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ESPN's 'Virtual 3' Technology Shows Whether Shot Is Really a Three-Pointer

The technology debuted during Saturday's NBA broadcast of the Cavs-Spurs game.


Was that a three-pointer or was his foot on the line?

It’s a common question that has run through the minds of viewers watching basketball on TV for years, but perhaps no longer. ESPN on Saturday introduced a new technology to help make it easier for viewers to know whether or not a shot is a three-point attempt.

The Virtual 3, as the technology is called, causes the three-point line to be highlighted when a shot outside that zone is taken. ESPN debuted it during Saturday’s NBA telecast as the San Antonio Spurs took on the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Virtual 3 follows in a long tradition of using technology to highlight the boundaries of sport for television viewers, following in the footsteps of the yellow first down line and other early uses of augmented reality.

Not all these efforts have been successful, though. Fox used a glowing blue circle around the puck in an attempt to make NHL broadcasts more palatable for hockey novices from 1996 to 1998. However, the effect was panned and Fox dropped the technology in the last year of its NHL deal.

While highlighting the three-point line sounds relatively easy, ESPN insists it was not a trivial task.

“On the television screen, the three-point line is only a few pixels wide, and it’s obviously curved,” ESPN said in a blog post. “Then, there are significant challenges brought to bear from the players’ uniform colors and the color of the line (potentially) being identical.”

And then the line still needs to look like it is actually on the court with players running over it. “While it looks very simple, it’s incredibly challenging,” the network said.

Now if only they could come up with one to highlight when a player is flopping rather than truly being fouled.


This article originally appeared on

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