During last night's men's springboard diving preliminaries, we saw the most exciting debut at these Olympic games so far. No, it wasn't some hotshot young upstart diver. It wasn't a person at all. It was, in fact, a little splash-o-meter that appeared on the bottom left corner of the screen and that measured, well, a diver's splash. Had we seen that before during other diving events over the past week? I do not think so!
Maybe a producer had a wild fever dream on Sunday night and come Monday morning said "We must have a meter for the splashes!" And then some wizard in the control room got to work and voila, a little bar that shrieks bright orange and red when a diver goes in too flat (like that Chinese near bellyflop, yikes) and hums a soft green when someone goes in almost vertical (like all the other Chinese dives, natch). It was great! A little whimsical and completely unnecessary — commentator Cynthia Potter does a fine job explaining the splash to us, plus, y'know, our eyes can see it too — but unnecessary in the best way. Isn't NBC's technology wonderful?
Well, actually, in this case, the technology came from over there: this blog post over at media services firm Red Bee Media, says the splash-o-meter was developed by Piero and the BBC's Research & Development arm, and debuted on NBC's coverage of the U.S. diving coverage earlier this summer. It looks like part of the 3D wizardry they also have for those amazing graphics showing the angle of a diver's eyes which make it look like laser beams are shooting out of his or her face. They imply a fantastical other-world where it's not just flips and pikes we're concerned about, it's X-Men-esque super abilities. Oh wouldn't the Olympics be even more interesting then! We'd also love to see Cynthia Potter walking around with laser beams shooting out of her eyes, just because it would kind of make sense if you think about it.
On Sunday night NBC used a cool trick to show us the relative height of scuttled favorite McKayla Maroney's vaulting. They mashed an image of her up with that of the men's all-around gold medalist to show that Maroney, a small girl, had about a foot on the guy. It was both a helpful visual and an inspiration: They should do synchronized vaulting! They do it for diving, right? So why not for vaulting? Or what about tandem floor routine? Two-man uneven bars could get pretty dangerous pretty fast, but think of how thrilling! The possibilities are endless and all likely fatal. So thanks for helping us dream them up, NBC graphics guy.
For all the problems in the network's overall coverage, the technical package really is pretty astounding. Gorgeous slo-mo, 360 degree views, underwater cameras showing us the way bodies work in water, a splash-o-meter that looks like the health bar in a video game. It's all terrific. Whenever they show old clips of Olympics past and we see how simple the production was, it makes us feel lucky that we have such technological wonderments at our disposal now. It also makes you wonder what could be next. Cameras in swimmers' goggles? On vaulters' chests? In Tom Daley's locker room? Again, the possibilities are endless.