NFL will give referees same HD look as fans at home

Updated: August 10, 2007, 9:37 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- All the fans who ever grumbled that they could do a better job than NFL referees -- well, maybe they were right.

Bill Leavy
AP Photo/Paul SancyaReferee Bill Leavy peers into the replay screen during Super Bowl XL. This year, refs will have HD technology at their disposal for reviews.

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 equipment.

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: quicker decisions.

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."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press