NEW YORK -- All the fans who ever grumbled that they could
do a better job than NFL referees -- well, maybe they were right.
Or at least some of them had better equipment with which to make
instant replay decisions.
So the league this season is switching to high definition
technology for its officials to use to review plays on the field.
"As more people were getting high definition TV at home, they
actually had a better view than the referee charged with making the
decision," said Dean Blandino, the NFL's director of instant
replay. "That could've bit us in the rear if we continued that."
HD systems have been installed in all but three stadiums and
will be in use during the preseason. The three exceptions are due
to the New York teams, Dallas and Indianapolis awaiting the opening
of new facilities, which will have HD capabilities. For now, their
current stadiums have HD hardware but not the signal, which means
the image quality is better than before but not as good as in other
cities -- or in fans' homes.
This is the first time the NFL has upgraded its technology since
reinstating instant replay in 1999.
"The biggest concern we've heard from referees is about the
quality of the picture they were viewing," Blandino said.
That shouldn't be a problem anymore. The HD images are five
times sharper than the previous standard definition system,
according to Harris Corporation, which supplies the NFL's replay
Even without the clearer picture, referees would have an easier
time seeing the video with the new monitors. The screens are bigger
-- 26 inches compared with 20 -- and officials no longer have to view
them from a set distance. Instead, they can stand closer or farther
away if they choose.
But the greatest impact will come from the crisper images. The
difference between standard and high definition is particularly
stark for slow motion replays and freeze frames, said Rich Zabel, a
vice president at Harris.
Not only will the HD systems allow refs to make better calls,
Blandino said, but they'll have another effect fans can appreciate:
About half of the situations that have been reviewed since 1999
involved whether a potential catch was complete or incomplete,
Blandino said. He believes the new HD replays will help officials
greatly with that type of call.
"What used to be, 'Is this foot in or out of bounds?"' Zabel
said, "is now that you can see the blades of grass between the
foot and the sideline."