Instant Replay for the Masses

One of the few uncontestable good ideas to come out of the ISU was the introduction of instant replay in 1998.  This system was first introduced for use in the short program and was later expanded for use in other parts of events.  This system has not been adopted in the U.S., and as far as we are aware, anywhere else in the world.  The reason for this is its cost and complexity.

The ISU replay system makes use of a video camera with cameraman at the end of the judges stand, and a replay technician who captures the clips and queues them up for the judges to view.  The equipment consists of two large equipment racks that consume enough power to cook a Thanksgiving turkey.  At the time of its introduction this system cost in excess of $300,000.

Since 1998, however, technology has made such great leaps forward, that it is now economically feasible to introduce instant replay at most levels of domestic competition.  Less complex approaches can be used to simply the system for local use and decrease cost (or the need for manpower).  We briefly describe here an instant replay system that has been developed for use in domestic competitions.

The system consists of touch screen displays located at each judges' position.  There is a real time video display running on each screen and a series of buttons to capture and replay video clips.  The real time display has an added use in that it allows the judge to keep an eye on the action whenever they look down to use the system or to take notes.

The software has been written to support two modes of operation.  In the first, the system is used in the ISU fashion.  In that case, the organizing committee would have to provide a camera, cameraman and replay technician.

In the second mode of operation, the system operates off a video feed from the competition's official videographer (or other dedicated source) and the judges individually operate the replay system.  Whenever a situation occurs that a judge wishes to review, a command button is pressed immediately after the error to flag the capture.  After the performance is complete, the judge can review the video for the previous 2, 5, 10 or 20 seconds.  Replay options also include zoom and slow motion of the clips.  Each judge operates independently of the others and the architecture is completely scalable to any number of judges.  The system allows the capture of a potentially unlimited number of clips.

The most common use of replay is to check for two footing and cheating of jumps.  For those errors only a few seconds of video need be reviewed and the time taken between skaters need not increase unreasonably.  In closed judging, the judges can also review the clips during warm-ups, or at the end of an event before turning in their sheets, to further avoid delays in events.

This system is substantially less expensive than the ISU system and is affordable for major USFSA competitions (e.g., all National championships and qualifying competitions).  It is within the price range of the wealthier clubs, but is probably not worth the expense given the small number of competitions held by any one club in a single year.  It is, however, a system regional interclub association might consider adopting, with the cost shared by many clubs within a region that could use it on a weekly basis.  An interclub association might even consider obtaining such a system and then renting it to local clubs for a nominal fee.  This could be done for about the same rental costs that many clubs already incur on copiers or office equipment.

It is the intention of at least one club in the Southwest Pacific Region to offer such a system for use at its open competition next season.  A prototype system is available for demonstration in the SWP region.

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Copyright 2003 by George S. Rossano