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FOX TRAX: THE BEST THING FOR HOCKEY SINCE THE CURVED STICK?
Published January 19, 1996
In a demonstration yesterday at Boston's FleetCenter, site of the 46th NHL All-Star Game, Fox Sports unveiled "FoxTrax," a new system that will allow the puck to "appear graphically enhanced" on NHL broadcasts. Fox Sports President David Hill said the innovation "will help us keep our commitment to the league to attract new and young fans alike." NHL Senior VP & COO Stephen Solomon calls it a "technological breakthrough" that is "not only a visual bonus but also an informational bonanza" (Fox Sports). HOW DOES IT WORK? Special pucks are prepared, with miniature computer hardware inserted inside the puck. Working with sensors placed around the rink, special camera and mobile production equipment (the "Puck Truck"), and an in-arena PC, the visual effects to the TV viewer are a "translucent glow" around the puck and a "comet trail" that appears when the puck is shot at certain speeds. In addition, speeds can be translated to an on-screen graphic. During the All-Star broadcast, the "comet tail" will appear on all shots traveling over 75 mph. The pucks run on a battery that is good for 10 minutes of "on time." They are no good when the battery runs out (Fox Sports). "WORK IN PROGRESS": At the Boston news conference yesterday, all sides stressed the developmental nature of the technology. Hill: "If this works, it is going to be a demonstration. If it doesn't, it is an experiment. We are in the very early stages of this idea. ... It is a work in progress." Solomon: "This is the first phase of what I suspect will be a couple more years of development." The puck will be employed during the rest of the regular-season in one regional Fox game per week. There was no mention about the playoffs. Fifty of the pucks will be used on Saturday night, with changes made during TV timeouts if needed and retrieval necessary for those that go in the stands. Experiments with both a blue dot and a subtle white overlay will be conducted during the game (THE DAILY). LOVE IT OR HATE IT? Fox won't reveal the cost of the puck, but the Silicon Graphics computers alone cost $120,000 (Kevin Maney, USA TODAY, 1/19). NEWSDAY's Steve Zipay estimates the cost at about $2M. He writes hockey "purists will mock it. The kids will think it is fun" (NEWSDAY, 1/19). Richard Sandomir calls the comet "fun" and writes while the "effects are not the greatest technological advance in TV history ... they should improve" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/19). Phil Mushnick calls the puck "wild" and "pretty cool" (N.Y. POST, 1/19). In Boston, Jim Baker writes his first reaction was "laughter. ... Purists and veteran viewers don't need this" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/19). The BOSTON GLOBE's Dan Shaughnessy says to "give Fox credit for trying. ... Unfortunately, Fox is only contributing to the dumbing down of America" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/19). In Detroit, Tim Kiska writes that the NHL and Fox "have turned hockey into something out of Sega. But whether the sport that calls itself the coolest game on Earth is getting any cooler is open to debate" (DETROIT NEWS, 1/19). In Toronto, self-described purist Bob McKenzie says the puck "sucks. It doesn't enhance the game. It alters it. ... If you love video games, you'll love this new puck." He does write that "many came away impressed" from the demonstration (TORONTO STAR, 1/19). TORONTO SUN's Rob Longley: "Can you say Sega? Predictably the NHL ... is defensive of the new technology" (TORONTO STAR, 1/19). Alan Adams of the CANADIAN PRESS writes that the puck "is not easy to get used to," and believes it will divert viewers' attention from the play away from the puck (CP/MONTREAL GAZETTE, 1/19).