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Matinee: Super Bowl Cameras Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

4 February 2017

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 173rd in our series of Saturday matinees today: a quick look at Super Bowl cameras.

Tomorrow the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots will step onto the field at NRG Stadium in Houston to determine the NFL Super Bowl Champion.

Madden, the video game, has already simulated a 27-24 Patriots victory in which Tom Brady leads a fourth quarter rally. And Madden simulations have predicted the winner in 9 of 13 previous Super Bowl contests (not all of which were blowouts).

But for most of us, the game will be played on the field in real time. With a lot of replays to chew on, thanks to three different camera technologies that will be active on the field.

This 1:17 clip from The List quickly (don't blink) describes each of those technologies:

  • Fox Player View
  • Pylon Cameras
  • SkyCam

Like chicken wings, there's not a lot of meat on this clip's bones, so we did a little research on this stuff for you. Think of it as a long caption to the clip.


Intel has installed 5K video cameras above the field (38 of them bolted to the top of the stadium, in fact) to feed video streams to servers set up elsewhere within the stadium. The plan is to broadcast up to two dozen player's eye view clips during the game that will be constructed on the fly from these feeds.

That requires Pilot and Navigator software to calculate what the action on the field looks like from any player's point of view.

That software constructs a 3D view of the game using a pre-rendered field (since it isn't going anywhere) with player (and presumably ball) positions. So only the players and the ball have to be rendered on each frame, like cartoon animation. Even that optimized rendering requires about one terabyte of data for just a 15-30 second clip.

When the Fox broadcast team requests a Be The Player replay, two Intel staffers will command the system's Pilot to position a virtual camera at the requested point of view (say, the quarterback's position on the field). The Navigator then packages the visual feed from the Pilot into a clip that can be transmitted back to Fox for broadcast.

That takes a couple of minutes but, hey, those Super Bowl commercial breaks are likely to be easily that long.


Pylon cameras made their debut in September 2015 and were used in the 2016 Super Bowl. They're back for an encore performance in this year's Super Bowl, too.

There are eight of these orange rectangular pillars, one in each corner of the end zone. Each one has two high-resolution 2K cameras (looking in different directions) and microphones.

They keep an eye on the chalk lines, whether on the sidelines or in the endzone or on the goal line, so you can see if the ball breaks the plane, the foot stays in bounds or anything else your litigious little heart desires.

Unlike refs, the HD cameras don't blink. So unlike some wide open receivers in the end zone, they catch everything.


Skycam, that HD camera flying over the field suspended on wires, got a big update for last year's Super Bowl, moving twice as fast as previous versions. At 25 mph it's faster than the players, who don't surpass 20 mph.

The NFL prefers Skycam stay 12 feet off the ground but if it's 20 yards behind the action, it can drop lower. It has been suspected of interfering in at least one pass this year.

There is a rule covering that. Section 2 of Rule 7 says:

If a loose ball in play strikes a video board, guide wire, sky cam, or any other object, the ball will be dead immediately, and the down will be replayed at the previous spot.

And the Replay Official can call for a booth review even outside the two-minute warning. Just so you know.

Stabilization is the trick with SkyCam. It uses a fully active four-axis stabilization system built into the 36-inch tall, motorized camera spar.

That's a problem with the in-helmet system developed by Schutt Vision, primarily for coaching rather than broadcast:

We found that point of view a little disorienting. "Whose head were we in?" we kept wondering. And perish the thought that anyone throws their helmet on the ground.

We expect Be The Player to be a little better experience than that. But we doubt it will bring back the thrill we had in high school of waiting for a 40 yard punt to come back to earth in our arms as 11 armored monsters from another school barreled down the field to bury us.

But we're happy to settle for the vicarious version of that thrill these days.

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