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How Steph Curry's three-pointers get the 360-degree replay treatment from Intel

A new perspective on key plays.

Intel's 360 technology can do something most NBA defenders can't: Stop Steph Curry's shots.
Screenshot by Recode

As the Warriors' Stephen Curry finally gets hot midway through the second quarter of the must-win Game 5 Thursday, a TNT producer comes over a loudspeaker inside Intel's cramped trailer just outside Oracle Arena.

"Can you guys do that last one?"

The two-man team cranking out 3-D replays gets to work, scrapping the highlight they were working on in favor of Curry's fadeaway. The technology, acquired by Intel earlier this year, creates a new kind of replay, one that combines the video with a single still frame that can now be viewed in three dimensions from any angle.

After a "pilot" chooses just the right 10-second video snippet and still image, the clip gets sent for processing. Creating the clip takes roughly 30 servers, pulling images from 28 super-high-definition 5K cameras spaced throughout the upper ring of the arena. A second person oversees this task.

Just over three minutes later, the rendering is done and the video clip is ready for air.

Sometimes it can take several minutes longer if there is post-production work to do, but in this case everything goes smoothly and the clip goes straight to the TNT broadcast team in a nearby trailer.

If something goes a bit awry, a player can initially show up missing some details that have to be manually "painted" back in from the original video. Another person or two is on standby for that duty.

As the game continues, a terabyte of data per second continues flowing from inside the stadium to a nondescript brown trailer in the parking lot. The "pilot" has to decide within five seconds whether a play is a clip worth grabbing or whether to wait for the next one.

An Intel employee watches the Golden State Warriors game, deciding which plays are suitable for a 360-degree replay.
Inside a cramped trailer outside Oracle Arena, the "pilot" in the control booth decides which plays are suitable for a 360-degree replay.
Ina Fried

At halftime, announcer Marv Albert shows the national TV audience a pair of the Intel-created replays, including the Curry shot that the tech team hurried to produce in the second quarter. The Intel workers cheer as their work makes it onto the air.

For Turner Sports, ESPN and other broadcasters, the technology offers an opportunity to show things from a new perspective.

"It allows you to go where we don’t have cameras," Turner Sports VP Tom Sahara told Recode. Sahara said the technology has been a hit with both fans and the on-air announcers.

"We can look at things like passing lanes. We can look at how a defense or offense is set up."

Unlike other panoramic technologies, which let you view the game from any angle, Intel's technology offers the ability to go anywhere inside the action as well. Plus, there are none of the stitching effects that happen using most other approaches.

During the Warriors-Thunder series, Intel cranks out all its replays from this rather dull looking trailer outside Oracle Arena.
Ina Fried

Intel is rooting for the Warriors, and not just because they are the home team. Only five arenas are equipped with Intel's cameras. Fortunately for Intel, they include those of three of the final four teams -- all of them except Oklahoma City, the Warriors' opponent.

The chipmaker has been showing the technology in commercials, but the best advertisement is the replays themselves. If the Warriors can manage the comeback, then Intel will have its technology in place throughout the finals.

The technology was developed by Replay Technology, an Israeli startup. Intel had been working with Replay for a while before deciding to just buy it earlier this year.

In addition to the five basketball arenas, Intel also has its cameras inside baseball's Dodger Stadium and in several football stadiums, including the 49ers Levi's Stadium, home to last season's Super Bowl. CBS used the Intel technology there.

Over time, Intel wants to put that technology in the hands of more than just sports broadcasters. The company sees the day not far off when anyone at home would have the same ability as that TNT crew to order up a replay of a key play and show it from any angle.

It could also be used in a range of other events of widespread interest. Imagine the cameras taking people to Times Square, museums or other popular attractions, says Jeff Hopper, general manager of Intel Immersive Services, as the business unit is now known.

For Sahara's part, he'd just like to see the highlights come a little bit faster than the 10 minutes or so that it takes today.

"With Intel’s help in the processing, we expect to see the time get reduced," Sahara said.

That's Intel's plan, too. It wants to see the tech become an instant replay option and figures its server know-how should make that a reality in the not-too-distant future.

"Today, that is a heavy lift" Hopper said. "Tomorrow we will bring the full breadth of Intel technology to bear to make it doable."

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