Seeing a sporting event in person is one of the more enjoyable parts of being a sports fan. From the smell of the grass to the roar of the crowd, it can be an exhilarating experience, particularly if you are fairly close to the action. On the other hand, tickets are expensive, sitting in the nosebleed seats reduces the game to one of those mechanized football toys we had as kids and there's always that one drunk asshole who makes life miserable for everyone in the section.
The good news is that the advancements in TV and sports technology have made it almost better than seeing the games in person. There are those who believe it actually is better. Some of us remember what it was like to squint at a black-and-white TV with interference from the antennae, so we can relate. It's probably not an adequate substitute for being there, but it has made the home viewing experience a hell of a lot better. Here are ten of the tech advances that have so dramatically improved watching games in your living room.
10. Field/Court Microphones
Whenever you hear the swish of a basket or the crack of a bat or the thwack of helmet-on-helmet tackles, you can thank the microphones positioned around the field of play. In the case of the net, it's on the backboard. Those sensitive mikes are designed to bring the sounds of the game into your living room. It's damn effective.
9. Behind the Scenes Audio
Speaking of sound, few things take fans behind the curtain like audio from coaches and players. The in-car NASCAR radio feeds are particularly fascinating. It's the type of insight you just can't get at the game unless you are sitting in the huddle.
8. The Ticker
While 24-hour news networks have turned news tickers into an homage to obsessive-compulsive disorder, sports have managed to find a balance of reporting scores and still allowing the action to take center stage. The ticker is particularly helpful to fantasy freaks who need to see if they are getting their ass kicked by a ten-year-old kid from Pittsburgh.
7. Ball Trackers
It is impossible to track the flight of balls in flight in many sports. The strike tracker in baseball lets us know just how blind the umpire is, and the golf ball tracker for the PGA might be the only way to actually see a ball in flight. Trackers have become so effective, they are now used for challenges in pro tennis matches.
6. Field Markers
There are numerous technologies that would be handy to have at a game, but arguably none for an NFL game are more important than the digital lines that float across the field at first down markers or let viewers know how far a team needs to go on a game-winning drive to get in the field goal kicker's range. If a game is in the snow, it might be your only way to know where the team is on the field.
5. Camera Angles
Some are insightful -- like the straight down camera in football games -- and others are gimmicky -- the catcher cam? -- but the addition of multiple cameras and angles around stadiums and arenas has changed how we watch the game. Think of how cool it is to watch a diver from start at the top of a platform to finish at the bottom of the pool, all in one seamless camera shot.
More than anything else, the DVR is a handy tool that means you don't have to stay glued to your TV no matter what. Hit pause and you can grab a snack or hit the little boy's room without missing a second. Pro tip: Set the DVR to record the first 30 minutes to an hour of the game and you can blow through the commercials and still watch in near real time.
3. Slow Motion
Perhaps no invention has helped to illustrate just how fast sports really are. Seeing an athlete slowed down to frames per second demonstrates just how incredible they really are. Slowing a ball down clears up bad calls and allows viewers to get a view of the details of a pitch or throw or shot.
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Before high-definition television, no one thought that TV held a candle to the visual experience of sitting in a stadium. It may not have altered that entirely, but it got damn close to leveling the playing field. A great movie in HD is amazing. A great sporting event in HD can be transcendent.
1. Bigger Screens
Nothing has changed spectator sports in the home like big-screen televisions. Going from a 13-inch, black-and-white box to a 60-inch, rich color flatscreen is like going from a horse-drawn carriage to a NASA rocket.