The lights are on
Last week, we were invited to visit Microsoft's NYC Xbox One loft to get a look at how sports viewing will be implemented in to the Xbox One user interface. At the console reveal in May, we learned about the partnership that Microsoft had struck with the NFL, and we finally got to see that in action.Let's address the elephant in the room first. This is not an announcement about NFL Sunday Ticket. While Sony won't be playing host to the NFL's premiere viewing experience anymore, Microsoft hasn't (yet) locked up the deal.In May, Microsoft and the NFL announced a partnership to bring NFL.com fantasy football to the Xbox 360. That experience will be available this week, with an enhanced version coming at the launch of the Xbox One. We were given a demonstration of the next-gen iteration. Users need only enter their NFL.com credentials and get access to highlights and player tracking. The interface is slick, and thanks to the NFL's metadata tagging of clips, it's easy to pull up highlights of your team. We've been told that Smartglass integration will also be available as a way to view these. Microsoft is hoping to expand the fantasy offerings beyond NFL.com in the future. Fans will also be able to share highlights with their friends when that feature launches down the line. The interface is heavily based on the "snapping" we've seen in the UI demos. In the example we were shown, a primary game was displayed in HD in the center, with fantasy stats and another game displaying on the right side. We've been told that switching between primary and preview channels will be as simple as a voice command. This will work well with the NFL's Redzone programming, which allows subscribers to jump to any game close to scoring.The ticker at the bottom is also customized for player preferences and can be manipulated. Instead of waiting for your team (or other important games around the league) to crawl across the bottom, you'll be able to call up the score. Stats are also important, and Microsoft is working with the NFL to integrate them into the viewing experience on demand. Rather than have viewers use a second device, the Xbox One will be able to access them on the fly.We were also shown how this would work alongside gaming. It's possible to play in the main window, with stats, fantasy team details, and even a live game running at the same time on the right side of the screen. For those that like to play Madden while watching their team on Sundays, this will make it easy to move back and forth during commercials.We also saw how Microsoft and the NFL will be using Surface for teams and fans. While fans will get access to fantasy stats, charts, and the highlight video of any scoring play, the work that the duo are doing on the sidelines is far more impressive.Eight teams will be in the pilot program for Surface apps designed to improve medical care on the sidelines. The first is a medical records suite that allows team physicians to more easily track player injuries. Imaging will be available digitally, which will mean faster communication between the sideline and the locker room. It will also be easier to track player recovery.Even more important is how Surface will be used in the evaluation of head injuries. The topic of concussions and sub-concussive injuries is an important one in the NFL right now. The X2 app will have players go through a series of tests to evaluate the injury. This will then be compared against a baseline result and then used for re-evaluation down the line.
Our TakeThe announcements are sure to please sports fans, but the standout for me is being able to play and watch live television at the same time. Commercials during football are the perfect opportunity to dive into a game for five minutes (or fifteen if you want to tune out the halftime report).
I am also extremely interested in the work that Microsoft and the NFL are doing around using technology for evaluating head trauma. Head injury is a serious issue that has far-reaching effects during a player's life. Doing more to prevent, evaluate, and treat these potentially devastating injuries should be a top concern of anyone invested in the sport.