SBD/19/Sports Media

FOX TRAX: THE BEST THING FOR HOCKEY SINCE THE CURVED STICK?

     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).
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