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Microsoft imagines future NFL games played out on your coffee table, via HoloLens

Mark Hachman | Feb. 4, 2016
From an improved sideline Surface experience to an audacious vision for HoloLens, Microsoft is digging deep into its role as an NFL technology partner.

If Microsoft has its way, future Super Bowl viewers will watch the game play out live on their coffee tables, as players outfitted with helmet cams provide up-close-and-personal views of the game. And on the field, coaches and players will see the same video the fans see—and adjust their game plans accordingly.

NFL executives and players joined Microsoft executives on Tuesday in a panel billed as the “Future of Football”—a look at novel new ways to incorporate technology into America's favorite sport. 

Lest we forget, Microsoft already partners with the NFL, outfitting players with Surface Pro 3 tablets for sideline use during games. Players can use the tablets to see images of their most recent plays, and now Microsoft hopes to bring its forthcoming HoloLens augmented-reality headset into the football mix as well.

Currently, football fans at home can get a better understanding of what’s happening on the field with the NFL app for Xbox One. The app displays RFID data from sensors sewn into the players’ jerseys, providing viewers with real-time estimates of, say, how fast a receiver is sprinting downfield.

But now a Microsoft concept video takes this data-monitoring scheme to the next level: Imagine virtual avatars of players bursting from your wall, as well as a holographic view of the game playing out on your table or floor. It sounds wild, but that's the NFL HoloLens experience that Microsoft imagines.


Why this matters: Mike Nichols, the corporate vice president of Xbox Marketing, said the HoloLens vision could play out “sooner rather than later.” It’s a dazzling piece of marketing that keeps the HoloLens in play as sort of a magical totem of future computing and entertainment scenarios. Still, the HoloLens has yet to debut as a developer kit, let alone a consumer device (the first dev release will likely arrive soon, followed by a consumer release possibly a year or two down the road).

Surface sideline video coming soon

The HoloLens' not-so-imminent release notwithstanding, Microsoft and the NFL plan to make changes to how today’s Surface technology is implemented, especially in reviewing the game as it happens. We might laugh at the sideline Surface tablets today, but they really are an improvement over earlier, er, technologies.

Indeed, until three years ago, the NFL used technology that sounds like something out of the Cold War: Quarterbacks would be handed a sheaf of black and white photos when they returned to the bench, according to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

“You can imagine with a 15-play drive, there’d be like 40 pages worth of stuff,” Brees said. “The staple wouldn’t go all the way through, and photos would be dangling and falling out, and then you’d have two plays and have to go back out on the field. Now you walk to the sideline and it’s seamless.”


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