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Olympic high-speed watching and other notes



I'm watching the Olympics, and my primary tool as always is MythTV. Once you do this, it seems hard to imagine watching them almost any other way. Certainly not real time with the commercials, and not even with other DVR systems. MythTV offers a really wide variety of fast forward speeds and programmable seeks. This includes the ability to watch at up to 2x speed with the audio still present (pitch adjusted to be natural) and a smooth 3x speed which is actually pretty good for watching a lot of sports. In addition you can quickly access 5x, 10x, 30x, 60x, 120x and 180x for moving along, as well as jumps back and forth by some fixed amount you set (like 2 minutes or 10 minutes) and random access to any minute. Finally it offers a forward skip (which I set to 20 seconds) and a backwards skip (I set it to 8 seconds.)

MythTV even lets you customize these numbers so you use different nubmers for the Olympics compared to other recordings. For example the jumps are normally +/- 10 minutes and plus 30 seconds for commercial skip, but Myth has automatic commercial skip.

A nice mode allows you to go to smooth 3x speed with closed captions, though it does not feature the very nice ability I've seen elsewhere of turning on CC when the sound is off (by mute or FF) and turning it off when sound returns. I would like a single button to put me into 3xFF + CC and take me out of it.

Anyway, this is all very complex but well worth learning because once you learn it you can consume your sports much, much faster than in other ways, and that means you can see more of the sports that interest you, and less of the sports, commercials and heart-warming stories of triumph over adversity that you don't. With more than 24 hours a day of coverage it is essential you have tools to help you do this.

I have a number of improvements I would like to see in MythTV like a smooth 5x or 10x FF (pre-computed in advance) and the above macro for CC/FF swap. In addition, since the captions tend to lag by 2-3 seconds it would be cool to have a time-sync for the CC. Of course the network, doing such a long tape delay, should do that for you, putting the CC into the text accurately and at the moment the words are said. You could write software to do that even with human typed captions, since the speech-recognition software can easily figure out what words match once it has both the audio and the words. Nice product idea for somebody.

Watching on the web

This time, various networks have put up extensive web offerings, and indeed on NBC this is the only way to watch many events live, or at all. Web offerings are good, though not quite at the quality of over-the-air HDTV, and quality matters here. But the web offerings have some failings

  • NBCs are only available if you subscribe to cable/satellite and buy MSNBC and CNBC. I don't buy MSNBC so I can't get them. But NBC is an OTA station!
  • The BBCs are only available in the UK, though there are tons of proxy services that will sell you the ability to pretend to have a UK IP. Then you can watch their superior coverage -- but not in very high quality. They do the nice thing on their web offerings of tagging bookmarks for important points, like the finals, medel ceremony, appearance by GB hopeful etc.
  • Nice as the web is, it lacks the instant-seek and the FF options of a local recording. I would like to watch on the web but with pre-cache download of the whole video file, so I can do all the things I can do above with MythTV. Web offerings do provide full random seek -- but there is a long delay after seeking. Youtube's new thumbnail seek would be a nice approach here.
  • Web video should be paired (even in fullscreen) with synchronized text of all the things you might like to see while watching -- who is competing, what the current scores and times are, etc. (NBC has a companion app for your phone to use while watching "live" but since I watch their "live" coverage delayed, it is not of use to me.)
  • Some web options have included cool things like user choice of camera angle.

In the future, it would be cool to see YouTube or another web company buy the rights to the Olympics instead of a TV network and design it as a super-interactive online experience, with the features above, control of whose commentary you hear, social networking with your friends -- even when watching it delayed either with synchronizing two people who are watching it delayed together or at least syncing comments to the playback time and avoiding spoilers when you watch out of order.

We can also see the potential for "clever" playlists of web video. For example, in many sports, we see roughly the same performance from a whole raft of athletes, one slightly better who wins a medal. I want some drama about who wins a medal, so what I would like is a playlist, created by an expert, that shows me the medalists and a few other non-medalists, plus perhaps people from countries of interest. I get a shorter event, I see the best in the world, and I get some drama because I don't know who won -- but in a fraction of the time.

NBC Fail and sound channels

The #nbcfail hashtag is getting many tweets a minute. Not just over the crazy things the announcers keep saying, but over the huge broadcast delays which assure spoilers unless you keep very careful to avoid the whole internet, radio and more while waiting. This is even worse for those of us who watch delayed-delayed, often behind by a day because there are other things to do in life.

I think that delayed is good, actually, but the spoilers are a challenge, especially on big sports like the 100m or the gold medals for your country. Perhaps a browser plug-in that knows what the spoilers are and blocks pages that mention sports and their winners if you have not yet watched it?

The other NBC Fail is the usual immense over-emphasis on certain US athletes and sports. I mean deleting a memorial tribute in the opening ceremony to show one of a dozen interviews with Phelps? Like there is not enough over-exposure of Phelps already? And they keep doing it -- one reason the fast-forward key is a good thing.

And, I must admit, I am pleased when the endlessly covered beach volleyball comes on, since it means I can FF for an hour, and it lets me cover the 12 hours of coverage in about 2 hours. Why is it that Americans, who traditionally have a great love for the underdog, love watching sports in which they are so dominant there is no drama? Sure, winning is fun, rooting for your nation is fun, but without drama? They same will happen in Basketball this week.

A second NBC Fail. In my prior notebooks on past games](/search/node/olympics) I've suggested they use SAP, alterate soundtrack channels or just the stereo balance to let me choose whether I want to hear the commentators. Apparently the BBC actually did this for the opening ceremony. Yay!

A great solution would be an audio track without the commentators but with their info on a closed caption channel. Then I could hear the sounds of the arena, see what's going on and read the commentary. Even better would be a CC channel (you can have several) which just has facts, rather than commentary. That would take some work to generate, but would be great. Even the deaf might love it.

High tech display of clock-based sports

As everybody knows, the most fun to watch sports are the ones where you can see with your own eyes who is winning. Like races on the track or roads, or swimming. Many sports however are judged by time trials on a clock, or by human judges who even score for artistic merit in addition to technical performance.

The time is coming in the latter sports for more computerized judging. For example, a computer could do superior judgement of the synchronized sports at least on the synchronization, and probably on most of the rest. Aside from giving an objective judgement instantly at the games, athletes could also test and train themselves against this standard.

For time trials, I would encourage the development of a system which films all the time trials, and then shows a synthesized race with the images of the important athletes (or the ones I select) overlayed together. While they would intersect each other from time to time, markers could show up when this happens. This requires fixed cameras, or cameras with extremely good localization if they are moving.

The downside for the network is that this takes a lot less time to watch, and so you can't see as many commercials, and viewers may even not be willing to pay, perversely, for this more compact format.

We sort of see this already with the moving lines they draw from fixed cameras showing world record lines or even the times of the current leaders. And I saw one example of this in 2010. Let's see more of it.

Better sports

As before, I would like to see more mixed sports. Equestrian is mixed. Shooting used to be. Yachting still is I think. Mixed doubles racquet sports are mixed. But more sports could be mixed in the mixed doubles approach. Any team sport can become a mixed sport. In fact, if there is a team sport with a men's medal but no woman's medal, instead of causing medal inflation by adding the women's event (which is hard to deny) just switch the men's event to a mixed event.

The Olympics are about the glory of sport but they are also about the spectacle on the world stage. The regular world championships in each sport are the real place where there is little audience and the best in the sport compete annually. The Olympics are for show and national glory. So it makes sense to design their events for the audience, not for the purity of sport. Which to me means more direct competition, objective measurement and drama. The one-by-one events where each athelete goes and looks to see how their numbers rank up can be very dramatic (particularly because they make the best athletes go last) but there are ways to do it even better.

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