Virtual Soccer

Dateline: 6/15/98

VirtuaLive User Interface
illustration courtesy Orad Hi Tec Systems Ltd.

World Cup Soccer look out, cyberspace has arrived. Wouldn't it be cool to watch a sporting event and have instant replays that you could control? It would allow the viewer to watch  replay's from any camera angle, playing the scene forward or in reverse and in slow or fast motion. If there was a magic system that could take video tapes and magically convert them to VRML scenes such a possibility would more closer to reality. A small Israeli startup, Orad Hi Tec Systems offers us the VirtuaLive system is bringing such a system to market. It's also being featured on   CosmoSoftware's web site and is in place on World Cup sites in France, and     Germany.

The whole concept of virtual instant replay's was actually conceived and partially developed independently by Javier Cuesta who created the Soccer Virtual System (SVS). VirtuaLive is however a real system being used, according to Orad's web site, by such customers as ABC Television (USA), BSkyB (UK), WDR (Germany), TF1 (France), RAI (Italy), TV Ashai (Japan), KBS (Korea), Globo TV (Brazil). The VirtuaLive system consists of two major pieces, a client side player -  a java applet with an embedded VRML scene and an authoring side for creating the VRML scenes in the first place.

The futuristic (with a touch of 50's art deco style), control panel in the illustration above is the client side interface. The user selects, on the left side of the device a particular match. After downloading more information the user then selects a particular scene for that match and then the VRML scene is downloaded. The familiar VCR types controls on the right side of the interface let you place the scene forward or in slow motion or rewinding to the beginning. The other buttons on the top and the arrows on the bottom let you go to predefined camera positions or to tilt and pan the camera to arbitrary angles. The overall effect is extremely cool and effective, especially since they also capture sound segments and you get the roar of the crowd and an announcer giving play by play calls. Each scene is a bit too short but that is apparently a concession to the realties of download speeds on the WWW (world wide wait).

For the authoring, of which all the information I have is from the Orad web site, is apparently some sort of image processing system with which you can identify players. The system then extracts a simple 3D version of a human player (let's encourage them to use the HANIM spec.) and the scene is animated. The humans in the scenes are quite simple but with the motion they perform are quite effective.

Another interesting business aspect is that the stadiums being constructed along with the players are also virtual. They can therefore contain lots of virtual advertisements. These of course can, and are, clickable Web links.

I can't wait till lots of different sporting events are captured and made available with this type of system. The possibilities are truly astounding. I could watch some sporting event (something I almost never do :-) ) and on the PC where I'm surfing the web, also for that event, I could be watching and amusing myself in the virtual event, yelling at the officials for making the obviously bad calls. The real proof is that my 13 year old daughter, whom I showed this soccer thing said "hey cool dad!"

Previous Features