Archive for November, 2014

A Holiday Shopping Roundup

If you prefer casually drinking coffee and wearing pajamas while you shop, look no further than Cyber Monday. The new Black Friday, Cyber Monday also offers a wide array of gifts and options for shoppers. I suppose nothing is stopping you from going shopping today in your PJs, but that is really up to you and your local clothing statutes. We here at TechGraphs love our sports, but we’re all nerds at heart. And there are no shortage of deals for our brethren this holiday shopping season.

Just like how Black Friday deals creeping into Thanksgiving Day, some retailers are kicking off Cyber Monday as soon as today. The prices over at Amazon are lower than usual — though if you wait until Monday you may get an even better rate — if you’re in the market for anything ranging from MLB team zip-up hoodies, portable chargers for your phone or tablet, or even a 3D printer.

For the video documentary enthusiasts, make sure to check out HTC’s RE camera. You can hold it in your hand or with a simple mounting bracket the RE can go on your bicycle to record everything from beautiful scenery to bad driers. Regularly priced at $200, they will be on sale all weekend (while supplies last) for half off. The waterproof RE snaps pictures with its 16 mega-pixel camera and records video in 1080p.

On the other hand, if you’re more the style to watch movies than to film them, the Google Play Store is offering some great deals. With almost 90 movies available for less than 10 bucks, Google has you covered if you want to catch up on films. On top of the entertainment available, items such as Chromebooks, Chromecast and smart watches are all being offered at discounted prices. The LG G Watch is $130 dollars off its regular price of $229 and is compatible with any Android device — not LG specific — running 4.3 or higher. Other incentives such as up to $50 toward the Play Store are running on the Samsung Gear Live, ASUS ZenWatch and Sony SmartWatch 3.

If you’re an Apple enthusiast, fear not, as the Apple Store is running up to $100 dollars in iTunes gift card with a Mac purchase or $50 for an iPhone or iPad. AppleTV, compatible with MLB.TV, HBO GO, ABC, Watch ESPN, NFL Now and more, is also offering a $25 gift card. Though it is still being sold at the $99 regular price, with the gift card AppleTV basically 25% and makes for a great gift. Special thanks to AppShopper for already posting marked down apps, including some free apps.

Factor in other sites such as NewEgg, Tiger Direct and of course PC Part Picker (all are among my favorite sites to shop), there is no shortage of incredible deals to take advantage of. Rather than fighting for parking or bruising my elbows over in-store deals, I think I’ll enjoy this coffee and only worry about whether or not I want to eat left-over turkey for lunch or dinner. Maybe both.

(Image credit via IMDB)

What Vine’s New Push Notifications Could Mean for Sports

The social media app Vine is sort of hard to nail down. Yes, it’s a tool that lets users share short videos with their friends and the world, but it doesn’t have one particular purpose. People use it to make comedy clips, post super short music videos, commit acts of journalism, and any other kind of thing that can fit in a six-second short. Vine is a great tool to blast out a video to all your Facebook and Twitter cohorts. But with our list of friends and followed accounts growing all the time, it becomes easier and easier to miss great content. Vine is hoping to counteract that by offering users the ability to receive mobile notifications from their favorite Viners. With a single touch, people can now get notified whenever an account posts a new video.

This could be seen as useful for lots of people, but I think sports fans could really benefit if leagues and teams do it right on their end. Almost every major league sports franchise has a Vine account. How much they use it varies quite a bit. But Vine could be used by these teams (and their respective leagues) to push out a good deal of highlights to fans. Certain league-specific apps can do this already, but Vine could be used as a one-stop highlight spot spanning across multiple leagues and teams.

It’s true that some teams use Vine to do this already. But the addition of push notifications taps into the immediacy of sports. Of course people can gather around a computer at the office on Monday and re-watch (and re-watch and re-watch) Odell Beckham Jr.’s one-handed snag, but a big football fan would want the ability to see it on their phone while they’re at the airport, on the bus, or even hanging at home without the game on TV.

Vine’s new push abilities compliment sports highlights as a whole. There could certainly be some TV licensing rules to deal with, but teams and leagues should see this new feature as a great potential to reach fans. We want our highlights and we want them now. Vine is making it easier for that to happen. Now it’s on the content creators.

(Image via Jason Howie)

EA’s FIFA Spreads Homegrown Interest

Impressive sales numbers aside — Electronic Arts’ (EA) FIFA games have sold over 100 million copies throughout the franchise’s life — the game has been sowing the seeds of genuine soccer interest in the United States. While the latest version of the game, FIFA 2015, has been out for more than two months now, one of the best signs of increased home interest in the beautiful game is the record of online play for FIFA 14.

Even since March of this year — prior to the United States men’s national team improbably making it out of group play in the World Cup — soccer in general and Major League Soccer in particular was growing. As a joint effort between ESPN Sports Poll and Luker on Trends shows, for the first time ever MLS has reached the same level of fandom (measured by 12-17 year-olds who claimed avid interest) as Major League Baseball.

Luker on Trends partnered with EA again to release their latest data, showing distinct growth in online play as an MLS club from 2014 to 2015. The most popular clubs, Seattle Sounders, New York Red Bulls and L.A. Galaxy, come as no surprise given the super stars such as Clint Dempsey, Thierry Henry and Landon Donovan respectively, are all available to start slotting goals home.

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It would be difficult to understate the importance of the US youth showing such an interest in the world sport for the future of the USMNT and USWNT teams. With more violent sports such as football being ruled out by certain professional athletes, specifically citing soccer, it is possible that some of our nation’s best young athletes will be turning to soccer for their competitive outlet.

(Header and graphic via EA.com)

 


ESPN Planning Debut of Pay-to-Stream Service with Cricket World Cup

We’ve all heard rumblings of ESPN launching services that allow viewers to watch MLS or NBA games without a cable or satellite subscription. As of today, they’ve only existed in rumor. According to a report by Re/code, however, ESPN may finally be entering the cord-cutter-friendly domain as early as February — though not with the sport you might assume.

Though plans don’t seem to be quite finalized as of yet, ESPN is looking to broadcast the Cricket World Cup via online streaming service come February. To U.S. viewers, this may not hold as much clout as a deal with the NBA, but it would be the first step in the eventual move away from TV-bundled streaming. As of now, services like WatchESPN and Fox Sports Go require a current cable or satellite subscription for full functionality. This makes it a convenience service for current subscribers, not a solution for those who don’t have the need/disposable income for a TV package. What ESPN is supposedly offering with cricket would pave the way to a much wider a-la-carte option — only pay for the sports you want to see.

This isn’t a shot across the bow of the streaming services already offered by the four major American sports. Were this type of streaming service to expand to leagues like the NBA or MLS, it would most likely come as an addendum to a cord-cutters current arsenal to go along with their current MLS Live or NBA League Pass subscription.

In a perfect world, we’d be able to pay one lump some to stream all the [insert sport here] games that are played during a season. But with team revenues tied so strongly to TV contracts, that doesn’t seem very likely. Certain leagues have deals with certain TV networks, and that’s just a fact of life. But if we were allowed to pay that network a little extra to access those usually-blacked-out games, that may be beneficial to both sides. Though it’s getting its start in a fairly obscure market (at least as far as U.S. watchers go), ESPN’s plans with cricket might be that pivotal first building block.

(Image via Pulkit Sinha)

A Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Scandal

As popularity in a sport grows, so too can the inherent trappings that go along with being in the mainstream. Fame and money come into it, which can sometimes lead to foul play. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, a game by Valve Corporation that will be shown on the X Games in January, was hit with a massive cheating scandal over the past few days. Already three individual professional  players and two teams have been banned by Valve’s anti-cheat program, VAC.

The actual cheats themselves was detected not by Valve, but rather a competitive gaming league, ESEA. Once confirmed as a cheat, the league contacted Valve directly regarding the cheating and thus the bans were handed down via Valve Anti-Cheat or VAC. The programs used to improve the player’s aim is allegedly contained within a mouse software or on Valve’s own Steam Cloud, thus both went previously undetected by VAC as well as being usable while playing in a live-in person tournament. A game hack to improve aim such as an aimbot or aim lock, when the player has no vision or knowledge of the opposing player, is a blatant cheat.

The three players banned by VAC — dubbed as a VACation by reddit’s r/globaloffensive — are Simon “smn” Beck, Gordon “SF” Giry and Hovik “KQLY” Tovmassian. The significance of such an advantage cannot be understated, as killing the opposing team is often required to win rounds. In a competitive format, the first teams usually play a best of 3 across three different maps. First team to 16 round wins will take the map win.

These bans, as well as other players coming under suspicion, most notably Robin “Flusha” Rönnquist, come just before a major tournament at DreamHack Winter. According the DH website, the CS:GO alone portion of the tournament offers a prize pool of $250,000. Of the original eight invited teams to DH, two teams with the now banned cheaters have been disqualified.

With esports gaining more momentum and access to casual fans as well as the inquiring non-gamer, to see a cheating scandal of this magnitude hurts the CS:GO community, though not all is lost. While cheating is nothing new, other esports have had such events unfold and bounced back. In June of 2010, the StarCraft community was rocked when a match fixing scandal was confirmed in the most prestigious SC league, ProLeague. Then a total of 11 players were confirmed for throwing games in exchange for money from various gambling websites. While it is an entirely different game, it does give hope to CS:GO enthusiasts about bouncing back.

(Image via Valve’s Steam Store)

 


Dutch Football League To Unveil New Replay System?

Windmills, wooden shoes and correct calls in football. All three may soon be synonymous with the Netherlands, as the Royal Dutch Football Association (Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbalbond or KNVB) is looking to implement a specific video referee next season (warning: you’ll need to translate the page). They would be the first association football league in the world to have a separate referee for replays.

Existing replay services such as FIFA’s GoalControl technology or the English Premier League’s Hawk-Eye system are goal-line specific where 14 different cameras capture every angle. While certainly helpful and undoubtedly needed, the KNVB replay referee would observe things more than just goals. Incidents ranging from whether a foul was a red or just a yellow card or if a penalty should be awarded or not. The replay system will also be able to include dives, hand-balls and headbutts if necessary and any action away from the ball where the on-field referee may not have vision. If Luis Suarez gets loaned to a Dutch League team, perhaps biting will be reviewable as well. No word has been handed down as to whether or not it will be able to also rule on offsides calls, however.

The video referee will be located outside of the stadium in a van with multiple monitors. Each stadium will have their own replay system rather than the NHL or MLB style replay center. Using a headset, the video ref will be able to be in contact with the on-field referee in order to rapidly and accurately call the game.

With a strong concern to maintain the integrity of both the game, especially from retired EPL referees such as Graham Poll. In an interview with BBC Radio 5 live, when asked about replay, Poll said:

“The game has speeded up. Players are more crafty and deceitful than they have ever been. Unfortunately, that is a fact of life, therefore referees do need help. To my mind, there are plenty of good ex-referees who would be happy to sit there and review situations and help the referee. They are completely independent and neutral, not at the whim of a television company providing the angle they choose.”

The KNVB looks to lead the way football fixtures are called and hopefully played. If players know they’ll be blatantly obvious on a foul or a dive, all the better to clean up the game. Getting the call correct in a timely fashion is up to FIFA, as the Dutch League submitted their replay proposal to FIFA’s rule and regulations arm, IFAB. Counting on FIFA to do the right thing is a tough thing to ask of football fans, however with the KNVB ready to set the tone for accurate replay, the correct path is clear.

(Header image via Wikipedia)

 


Pluto TV: Free and Entertaining

In yet another move to bring television to cord cutters, Pluto TV is available to freely stream over 100 channels and now works with Apple TV, Google Chromecast as well as the new Amazon Fire TV. By securing $13 million in funding from recent additions of venture capitalists such as U.S. Venture Partners and UTA — on top of prior investors in Chicago Ventures, Great Oaks Venture Capital and Luminari Capital — Pluto TV maintains their price point of zero dollars.

Pluto TV is an aggregate of online streams organized into various channels ranging from Sports Highlights, Surfing, Xtreme Sports, Pop Culture TV, a 24/7 Cat channel (because it is the internet afterall), Sketch Comedy and even different video game live streams. Most streams appear to be tied through YouTube as The Sports Highlight channel is directly tied to the ACC YouTube Digital Network channel and NHL YT channel et al and the Fight Channel is routed through UFC. Changing channels is as easy as clicking the mouse due to the different stream (or channel) options are shown in a channel guide format.

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Given the YouTube integration, there will be click ads on the bottom of the channel (red outline for emphasis, it doesn’t show up on the actual stream) like many YT videos. It is a very small penalty given the no-cost option of either viewing the channels within your browser or downloaded onto your computer. Along with the ad shown above, one can also see the video-on-demand (VOD) system at work as well. On top of live streams, you can rewind and re-watch specific parts of each stream at will and always have the option to click the “Live” button to zip back to the current moment of the stream.

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While there is no live-sports just yet, for someone who doesn’t subscribe to any cable television package or just can’t catch every highlight, Pluto TV is perfect. If you just want to watch an episode of Chopped in the background while you read or need to see the latest college football highlights, this is a free and viable way of receiving quality programming.


Fix Your Golf Game with these Amazon pre-Black Friday Deals

We’re still a little bit from the trample-fest known as Black Friday but that’s not stopping Amazon from getting on the deal game a little early. They’re running sales at their site all through this week and next, and the enterprising golfer can take advantage if they act soon. Both the GolfSense 3D Swing Analyzer and the SwingTIP Swing Analysis system can be had for a steal today providing you get in before the deals are gone. I suppose “steal” is a relative term, as the sensor+app systems are still fairly pricey even after the discount. But if you’re looking to use tech to improve your game in the offseason, Amazon’s got your back today.

The mega -retailer is promising a slew of deals over the next coming days, so whether you’re in the market for some wearable tech, a new tablet, or even a new laptop, it might be wise to keep checking back. If we come across any super deals for the sports-loving techie in our travels, we’ll be sure to pass them along.


ShotTracker Uses Sensors to Up Your Basketball Game

The idea of using technology and analytics to improve one’s skill set is no longer relegated to the pros. There are already plenty of offerings available to the consumer to help them with their tennis/golf/baseball/etc. And while other companies have tried to breach the basketball market, ShotTracker is touting a new easy and (fairly) affordable way to track your improvements on the court.

The idea behind ShotTracker is fairly simple. A combination of a wearable wrist sensor and a device secured to the net of the basket work together to help track shot attempts, makes, and misses. All that data is then beamed to a smartphone or tablet for further analysis. But the app goes beyond simple counting. Users can create custom drills and workouts, take a look at their shot map, and even follow the progress of  friends and teammates.

ShotTracker's shot map feature. (Courtesy of shottracker.com)

ShotTracker’s shot map feature. (Courtesy of shottracker.com)

ShotTracker also offers functionality for coaches. Custom workouts can be created and assigned to players. Coaches can also see which players have been practicing and which haven’t, and get a breakdown of who is improving in which areas.

ShotTracker provides something that can often go missing in practice sessions: structure. It becomes easy to just kind of mess around without knowing if you’re improving or not. With the ability to create drills around a particular skill or facet, and a way to empirically gauge  improvement, ShotTracker takes the guesswork out of practice.

ShotTracker is available now for $150, which includes a wrist sensor, wrist band, shooting sleeve, and net sensor.

(Header image courtesy of shottracker.com)

WATCH: How Data Scientists are Mapping the NBA

If Kirk Goldsberry’s name doesn’t ring a bell, his work should — especially if you’re an NBA fan. Kirk is the guy behind those super-informative NBA shot maps over at Grantland. Goldsberry is a professor at Harvard, and works on utilizing the new SportVU system to track all kinds of shot data from around the NBA.

Blake Griffin shot chart courtesy of Grantland.com

Blake Griffin shot chart courtesy of Grantland.com

He’s also a subject in a new book by Wired editor Mark McClusky. McClusky is the author of Faster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes–and What We Can Learn from Them. McClusky profiled Goldsberry in a video short for Wired. It’s a nice look behind the scenes of the ever-growing field of  sports analytics and sports data journalism. Check it out below.

(Header image via Grantland)