Super Bowl special effects: New cameras power 'Matrix'-style replays

The broadcast will use a record number of cameras to capture angles that put viewers in the middle of the action.

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Ken Aagaard, head of CBS operations and engineering, is working his 20th Super Bowl.

Terry Collins/CNET

Imagine targeting a camera on Cam Newton, freezing an image of the Carolina Panthers quarterback as he cocks his arm, and then rotating it just as he releases a touchdown pass.

Or imagine watching Newton, one of the most versatile QBs in the game, from so low on the ground that you watch him dive over the goal line.

Ken Aagaard, who runs CBS Sports operations and engineering, already has.

"I'm bracing for that shot," said Aagaard at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, where Super Bowl 50 will take place Sunday. To do that, a crew of 550 people are deploying a host of new camera technologies to grab angles football couldn't even dream of half a century ago.

While instant replay technology dates back to the 1960s, it became an integral part of football games in 1986 when it was first used by officials to determine the accuracy of their calls. SkyCam views and high-definition broadcasts further sweetened the pot for TV viewers, creating even more wow-worthy moments.

Now the NFL and CBS (which owns CNET), are taking their cues from movies and video games to appeal to the estimated 110 million people who will watch Newton's Panthers take on the Denver Broncos this weekend.

A record 100 cameras will be used -- just 11 were used to capture the inaugural Super Bowl between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs -- to provide angles that put viewers on the field, as if they were playing a game from the Madden NFL franchise by Electronic Arts.

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For the first time, CBS will embed two mini-cameras in each of the pylons in the end zones to capture shots from the field.

Terry Collins/CNET

Aagaard's team will try to mimic that view Sunday with three dozen super-high-definition cameras placed along the top deck of Levi's Stadium. The so-called 5K cameras will allow the broadcast staff to zoom in and freeze the action on a replay.

The crew will be able to take the video captured from the field and rotate it the way you might manipulate a map on an iPhone. If you're struggling for a mental image, think of the kung fu scenes in "The Matrix," but with Denver quarterback Peyton Manning instead of Keanu Reeves.

The eight end zone pylons will also be part of the experience, with each containing two cameras. The foam posts will capture ground-level angles so that viewers will see game-changing events, like a player tiptoeing down the sideline after catching the ball.

"It's eye candy for the viewers," said Mike Arnold, a CBS director who's already worked on 10 Super Bowls.

Aagaard, who's working his 20th Super Bowl this year, will be watching the game from a control room with 70 monitors. His concern: making sure viewers don't tire of the new looks.

"We're only going to use it at the right moment."

Editors' note (February 5, 2016, 8:55 a.m. PT): This story was updated to clarify when instant replay was first introduced.

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