HD, including one from the round of 16 on June 28, a quarter-final match on July 4, and the final competition on July 13.

Of course, instantly transmitting a live Ultra HD signal with four times the detail poses technical problems of its own, from the need for new cameras, to transporting these huge video streams in real-time back to FIFA’s broadcast center for transmission around the globe.

Increasingly broadcasters are turning to advances made in high-speed, high-performance optical networks, which are able to deliver the best possible live, instantaneous HD and Ultra HD coverage of every kick and tackle, without the need to compress and degrade the signal due to capacity constraints.

We must wait and see what these latest advances bring to World Cup viewers. Greater accuracy in scoring would be a plus, though the ability to discern more from player actions and expressions may only lead to more controversy. Some say it’s the drama that makes the World Cup.

Jim Gerrity is Director of Global Industry Marketing at Ciena.