Explainers

Setting the VAR: Football’s newest technology

And where better to shine than the 2018 FIFA World Cup

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The 2018 FIFA World Cup is in full swing, with the last few matches about to take place en route to the Round of 16 on Saturday. While the world’s greatest football players are taking center stage, another main attraction in the tournament is the football world’s latest technology: the Video Assistant Referee.

The Video Assistant Referee or VAR has been adopted in sports like tennis and rugby, and recently by football leagues such as the English FA Cup and the Bundesliga in Germany. Ideally, the VAR helps make decisions for referees much easier and more accurate — especially for crucial, game-changing calls. But is the technology useful and helpful in every possible way?

Illustrations from FIFA.com

What is the VAR?

The VAR is a video system that feeds information to referees on the pitch through a wireless earpiece. Assistant referees  gather the information away from the stadium and forward these to the referees when a call is contested. The VAR marks the huge step football leagues are taking to digitize football, and has been used since last year.

It utilizes a goal line technology that allows the cameras in the stadium to scan the pitch at every minute. With this technology, movement on the pitch is detected at all possible angles and calls can be made more precisely. Assistant referees inside a control room have access to all these cameras and they send live feed to the pitch via tablet or iPad should the referees want to look at the footage themselves.

The VAR reviews game-changing calls on the football pitch at the time a protest is filed. FIFA lists only four game-changing calls to be considered: goals, penalties, direct red card incidents, and mistaken identity. The VAR checks the validity of these calls and sends the information to the referees. Do note, however, that the referees themselves still have the final decision on what call to make.

The system made its debut in a FIFA Club World Cup in December 2017 between Atletico Nacional and Kashima Antlers. The referee rewarded Kashima with a penalty after reviewing a play inside the penalty box.

Putting the VAR to work

2017 also saw the VAR’s debut in the English FA Cup, but it had its own set of controversies along the way. During a quarterfinal match between Tottenham and Rochdale, a goal by Tottenham was reversed for unclear reasons cited by the VAR. German football league Bundesliga also utilized the VAR during its latest season, but received mixed reactions from players and fans.

In the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the VAR takes center stage as a decision-making aide for referees in the group stages. The first instance was a non-call on a foul by Spain’s Diego Costa in their 3-3 epic against Portugal. Costa would slice the Portugese defense to tie the game at 1-1 at the time, but did so while taking down Pepe from Portugal. After the review from the VAR, the referee stood by his decision to count the goal.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hf8d06eXdxY

The second instance happened in the France-Australia game when French striker Antoine Griezmann was tackled inside the box, yet the referee called for play to continue. Griezmann received a pass from Paul Pogba, and virtually blitzed through the Socceroo’s defensive line. Griezmann was awarded the penalty after reviewing footage from the VAR as the French went on to win, 2-1.

The third instance was in the Peru-Denmark game when another penalty was awarded to Christian Cuerva of Peru. Denmark’s Yussuf Poulsen tackled the Peruvian in the box, yet the referee called for the play to continue until the incident was reviewed via VAR. However, Cuerva missed the penalty and Poulsen scored in another possession to give the Danish the win, 1-0.

A VAR too high or too low?

While the VAR has only been around for well over a year, it isn’t exempt from both praise and criticism. Many people have shown their praises for the newest technology applied to the football world. The VAR now adds certainty and legitimacy to calls made by referees during matches, instead of them making the same wrong call every time. With football players and managers focusing on the tiniest of details to improve their game, information from the VAR becomes important.

The VAR provides an opportunity for football games to be fair and balanced. Referees now have different vantage points to look at when making calls that ultimately change the outcome of the game. People came to see a quality match wherein the players truly shine, but sometimes the referee’s poor decisions hamper that. In this regard, there is no excuse for not making the right decision with all the video evidence available.

However, a lot of people also have strong feelings against using VAR. While the effort to make the right calls is appreciated, it gets in the way of what makes football so special. When referees call for the VAR — especially with contested goals — fans become anxious instead of jubillant. Usually, fans go into a frenzy the moment the ball goes through the net — no replays needed. It’s as if the game feels all too unrealistic because of all the technicalities.

For football players and coaches, the VAR only adds confusion to fans. Because some football stadiums are built without any big screens, fans become unaware of what’s happening when the referee calls for the VAR. Iran’s coach Carlos Queiroz lambasted the use of the VAR for close, judgment calls — particularly the offside call on his squad in a loss to Spain. He believes that the VAR was put in place to correct obvious mistakes by referees, not debatable calls.

Photo from FIFA.com

Final verdict

The VAR is a fairly new technology introduced in the world of football, and surely, it’s not perfect. It’s a bold take on digitalizing football, keeping up with the technological demands of today. Because football is decided by people making the right calls at the right time, the VAR becomes an important part in establishing the basis for such calls. The VAR is a useful solution for referees to make the right decisions on the pitch.

However, we must be critical about how the VAR should play in during very crucial moments in the game. The VAR should help give fans a fair yet exciting football match without losing its spirit. With the Round of 16 coming up, all eyes will be on the VAR and whether it will help make the road to the finals interesting or not.

At the end of the day, football fans came to see the best players in the world do what they do best, and no amount of technology should get in the way of that.

Explainers

The secrets behind iPhone 13’s Cinematic Mode

Together with Apple’s VP for iPhone Product Marketing as well as their Human Interface Designer

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For the first time ever, we had a three-way interview with Apple’s VP for iPhone Product Marketing, Kaiann Drance as well as one of their leading Human Interface Designers, Johnnie Manzari. If you’re not starstruck enough, both of them appeared in Apple’s September 2021 Keynote event!

Other than new camera sensors, newer camera features are also found on the new iPhone 13 Series. One of those is the new Cinematic Mode.

If you’ve watched some of our latest iPhone videos including the Sierra Blue iPhone 12 Pro Max unboxing, we’ve let you take a sneak peek on that new video mode.

We’re not gonna lie, it’s one amazing camera feature Apple has managed to deliver.

But what are the secrets behind it? And are you curious how technicalities work?

Watch our 16-minute interview with the Apple executives explaining why Cinematic Mode is the next big thing in mobile videography.

 

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How Google alerted the Philippines during the July earthquake

Crowd-sourcing data

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Illustrations by Kris Blanco

Back in July, an earthquake rocked Metro Manila. Unbeknownst to most but noticed by some, a globally renowned company was helping everyone through the natural incident: Google. In the few minutes leading up to and during the 6.7 magnitude earthquake, Android users received important alerts warning them of the ongoing tremors. Though it wasn’t the dreaded Big One, the alert afforded attentive users a few precious seconds to either seek appropriate cover or stop doing dangerous tasks.

Incidentally, the tech surrounding Google’s earthquake alert system wasn’t just hastily built on ongoing databases or social media. Google actually packed in a fully responsive earthquake sensor for Android phones.

Faster than an earthquake

The forever-increasing speed of technology has always been a contentious element since the rise of smartphones. Developers and users alike have wondered how accurate or quick our favorite devices can warn us of things happening around us. There’s even an XKCD comic about how Twitter can warn us of an earthquake minutes before it reaches the reader.

Over the years, technology has developed new ways to deliver alerts. From simple weather apps to city-wide messaging systems, users can receive warnings in a timely fashion. Practically nothing is a surprise anymore with the right technology.

That said, Google has successfully developed a new system that can rely on other Android smartphones to accurately tell whether or not an earthquake is happening.

A quake detector in your pocket

Speaking to Android Police, the feature’s lead engineer Marc Stogaitis described how Google’s earthquake sensor leveraged other devices to tell users about the quake. It all revolves around the different sensors built inside your phone.

As it is, every smartphone comes with a host of sensors to support its different functions. A light detector can seamlessly adjust brightness and camera settings, and a gyroscope can support compasses, for example. With earthquakes, the biggest element to ponder on is a smartphone’s movement and vibrations during an earthquake.

According to the lead engineer, figuring out the metrics for detecting an earthquake wasn’t a problem. After decades of accurate seismograph technology, developers already have an idea on what they need to measure.

However, the technology does not stop there. Naturally, there are hiccups to relying on just a single (or even every) phone’s data. For one, a city-wide messaging system can set off everyone’s phone in a single area, potentially causing false positives. Plus, relying on a single phone is definitely tricky. There are multiple actions which can cause vibrations akin to an earthquake.

Crowdsourcing a quake

The feature doesn’t rely on just one phone. It doesn’t tap into every Android phone in an area either. Instead, it collates data from phones plugged into a charger. Naturally, a plugged-in phone is the most reliable barometer in terms of battery reliability. They won’t die out in the middle of an earthquake and ruin a source of data. Additionally, charging phones are often stationary. They won’t be affected by motions that mimic earthquakes.

Google “listens” to charging devices in an area. If the subset meets the criteria for an earthquake, the company quickly determines the earthquake’s epicenter (based on approximate location) and magnitude. Once the system declares that a quake is indeed happening, it sends out an alert to nearby devices and gives them the time needed to seek shelter.

The alerts naturally prioritize people nearer to the epicenter. But, of course, the speed will ultimately depend on the phone’s connectivity. A phone hooked up to a building’s fast Wi-Fi connection will receive alerts faster than a commuter’s phone on data while going through a tunnel.

Still, the short time that the alerts give users is enough to save themselves from a precarious situation. Though the feature can potentially warn users of quakes minutes in advance, Stogaitis says that it will more realistically push alerts five to ten seconds before the incident. However, five seconds is enough to go under a table and have some sort of protection against falling debris.

Still keeping things private

For anyone worrying about how Google is handling their data, Stogaitis says that the company removes all identifiers from the data except for approximate location. And, despite that, Google still maintains that the feature will be the most accurate that it can be. Either way, the feature will be useful for any earthquakes in the future.

The earthquake sensor is available for any Android phone running Lollipop and above. Naturally, the feature still necessitates that users turn on emergency alerts on their phone.

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Explainers

The industry’s next big thing: Cloud gaming explained

It’s gaming on the go, but for internet that’s not slow

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Everybody’s getting into gaming these days, and you can’t blame them. With the pandemic continuing its ravaging ways in the world, people turn to their consoles or PCs for some action. However, not everyone can afford all the expensive PCs and the next-gen consoles when they come out.

Instead, a new player comes into the fray with a pretty great idea. What would happen if you can just play your favorite games from any device? Also, what if we told you that this won’t take up space on your device at all? This is basically what cloud gaming offers to you: a way to play games from any device at any time!

So, how does that actually work? What do you need to ensure quality gameplay, and should you even consider it?

The basics of playing on a cloud

On paper, it’s pretty easy to understand how cloud gaming works. Basically, you have access to a library of games from a cloud storage service. When you subscribe to the service, you can virtually play your library from any device regardless of the specs. Also, you don’t have to worry about storage problems since these games are stored on a server.

It’s no joke when these companies tell you that you can play your games on any device. With their dedicated data servers, they make sure that the games run smoothly once you access them from the cloud. On your end, you will need a strong and consistent internet connection to play the games smoothly.

Several companies already have cloud gaming software available for people to subscribe to. Some examples include NVIDIA’s GeForce Now, Microsoft’s xCloud, and Google Stadia — all of which store PC games on a server. These companies even take the time to update their server hardware every so often to bring the best possible quality.

System requirements for cloud gaming

Much like your ordinary PC or gaming console, companies that run cloud gaming servers need certain equipment to run smoothly. First, these companies must set up active data centers and server farms that run the games. These data centers ensure that games are up and running, while reducing latency. In other words, these serve as the powerhouse of cloud gaming.

Next on the list is the network infrastructure necessary to send these to the users. To ensure that people don’t experience lags when they play their games, companies also invest in acquiring proper data connections. However, in most cases, this isn’t something these companies have control over; it’s mostly coming from their available internet service providers.

On the front-end, companies also provide dedicated hardware and software to house the cloud. For example, NVIDIA integrated GeForce Now into their own cloud streaming device, the NVIDIA Shield back in 2013. Meanwhile, Google Stadia relies heavily on using pre-existing Google software like Google Chrome and the Stadia App.

Something great to offer, for the most part

Cloud gaming services offer something unique in the industry. Essentially, it eliminates the user from investing so much into buying expensive PCs as it allows people to play from virtually any device. Whether it’s on a smartphone, laptop, or even a smart TV, people get access to games at high frame rates without an RTX 3080.

Furthermore, the game and save files are stored on the cloud, and don’t take up any storage on your devices. This is greatly beneficial for people who are already running on limited storage space, especially if they play Call of Duty: Warzone. With everything stored on the cloud, you don’t need most of the 512GB of SSD storage.

However, one of the biggest issues with cloud gaming revolves around the thing it’s based on: the internet. Specifically, it’s on the user’s internet connection as these services require the fastest internet to run smoothly on any device. Basically, you will need either an Ethernet or a 5G wireless connection to ensure the lowest latency possible.

That infrastructure isn’t readily available in most markets, which is a prominent issue among several third-world countries. Furthermore, even if there are companies that have 5G in their pipeline, these same providers also put data caps on it. Even if the user can play at an optimal frame rate, they’re doing so with a restriction in place.

Does this new player have any place?

With the world continuously opening its arms to the gaming industry, innovation becomes the forefront of success. Companies come up with a variety of gaming technologies that seek to cater to a wide variety of people. From individual hardware to pre-built systems, gaming often revolved around these things.

With cloud gaming, it gives people not just another option within the mix. Rather, it seeks to challenge the notion of availability and accessibility, and give it a viable solution. Essentially, it takes away the physical hardware limitations on the user’s end, and makes it available for everyone.

But like most gaming technologies, everything is still limited somehow. These systems still experience bottlenecks both on the manufacturer and the user’s end. In the end, it will depend on how much you’re willing to shell out for them, and how willing you are to accept the risks.

Illustrations by Raniedel Fajardo

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