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Diamond Vision: Panasonic, Asaca Debut DVD-RAM Video Coaching System at PacBell Park

by David Doering

When two major players like Panasonic and jukebox vendor Asaca team up, it's a whole new ballgame, no matter where or what you're playing. Nowhere is that more evident than at PacBell Park, the San Francisco Giants' glorious new ballpark. Acclaimed for its idyllic downtown location, a block off the bay and miles from the blustery climes of its Candlestick Point predecessor, PacBell Park boasts more than a great view-it's also got great video, courtesy of a promising rookie technology called DVD-RAM. Panasonic Corporate Systems Company provided much of the electronic infrastructure of the new field, with an unprecedented video coaching system-based on the Asaca DVD-RAM jukebox--batting cleanup. Going to the Show

This system answers a basic need: How do you provide players and coaches with an effective way to review performance? More specifically, how do you provide this feedback in an easy-to-use system? For example, suppose you are a Giants player and your stats say you're struggling against left-handed pitchers. Are you swinging at too many bad pitches? Dropping your shoulder too early in your swing? Or overcompensating in your stance? Say, on the other hand, you're are a catcher and base-runners are stealing on you right and left. Are they stealing your signals? Are you giving them away? How could you review these performances?

The answer is in a browser-based video library on an intranet. This revolutionary Intranet-based video coaching system is designed to improve player performance and more accurately scout competitive tendencies by indexing this video content on DVD-RAM. Prior to using this innovative system, the club depended on a VHS tape system. After each game, video from the game was edited to create VHS cassettes for each player. As the year wore on, more tapes were generated. Indexing then amounted to little more than adding the player's name to the outside of each relevant tape.

If, then, you wanted to view your performance against left-handed pitchers, you would have to run manually through hours of tape to view those relevant parts. (You might speed up the process if you knew a lot of details, like what part of the season the play occurred, about what part of the game, etc.) Worse, even if you did find the relevant game footage, VHS technology offers poor playback resolution, especially in slow-motion. So if you wanted to study your actual movements in the play, well, you might have to use a bit of imagination to fill in the gaps. The new DVD-RAM video system solves all that. Using MPEG-2 video, playback shows razor-sharp images that players and coaches can go through frame by frame to recall each part of the performance. To make the process even simpler, the Panasonic indexing database offers browser-based navigation. This allows even novice users easy access to relevant video via one of the workstations on the dedicated network.

Bill Schlough, vice president and chief information officer for the Giants, heads up a staff of ten-the largest such MIS staff in Major League Baseball. Schlough feels the club strongly supports his effort to create not just the most friendly and useful Web site in the league, but also in creating the tools needed to help the club win games.

The Fundamentals

The heart of the video coaching system is a conventional rack with the coaching system servers. These incorporate three Compaq Proliant servers-one as the Web server, one as the database server, and one as the network server. The Web server provides a full gigabyte of RAM, while the others plug along with 256MB. Each runs Microsoft Windows NT 4.0, with the Eeb server handling IIE software. (The park itself uses a combination of Novell NetWare 5.0 and Windows NT for its network.)

Linked to the database server via an Ultra SCSI connection is the750-disc Asaca DVD-RAM jukebox. It uses dual-sided 2.6GB media to hold close to 4TB of data. Right now the system is only partially full (about 200 discs)-not surprising, since they just started using the system at the start of this season. The system's designers expect the Asaca to hold about three full seasons' worth of video data, with each game yielding about 20 actual minutes of MPEG-2 video for archiving.

Once the full 4TB capacity is reached, Schlough plans to take advantage of the Asaca's expansion port to incorporate one or more additional jukeboxes In fact, Schlough readily admits that this was a small installation for Asaca, as most other sites he understands order several units together rather than just a single box.

Around the Horn

The video flows into the Asaca box as follows: the system receives an MPEG-2-encoded video stream from a video production system located elsewhere in the park. This stream is created from output from four video cameras mounted around the stadium to provide clear images of any player in action. This output is indexed using a proprietary database tool, which sends this index to be stored on a Microsoft SQL server in the Panasonic rack mount unit. This index then is accessed from any of the five workstations using an HTML-based screen over the intranet. Since the start of the season, the unit has run flawlessly. Retrieval speed from the user perspective is "almost instantaneous," says Schlough. (We can probably guess that anything compared with the old video tape system must seem a vast improvement.) This retrieval speed is impressive, considering the caching challenge. While more conventional, tape-based video applications collect video in unwieldy chunks of minutes or hours, the player-performance MPEG clips used in the PacBell system may only be seconds long. These kinds of MPEG clips make the indexing software and caching mechanism work harder to ensure this prompt delivery.

The video coaching system is the brainchild of Dan Quill, application developer for the Giants, working with Panasonic's engineering team. Once they laid out the basic concept, they sat down with the Giants' Assistant General Manager Ned Colleti, administrative coach Carlos Alfonso, and other members of the Giants' managerial staff to devise a custom system that met their specific needs.

In particular, Colleti highlights "the people of Panasonic Corporate Systems Company, who have brought video coaching to a new level." He adds, "Professional sports teams continually search for new and innovative ways to enhance performance. We feel Panasonic's unique approach is far superior to any other system we have considered." The video coaching system itself is entirely separate from the video production facility used for broadcasting the games or running the scoreboard. This includes separate cameras as well as the video mixers, digitizers, and recording system for the DVD-RAM solution. The system uses a dedicated fiber-optic network running to five workstations where coaches and players access the Web-based indexing tool.

According to Asaca national sales manager Chris Stone, the TeraCart gives Panasonic something other jukeboxes can't. While the Panasonic team might have gone with a JVC or even its own Panasonic brand box, they opted for the TeraCart. "In terms of disc capacity and expandability, the TeraCart is unique," says Stone. "Plus, the Asaca jukebox is based on its long-standing MO robotics. This is all industrial-strength equipment. These are broadcast-level units and not modified office equipment."

This level of performance is borne out by the Giants' Bill Schlough. He reports no downtime from jukebox issues since powering up in March 2000. This, with the system in use almost every day of the week-either in recording or coaching or both. The solution's demonstrated reliability, plus its handy indexing feature, have coaches and players are ecstatic about the new system.

I'm Just Here to Help the Ballclub...

The potential for performance review and archiving with DVD-RAM jukeboxes is clearly significant. This market segment has remained un-addressed until now, as the older video tape technology simply wasn't up to it. Sports, film, television, and other industries will benefit from what the Giants now have, according to Chris Baumgart, National Director of Sales and Marketing for Panasonic Corporate Systems Company. "If the Panasonic video coaching system can help the Giants win one more game by enabling a player to improve his swing or refine a pitch," he adds, "then it could make the difference between winning and losing the pennant."

San Francisco Giants, Pacific Bell Park, 24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94107; http://www.sfgiants.com

Panasonic Corporate Systems Company, 3330 Cahuenga Boulevard West, Suite 505, Los Angeles, CA 90068; psinfo@panasonic.com; http://www.panasonic.com

Asaca/Shibasoku Corporation, 400 Corporate Circle, Suite G, Golden, CO 80401, USA; 303/278-1111; Fax 303/278-0303; http://www.asaca.com

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