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Archive for Sunday, April 28, 2002

Device offers personal instant replays

The Insider,’ available at Atlanta’s Turner Field, looks to revolutionize trips to live sporting events

April 28, 2002

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— Not sure the runner touched the bag rounding second, or wondering whether that last pitch was off the plate?

A new wireless video device available to fans at Atlanta Braves home games offers personal instant replays from multiple camera angles.

And when the game is a yawner, it's no problem: The gadget gets seven channels. So you can watch other games, the news even cartoons.

The device, called The Insider, was introduced on opening day at the Braves' Turner Field. It looks like a fancy pair of binoculars and rents for $20 a game.

The Insider hasn't much caught on, but then again, baseball may not be the best sport for it. Creator Taz Anderson envisions a day when golf fans use it to keep an eye on faraway holes and NASCAR fans tune in to a camera placed in their favorite driver's car.

Victor Boudolf borrowed one from his friend at a recent Braves-Diamondbacks game, slipping the gray 1-pound device around his neck, putting on the earphones and switching on the palm-sized receiver/battery pack.

"Whoa. It's like one national pastime right with the other. You got baseball, and you got sitting on your butt watching TV. This is way cool," he said.

Giving people more

Anderson, 60, is a booming ex-fullback from Georgia Tech who can't stop smiling at curious fans milling around The Insider booth at Turner Field.

A real estate salesman who dabbles, Anderson came up with the idea as a way to give sports fans a little more to do than just watch the game.

Sports themselves aren't enough to keep people coming back to the park, Anderson said, craning his neck to point out the baseball arcade games, the speed-pitch machines, a face-painting booth and a costumed Scooby Doo character walking by. "People want more," he said.

Which is why, Anderson insists, venue owners won't mind renting a device that allows fans to watch events other than the one they paid to see.

Patent pending

Anderson doesn't claim to have invented any part of the device, though he says it is patent pending and has an experimental Federal Communications Commission license.

A short-distance transmitter at the stadium sends several camera feeds to the devices, which feature dual LCD screens. The Insider also shows ESPNews, Headline News and the Cartoon Network.

The channels could be changed for major sporting events. For example, baseball fans could switch over to local college football games on Saturday evenings in the fall.

"We see nothing but positive results so far," said Bob Wolfe, a senior vice president for the Braves. The devices will be available at Georgia Tech and Atlanta Falcons football games this fall, with possible expansion to other baseball parks next season.

The Braves aren't the first to experiment with wireless gadgets at a sports arena. In San Francisco, 3Com Stadium allows 49ers fans to use handheld computers to check statistics or send e-mail thanks to 50 transmitters in the stadium.

Anderson, meantime, is negotiating to make the Insider available for rentals at NASCAR and PGA events.

"I think everyone's waiting to see how it goes at the Braves games," said John Marshall, a spokesman for the PGA's BellSouth Classic tournament in Atlanta.

Not terrific, actually.

After a dozen games at Turner, business remains tepid. About 50 units are rented a game out of 200 available.

Curiosity is high

But Anderson and his two dozen employees have reason to hope at times curious fans were stacked five deep to get a look at the binoculars.

"Hey, y'all, you gotta come look at this," Anderson waves to two khaki-wearing, golf-shirted men. He handed the pair a couple of demo Insiders. "Isn't it great? Isn't it the greatest thing you ever saw?"

The men take a look, nod in agreement, then smile apologetically and decline to rent one.

Regan Gealy, 25, decides to rent one with a free coupon she got elsewhere in the park. She later finds the binoculars to be a little unwieldy, the picture too fuzzy to justify the $20.

"Where would it ever be convenient to use it? I don't get it," Gealy says, trying to cue up a replay of a Curt Schilling pitch and struggling with the receiver.

Gealy's friend gives it higher marks.

"It's good if you like to watch the pitchers," says Bobby Williamson, 30. "Myself, I'd rather just watch the game."

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