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NFL Preseason Kicks Off Shift to High-Definition Instant Replay; Harris Corporation System Gives Referees Sharpest View Ever


The National Football League (NFL) is kicking off a new era in officiating as preseason football gets underway this week — marking the first time referees in any major sports league will use high-definition (HD) instant replay systems to review close calls.

Twenty-one years after the NFL first began using instant replay, referees at professional football stadiums will use new HD systems from Harris Corporation that provide images five times sharper than previous standard-definition systems. The new HD systems will enable referees on the field and in replay booths to scan and freeze frame the crystal clear video so they can more accurately rule on sideline catches, goal line stands and other critical plays that often are challenged by coaches.

The new HD instant replay systems have been installed in 28 NFL stadium replay booths, which are staffed by replay officials, a video technician, a video operator and a communicator. Booths at the three remaining NFL stadiums — New York, Dallas and Indianapolis — will be activated after the stadiums are renovated. Harris also supplied two other HD instant replay systems for use by the NFL to train officials.

“This is a rare opportunity to leverage cutting-edge technology to improve the integrity of the game,” said Mike Pereira, the NFL’s vice president of officiating. “Our referees will now be able to see images much more clearly, giving reviews in critical situations the level of scrutiny they truly deserve. It’s really a win-win situation for everyone — the coaches, players and the fans.”

Harris, a leading provider of HDTV solutions for sports broadcasting, supplied the HD playback systems, as well as all the software and services to upgrade the instant replay systems. Each stadium will use Harris® NEXIO™ HD servers, FORCE software (Football Officiating Replay Challenge Expeditor), and routing and distribution equipment. Broadcasters and other organizations are transitioning to HD and NEXIO™ HD server technology on a global scale — with thousands of channels currently operating at broadcast facilities worldwide.

Harris has a long-standing relationship with the NFL, and worked closely with the league to develop the FORCE software that customizes the control application for instant replay. The new HD systems replace existing Harris standard-definition instant replay systems that NFL referees have been using since 1999. NFL team owners voted in March 2007 to make instant replay permanent.

“Sports programming is leading the conversion to high definition — and within sports, I can think of no more exacting application than NFL replays, where the outcome of a team’s season may depend on the referee’s call,” said Tim Thorsteinson, president of Harris Broadcast Communications. “The NFL has become the first professional sports league to take advantage of the clarity that high-definition video provides. Although fans have been able to experience sports in HDTV at home for years, this marks the first time that it will play an active role in helping determine the proper outcome in a game. We are excited to be teaming with the NFL on this unique project.”

Instant Replay Milestones

1963 – First use of instant replay in a football game (Army/Navy game)

1985 – The United States Football League begins using instant replay systems for regular-season games

1986 – The NFL votes to adopt the use of instant replay systems. The Cleveland Browns become the first NFL team to have a call reviewed by instant replay.

1991 – The NFL votes to abandon VHA tape-based instant replay.

1999 – Instant replay is reinstated in the NFL. Harris system selected.

2007 – NFL owners vote to make instant replay use by referees permanent. First use of HD instant replay system in the NFL preseason.


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