Levi’s Stadium is thought to be the first big league sports venue to integrate 8K tech. (Courtesy San Francisco 49ers) 

Sharp resolution ‘could change the tone of the game’

The San Francisco 49ers are using 8K video technology to provide a greater home-field advantage at Levi’s Stadium.

Through its partnership with Foxconn Industrial Internet, a deal signed in 2019, the NFL team has integrated 8K into its game day presentation. The technology displays the sharpest video resolution to date to transfer instant replay images to the stadium’s videboards in both end zones. 

Team officials would not disclose the investment. It’s part of Foxconn’s multiyear agreement. The technology firm signed the deal in large part to showcase its 8K system, said Aron Kennedy, the 49ers’ vice president of game day production and broadcast operations.

Under 8K, which doubles the resolution and quadruples the number of pixels over 4K technology, those images provide a much clearer view of a replay that could potentially make the difference in a 49ers home game, Kennedy said.

“It literally could change the tone of the game in some cases, and I’ve seen it happen,” he said. “With the 8K cameras, you get unbelievably clear images from 150 yards away.”

Levi’s Stadium is thought to be the first big league sports venue to integrate the technology, Kennedy said. Kennedy is in his seventh season with the 49ers after filling a similar role for 11 years with the Philadelphia Eagles.

The 49ers have been testing the system over the past year with five stationary 8K cameras mounted along the sidelines and goal lines. Those cameras will operate for the team’s next home game, Nov. 5 against Green Bay. 

Unlike other sports, NFL teams can show most replays during a game, which the 49ers are embracing with 8K. 

Under league rules, teams are required to show replays of turnovers, touchdowns and interceptions. The close calls, though, the ones that could potentially be overturned as a result of a cutting-edge replay system, are driving the use of the technology, Kennedy said.

For example, if a 49ers receiver comes down with the ball along the sideline and is ruled out of bounds, “but I have a camera that can go in and see that foot in bounds, in theory, the coach could challenge the call and it goes in our favor,” he said.

Conversely, there are things “we don’t have to show,” Kennedy said. “In some cases, if something that I don’t have to show is going to hurt our team, I’m not going to show it. Being in the league so long, I consider one of my jobs here to be part of the team. I can help change the outcome of the game and a play.”

During the pandemic, the 49ers are among about a dozen NFL teams still playing home games without fans in the stands. To showcase 8K to their fans, they plan to highlight the technology through social media channels through the rest of the season with branded segments the day after the game, team spokesman Roger Hacker said.

The technology is so new that it has taken a while for the 49ers to adapt to the system. Because it’s so advanced, there are limitations as the market catches up. Comcast, for example, the dominant cable television provider in the Bay Area, is not yet delivering an 8K signal, Kennedy said.

 In-venue, the 49ers can accommodate the technology. 

Levi’s Stadium opened in 2014 and the videoboards are 7 years old now with standard HD capability, but the screens remain capable of transmitting 8K camera angles with greater clarity, Kennedy said. 

“With LED technology, it’s not about how dense the pixel is. It’s about how close the viewer is to the board,” he said. “Some arenas are doing 4K boards, and because the fans are so much closer to the board, you can appreciate the detail. In football stadiums, the boards are so far from the fan, you can have a normal HD signal and it looks great.”