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From Xs and Os to 1s and 0s: NFL, Microsoft Put Tablets On Sidelines

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The new Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet after it was unveiled May 19, 2014 in New York.  (Credit: STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

The new Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet after it was unveiled May 19, 2014 in New York. (Credit: STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

Ian Bush Ian Bush
Ian Bush is an anchor, reporter, news editor, and technology editor&nb...
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By KYW tech editor Ian Bush

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – When the Philadelphia Eagles take the field for their first preseason contest against the Bears tonight, there will be something new on the sidelines — besides the players vying for a spot on the roster.

It’s about time the NFL makes the switch from paper to digital, and they’re doing so with a reported $400 million partnership with Microsoft.

“It gives teams and coaches a ton more information,” says Ryan Luckin, a senior public relations manager at Microsoft. “And ultimately, the speed of that information is really important.”

Using Surface tablets, the time it takes for those on the sidelines to get a birds-eye view of the opposition’s formations is reduced to a few seconds, rather than the half-minute or more a fax or printout — traditional means, believe it or not, for transmitting photos to the field — requires.

“Zooming and being able to look at color images is critical,” Luckin says. “If I’m a quarterback, I can take this information and say in this setup, when we were 3rd and 5, they were showing me a safety blitz. Without the digital component, if I were looking at a traditional static image, I would really just know the number of players.”

Teams can use the Surface like a telestrator, drawing plays and highlighting problems. The images can be bookmarked for easy reference later in the game.

“That has a tangible impact on the game to ensure those guys can get the information, ingest it, make a decision, and get back out on the field,” says Luckin.

What they can’t do is browse the web or Tweet with the tablets, and for now, the NFL is blocking video.

Teams will get 25 Surface tablets — 13 for each sideline, 12 in each coaches’ box — which are stored in temperature-controlled boxes plastered with Microsoft logos, hoping to catch a TV camera lens.

There’s a tangential benefit for armchair quarterbacks — at least those who have an Xbox One and/or their own Surface tablet.

Microsoft says the systems will provide real-time stats updates especially useful for fantasy footballers.

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