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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

September 3, 2014 at 6:00 PM

NFL tech fest at CenturyLink Field

If you’re already wearing your Russell Wilson jersey, waving your 12th Man flag and chilling your 12th Can beers, perhaps it’s time to footballify your technology gear.

That’s what the NFL and its partners are hoping, anyway. Ahead of Thursday’s season opener, they used CenturyLink Field to host a mini showcase of tech gear and apps for fans, teams and others in the business of pro football.

Audio gear maker Bose used the event to unveil new headphones that use the same noise-canceling technology it developed for NFL teams to use on the sidelines starting this season.

Bose image of its QC25 headphones.

Bose image of its QC25 headphones.

The loudest stadium in the league was the right venue to showcase technology that blocks most unwanted sound, although Coach Pete Carroll was an odd choice of a spokesman during Bose’s press event.

Carroll said he’s a fan of Bose products, but he doesn’t want headphones to block the noise of the game. Instead of the standard “double” headsets he prefers a unit that only covers one ear, leaving the other free to hear the crowd, the refs and the players.

“I’m a one-eared guy. I’m not shutting the sound out,” he said.

Bose also lined up some NFL players, including Seahawks quarterback Wilson, to pitch the $299 Quiet Comfort 25 headphones. It will begin selling a $399 version in November that can be customized with different colors, such as neon green and blue.

It remains to be seen whether the NFL cachet will help Bose raise its profile and fend off Apple, which moved into the premium headphone space with its $3 billion acquisition of Beats Electronics. The pricey Beats headphones are worn by a number of sports stars but Bose thinks it has an edge.

“Our technology and performance is how we compete in the marketplace,” Sean Garrett, Bose vice president, said when I asked about the competition.

Bose demonstrated the QR25 models by connecting them to Microsoft Surface tablets — The Official Tablet of the NFL, running Windows, the Official Operating System of the NFL — preloaded with playlists created by Wilson, Carroll and Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.

Wilson’s list includes Stevie Wonder, The Commodores, Barry White and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.

wilson playlist

NFL executives also used the event to tout their NFL Now app, which provides video clips, films, news and archival material on most mobile devices and set-top systems such as the Xbox platform and Amazon.com’s Fire TV.

Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner, said it’s a natural evolution of the league’s media outreach strategy. In the 1960s it used broadcast TV to reach the largest possible audience. When cable TV expanded, the league partnered with ESPN and then worked with DirecTV on satellite broadcasts. In the past decade it developed its website and NFL Network.

The most impressive technology of all, though, was out of sight, near the loading docks on the east side of CenturyLink.

That’s where NBC Sports parked all new, cutting-edge broadcasting rigs that are making their debut at Thursday’s game. It’s a fleet of four semi trucks, including three new aluminum models, with enough broadcasting equipment to put a local TV station to shame.

Altogether the setup is 20 percent larger than before and accommodates a crew of 75, up from 65 who staffed the previous setup during big sports events. They face walls of screens, giant mixing boards and graphics stations, where on-screen graphics are created and placed during games.

Inside, the trailers can manage 100 channels of instant-replay while taking in video from 32 cameras, including an overhead “cable cam” and an airplane shooting live, high-def aerial shots.

Each camera generates 1.5 gigabits of data per second that’s passed through fiber optic cables linking the trailers and coordinated by the largest router used in any mobile production facility in the country, which sits in a trailer stuffed full of servers and digital recorders.

“We built this for the next three Super Bowls,” said Kenneth Goss, senior vice president of remote operation and production planning.

Goss expects the rigs to last eight years, after which NBC will build new, more powerful ones optimized for 4K video — up from the current 1080i output.

Practicing in the new NBC rigs is assistant director Charlie Danmeyer, left and technology director John Howard, at right. Photo by Mike Siegel, Times staff photographer.

Practicing in the new NBC rigs is assistant director Charlie Danmeyer, left and technology director John Howard, at right. Photo by Mike Siegel, Times staff photographer.

 

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