The NFL is again testing the use of video replays on the sidelines for players and coaches.
During Sunday’s Pro Bowl, both “Team Irvin” and “Team Rice” used Microsoft Surface tablets on the sidelines that showed videos of past plays.
Thanks to Microsoft’s $400 million, five-year contract it inked with the NFL in 2013, players and coaches have had access to the custom-built Surface tablets for the past two seasons with an application that lets them be more efficient in how they review past plays. The idea is to replace the traditional printed paper black-and-white images of plays to analyze previous possessions, and instead use the waterproof tablets that allow for annotations on each photo with the Surface Pen.
Adding video replays would provide even more opportunity for analysis of what just happened on the field. The NFL tested video streaming to the tablets during last year’s Pro Bowl, and it was met with generally positive feedback. They also tested the new technology during about 20 preseason games this past August and September.
— Troy Vincent (@TroyVincent23) January 31, 2016
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told GeekWire that the league will again test video replays for the 2016-17 preseason, but it’s unclear when the technology will be used during the regular season and playoffs.
As the Associated Press notes, the league takes its time implementing new tech, ensuring that it is reliable and understood by players and coaches. NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle told the AP that “video on the sideline will be a big game changer for how you coach the game.”
McCarthy noted that any rule changes will need to be approved by the NFL Competition Committee.
During today’s Pro Bowl, the NFL also tested a new coach-to-coach communications system that includes the Bose headsets worn by coaches on the sidelines.
“This is the NFL IT’s test,” McCarthy said. “Bose is not spearheading the test. We haven’t had issues with the headsets this year.”
— MichelleMcKennaDoyle (@nflcio) January 31, 2016
There was a headset-related problem in September when Pittsburgh had issues with its headsets during the season opener against New England. The NFL said the problems were not caused by Bose’s headset, but rather complications due to a “stadium power infrastructure issue” made worse by bad weather.
The league said the new system will create a “more reliable communication system across all NFL venues” that could be used next season.
The NFL introduced players and coaches to the Surface Pro 2 tablet last year, and this season Microsoft is upgrading the devices to a ruggedized, weatherproof version of its Surface Pro 3 tablet, which offers a bigger and thinner screen, lighter weight, clearer images, and a pen that can be used in four different colors.
Microsoft ran into some NFL Surface-related marketing issues this season. More recently during the AFC Championship, New England became “frustrated” after its Surface tablets stopped working for a brief period. The NFL said it was a problem related to a “network cable malfunction” — not the Surface tablet itself, which Microsoft says has functioned without a single problem in the past two seasons.
Back in September during the season opener, Al Michaels mistakenly called the Surface an “iPad” on national television. This seems to be a recurring problem for Microsoft — last season, commentators referred to the Surface as an “iPad-like tool.” It happened on more than one occasion last season, with Trent Dilfer calling the tablet an iPad during a Monday Night game, too.
Then there was a server power issue during last month’s Monday Night Football game between Dallas and Washington — but the NFL said the problem wasn’t with the Surface tablets themselves.