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ALL TOGETHER NOW, LET'S FOLLOW THE GLOWING PUCK.

Byline: Tom Hoffarth

Call anything "the biggest technological breakthrough in sports TV history," and you're bound to get someone to flinch.

In this case, it could be NHL viewers as much as NHL goaltenders.

The always imaginative boys at Fox Sports (not to mention Fox promotions), well aware that they're messing with the minds of hockey traditionalists, debut a viewer-enhanced puck for Saturday's NHL All-Star Game telecast from Boston's FleetCenter.

Technically, the thing they call FoxTrax (complete with trademark, copyright and warning labels) sounds like something out of a Van Damme hockey-action movie.

A battery and infrared sensors mounted on a circuit board about the size of a quarter has been embedded into a regulation NHL puck without changing the shape or six-ounce weight.

There are 12 dots around the perimeter and four on each side serving as infrared emitters. When shot from a special camera, the RoboPuck is seen on television with a halo.

To track the puck, 10 sensors atop the plexiglass boards zero in on its location, receiving signals 30 times a second from the infrared emitters implanted inside it.

Gadgetry inside the Fox "Puck Truck" gives the puck a nice red tail - kinda like a ketchup skid mark on a white kitchen floor - or because it's computer graphics, any shape or color can eventually be used.

"It can look like anything from Roger Rabbit to Gumby," Fox vice president Jerry Gepner said.

Or Peter Puck?

The geniuses at Hughes Electronics Corporation in El Segundo, who've been messing with tiny satellite dishes for RCA, actually developed the technology. With the NHL's approval, 50 pucks will be available for Saturday's tryout. Those that fly into the stands will be politely requested to be returned (in case souvenir seekers want to run off with the things to MIT to have the secret plans decoded).

Maybe it would be easier for Fox to inject each hunk of vulcanized rubber with plutonium from the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. (Maybe it's not as safe. Besides, that's just a cartoon).

But the puckish glow in Fox Sports boss David Hill's eyes will come after this thing nets some positive response.

"This is brand-new technology," said Hill after a test-run in Boston on Thursday. "If it works Saturday night, it'll be a demonstration. If it doesn't, it's an experiment."

Fox play-by-play man Mike Emrick marvels that you can even see the puck through the near boards, when it's normally hidden from everyone's view.

"And imagine when Al McGinnis fires a shot Saturday and on the center-ice scoreboard it flashes '92,' " said Emrick, referring to the technology that will measure the speed of the puck and display it like a baseball jugs gun. "You feel sorry for the goaltenders."

Fox may next be fitting them with Kelvar vests as well as point-of-view cameras.

The IHL tried a TV-friendly puck during telecasts last year when the NHL was on strike. ESPN viewers might remember the blinding flashes that looked more like the sun reflecting off a car windshield.

This isn't as brutal. But is the NHL, almost as old as George Burns, ready for this?

"I don't see it as taking hockey to another level," said Hill. "Hockey is doing nicely by itself without FoxTrax. You walk a fine line because you can't alienate hockey purists and at the same time you're trying to show a game with a lighted puck and hope more people are going to try it and stay with it."

Hill won't say that his Fox-crazed boys have ideas about planting chips into baseballs when it starts major-league coverage this spring.

But you know, this is just crazy enough to work.

Parental consent I: NBC Sports living legend Dick Ebersol ruled out any kind of delay on the broadcast of next Sunday's Super Bowl. Just thought the recent four-letter words that Pittsburgh's Greg Lloyd and Dallas' Michael Irvin saw fit to use during last weekend's AFC and NFC locker-room celebrations might warrant such action.

"The only way to do that is to put the entire day (telecast) on a delay, and I'm not about to do that," Ebersol told a group of TV critics in Pasadena this week. "I'm not about to delay the world's largest sporting event."

As doth we curse the day when TV censors our inherent right to watch a so-called role model use his freedom of speech to expose his lack of intelligence before a live audience.

Parental consent II Computer voyeurs can take a cyperpeek at Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue cover on the Internet starting Monday at 5 p.m. - two days before it adorns the newsstands. The Time Warner Web site (http:/pathfinder.com/si) or CompuServe's SI platform allows one to download whatever suits his or her tastes.

Static cling: CBS uses Jerry Pate as a regular on its golf telecasts while it decides what to do with the suspended-but-still-paid Ben Wright. . . . Classic Sports Network, Outdoor Life Network and Speedvision Network have been added to DirecTV's small-dish lineup, making the cost of the gadget that much harder to resist.

CAPTION(S):

PHOTO

(color) Yes, that streak is the path of a hockey puck as it will be seen on Fox TV's telecast of the NHL All-Star Game on Saturday. Associated Press
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 19, 1996
Words:876
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