This last weekend I was at the IndyCar race in Sonoma to see Verizon and Qualcomm (News - Alert) showcase LTE Broadcast—I also wanted to see the race. I’ve watched NASCAR and F1 racing, and IndyCar is kind of a weird hybrid. The cars are heavier versions of F1 cars that mostly run on an oval track, except in Sonoma they were on a more F1-like road course. The problem with a road course is that, particularly if you are sitting close to the starting line, you end up being unable to see the most exciting parts of the race. What LTE Broadcast does is allow your Smartphone to become a window into those parts.
It was an interesting effort but I think it could be made far better.
As noted above, you can’t see a lot of the course and like a lot of tracks the Sonoma Raceway has installed a huge TV in the infield so people don’t feel they are missing stuff by actually going to the race. This has a lot of irony in it but you often can get a better feel for a race, particularly a road race, from watching TV than you can from actually going. This is because the cameras can switch views instantly while, unless you’re The Flash, you can’t run fast enough to keep up with the action.
The one view that is really cool but tends to get old fast is the driver’s view. This is because they don’t put the camera on the driver’s head and it typically doesn’t have the field of view the driver has, so you end up being able to look at the road in front of the car, and the road in the back but not actually see enough at once to get a sense of what is actually going on.
Generally, when watching TV you are at the mercy of the TV camera crew and if you have a TiVo (News - Alert) or other DVR you can, if you are remote, take a little control back to slow the action, fast forward or rewind to the cool parts, or pause while you grab a beverage. One of the things I really hate about going to the track is going to the bathroom and hearing what sounds like a huge event that I just missed because I was indisposed.
LTE (News - Alert) Broadcast
What LTE Broadcast gives you is a constant channel you can set your phone to and then pull from a set group of resources and see what you otherwise were missing. If you wanted to see the driver view all the time you could do that. You could also pull the telematics from the car’s instruments and see when and how much force was applied for braking (they didn’t seem to brake hardly at all), how hard they were pushing the engine, what gear they were in, and how fast they were traveling. You could also get a digital overhead view which showed the numerical position of the cars on the track.
While this only worked with Verizon (News - Alert) and with Qualcomm’s chipsets, the images were high quality, and those that were able to use this service did get enough of a benefit to make the effort worthwhile. However I could quickly see how it could be far better.
While this was showcased on a Smartphone it would be far more fun on a tablet. The reason being you might want to lay up several of the video feeds at once—maybe have two or three driver’s views, the instrument view, and the digital view of track position. That way in one glance you get all of the information without having to quickly page though all of the different views. Even with a 6” screen phone it would have been hard to get more than one view but with an 11” tablet you could probably lay up 6 views and step from fun into amazing.
Wrapping Up: Making Attending Fun Again
One of the most painful races I ever went to was my first NASCAR race at the Brickyard. I hadn’t watched NASCAR at all until then and given there hadn’t been much real action our driver convinced us to leave early, which is when we found out that the last few laps are when folks actually race. I’d spent 12 hours getting to the track only to be stuck listening to the best parts of the race on the car’s radio. My buddy watching it at home actually had a better experience. However, what you don’t get from the TV is the excitement of being there, the sounds are amazing, the smell of the track, and it feels like something special while watching a race at home on TV even with the best sound system, isn’t the same as being there. With Qualcomm and Verizon’s LTE Broadcast there is the potential of having the best of both worlds and with a little work that potential could be amazing.