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Highlighting the Tech Plays That Highlight the Sports Plays

Remember the old ad, “Is it live or is it Memorex?” Thirty years ago entertainment technology’s highest aspiration was to seem “live.” Today, entertainment technology aspires to far more than “live” – aiming for an enhanced, augmented experience of live action.

And it gets there largely as a result of one technological innovation: the graphics processing unit (GPU), first commercially introduced for video gaming by Santa Clara-based NVIDIA in 1999.

The simplest way to understand a GPU is to compare it with the familiar central processing unit (CPU) that executes a single set of instructions sequentially – one at a time. A GPU, by comparison, executes multiple sets of instructions simultaneously – in parallel.


Take, for example, the question of how many times a given word appears in a book. A CPU would have to read that book from start to finish to find the answer. A GPU could examine many parts of the book simultaneously. So theoretically, if you have X processors, you’ll get the answer X times faster.

And, as you might guess, one of the functions that lends itself very well to a parallel approach is rendering graphics on a video screen – displaying each pixel of the image is an independent operation.

At NVIDIA’s GPU Conference last week in San Jose, one session took a look at how the capabilities of GPUs have transformed what we think of as “live” sports.

One of challenges today for video delivery is making the in-venue experience comparable to TV experience, explained Sam Blackman, CEO and Co-Founder of Elemental, a video technology company that powers the highly popular HBO GO service, as well as Comcast’s Xfinity on-demand service and a wide array of mobile video apps. Elemental’s proprietary technology uses off-the-shelf NVIDIA GPUs to adapt video content in realtime to our multitude of devices, while eliminating the glitches ands delays that often plague online video.

The 2012 Olympics was a watershed event for sports video viewing, reported Blackman. Over 35 percent of viewers were tuning in on mobile devices. Elemental began streaming live content from the Big Ten Network in 2011, and has powered video for Rugby World Cup and Stanford University’s iCardinal real-time replay application, as well as delivering 500 million video streams to 2012 Olympics viewers in 70 countries – triple the number of streams from the 2008 Olympics.

Now, people inside the venue are going to expect content such as highlights, game replays, and player statistics on mobile devices while they’re watching events live. And that has venue operators racing to ensure that the in-venue experience rivals the one available in your living room.

“By next year you won’t go to a live event without this,” he promised.


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