At Pittsburgh hockey games, fans dial up live video, replays from mobile phones

Carnegie Mellon’s YinzCam brings Penguins fans all the video angles

An innovative project from Carnegie Mellon University gives Pittsburgh hockey fans a new way to watch the game.

Even before winning the Stanley Cup, Pittsburgh Penguins fans were in hockey heaven.

An innovative project from Carnegie Mellon University gave fans at home games the ability to watch live streams of the game and replays from just about any angle they desire, as long as they have a Wi-Fi-enabled device.

Known as YinzCam – “yinz” being the Pittsburgh equivalent of “y’all” in the South – the system was used for most of this past season at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh. YinzCam was developed by Professor Priya Narasimhan, who is director of Carnegie Mellon’s Mobility Research Center and a dedicated hockey and football fan.

Narasimhan grew tired of JumboTron replays because she didn’t want to be limited to one camera angle. If fans were able to select their own camera angles, they could satisfy their curiosity after controversial plays – did the puck cross the goal line, or did a football player’s foot land in-bounds? By controlling the camera feeds, fans could also follow certain players. What was Penguin captain Sydney Crosby doing on that last play? What was happening on the bench, or even in the stands?

“I’m a huge hockey and football fan,” Narasimhan says. “When I go to all these arenas, I’m never going to get that front-row seat.”

With YinzCam, fans whip out their mobile phones, connect to the Wi-Fi network, open their browsers and they are automatically directed to the YinzCam Web site. No software installation is needed – just pick a camera angle, such as “Follow-Malkin,” “Follow-Crosby,” “Goalie Cam” and “Bench Cam” – and watch either the live feed or rewind to see replays.

YinzCam is part of a trend in which interactive and mobile technologies are being used to enhance the fan’s experience at a live game. Just this week, the Dallas Cowboys signed a deal with Cisco to bring customized video feeds to 3,000 HD televisions displayed throughout the stadium. Cowboys fans will also be able to choose video options from a touch-screen IP phone – but only from luxury suites.

Narasimhan was more concerned about fans in the nose-bleed sections when designing YinzCam, which was offered for free this year at Penguins games, but only in certain sections of the arena because it was a pilot program. With permission from Penguins management, Narasimhan and a group of about 10 students installed routers and a Wi-Fi network serving up to 845 fans in certain sections.

YinzCam grabs the live broadcast feeds, sends them to a server for transcoding, and then uses access points to deliver the feeds to Wi-Fi-enabled devices. Supported phones include the iPhone, BlackBerry Bold, Samsung Omnia, T-Mobile Android G1, HTC Touch Pro, and Windows Mobile phones. Wi-Fi-enabled device such as an iPod Touch, Nintendo DS or PlayStation Portable also can work with the system.

Narasimhan and her students attended every game, including the Stanley Cup finals against the Detroit Red Wings, manning kiosks, answering fans’ questions and collecting data on use of the technology.

Typically, about 400 or so fans used YinzCam at each game, meaning it reached about half of its target audience. Next season, the system will be deployed throughout the arena, so any fan will be able to use it regardless of seat location.

Narasimhan is thinking beyond Pittsburgh, though. She believes YinzCam would appeal to fans of all professional sports in North America, and give franchises a new revenue stream. Outfitting a 20,000-seat stadium would require installing about $40,000 to $60,000 worth of equipment, a small amount for a typical franchise, she says.

Narasimhan is in talks with one college hockey team and says the system would be great for football and baseball arenas, as well as venues that host both basketball and hockey games, such as Boston’s TD Banknorth Garden.

Narasimhan said she’s grateful to the Penguins management for letting her and her students pilot the technology at Mellon Arena – and grateful to the team for winning the Cup.

“I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be here [in Pittsburgh],” she says.

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