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Sports biz: Tech it out, sports fan

Tech it out, sports fan

The annual industry forum for the display of electronic gadgets that are better than stuff you bought last year concluded last month in Las Vegas, and if even only some of the trend indicators come to pass, you, sports fan, are in for some serious sensory stimulation.

The international CES (formerly Consumer Electronics Show) is an exhausting week of hurrying and scurrying past a city’s worth of displays and booths from technology titans like Sony and Samsung, punctuated every few hours by learned pontification from industry big shots who appear on panel sessions and in keynotes speeches.

The CES isn’t a sports industry event per se, but anymore, just about every device that plugs in, draws power from a battery, has twinkling indicator lights or features a video screen relates to watching, tracking or conversing about sports. With that in mind, here’s a sports-themed review of four electronics technologies that could change the way you experience spectator sports in the next few years.

Ultra HD.

That sweet flat-panel occupying an exalted space on the wall? It’s so 2010. (What, you expected TV set manufacturers to abandon the whole orchestrated obsolescence thing?) The new buzz in television is Ultra HD, the emerging display standard that delivers images 4x sharper than those conveyed by today’s U.S. high-definition screens. The rub for now is that you can only appreciate the eye-popping clarity – think Peyton Manning’s fingernails digging into the rippled leather of a football – on screens that, at 84 inches, are too big for the average fan to accommodate. Manufacturers are working on smaller screens, but risk sacrificing their stunning video output by shrinking the viewing frame. That, and price tags of $20,000 and up, are likely to deter all but the most ardent of sports-videophiles for a few years to come. So you can hang on to your HD for a few more seasons before your boastful neighbor goes all one-up on you.

Second-screen applications.

If you’ve watched live sports with anyone under 30 lately, you’re probably clued in to the wild popularity of the so-called "simultaneous screen" movement, which is the television industry’s fancy way of saying people use social media platforms from their smartphones to comment on the game while it’s airing live on the big-screen TV set. This organic phenomenon took the sports-TV complex by surprise at first, but now there are serious efforts under way to try to mine the movement for money. Sports-TV networks like ESPN and FOX Sports are developing their own branded "second screen" applications in hope that you’ll log on with your tablet or smartphone when the game’s being televised – and in so doing, create a whole new media playing field for the presence of interactive advertisements and promotional content. Just make sure to look up at the actual game from time to time.

Neural device control.

That’s a fancy way of saying your brain will be able to change the channel. Developers are serious about reducing the human-to-machine interface to its most essential and intimate form, which is the alignment of your brainwaves with the control functions of devices. No more forgetting where you left the remote-control. When you want to switch from Cowboys-Redskins to Raiders-Broncos, your TV will know it. Swear we aren’t making this stuff up.

Portable video.

This one’s likely to strike first in your sports world, if it hasn’t already. Through arrangements with pay-TV companies, ESPN and other sports-TV networks are working to send live TV content to a whole new gamut of video-capable devices you can carry around in your home. Companies with Colorado ties including Comcast and Dish Network continue extend the big-screen TV signal to alternative devices like iPads, meaning you can start a game in the living room, pick it up on the iPad in the kitchen and even carry it to the bathroom so you won’t miss a moment. For action-crazed fans, that might just be the most utilitarian sports-tech advancement yet.

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Stewart Schley

Stewart Schley writes about sports, media and technology from Denver. Read this and Schley’s past columns on the Web at cobizmag.com and email him at stewart@stewartschley.com

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