How the Dallas Cowboys Scoreboard Works

The artist's rendering of the Dallas Cowboys stadium gave a hint of what the world could expect from the $1 billion facility. See more football pictures.
AP Photo/Dallas Cowboys

There's nothing quite like attending a big football game in person. The excitement of the crowd is contagious. You get to share the experience of cheering on your favorite team with thousands of other fans. But if you're sitting in the upper sections of the stadium, you may feel that you're still missing out on the action.

That's not the case at the current Dallas Cowboys stadium. The stadium opened its doors officially on May 27, 2009. The facility features two massive arches that support the longest single-span retractable roof in the world [source: Dallas Cowboys]. It has several restaurants, clubs, luxury suites and other amenities. But perhaps the feature that has generated the most buzz is the scoreboard that hangs 90 feet (27.5 meters) above the field.

The scoreboard has four video screens, and Guinness World Records has designated it as the largest high-definition display in the world [source: Nusca]. Even if you're in the nosebleed seats, you're able to follow the action on the enormous displays.

The display cost the Dallas Cowboys $40 million. Mitsubishi designed and built the screens. The scoreboard created buzz in the NFL and later became the center of debate. Could the new scoreboard actually interfere with a football game?

Scoreboard Specifications

Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones addresses the press in front of the world's largest HDTV.
Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones addresses the press in front of the world's largest HDTV.
AP Photo/Matt Slocum

The scoreboard has four screens. Two gigantic screens face the end zones. They measure 29 feet (8.8 meters) high and 51 feet (15.5 meters) wide. The other two screens are even more massive and face the sidelines. These monstrosities measure 72 feet (21.9 meters) high and 160 feet (48.8 meters) wide. Together, all four screens create 25,000 square feet (about 2,323 square meters) of displays.

The sideline displays are so wide that they stretch from one 20-yard line to the other. According to Jerry Jones, the owner and general manager for the Dallas Cowboys, the experience is better than viewing the game on a 60-inch television screen at home, no matter where your seats are in the stadium.

Those displays aren't lightweights. The combined weight of the four screens is 600 tons. A 72-foot tall (21.9 meter) steel support system carries the weight. The support has 10 levels of catwalks that allow engineers access to the displays for maintenance. Steel cables 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) in diameter tether the displays to the stadium's pair of steel arches.

The center display isn't the only technological wonder in the stadium -- the stadium also has a ribbon-style screen in the upper levels that measures about 4 feet high (1.2 meters) and an incredible 2,000 feet long (610 meters).

 

LED HDTV Technology

The scoreboard is secured to the two steel arches that support the stadium's roof.
The scoreboard is secured to the two steel arches that support the stadium's roof.
AP Photo/Matt Slocum

High-definition television technology comes in a few different varieties. Two popular technologies in the home market are liquid crystal displays (LCD) and plasma screens. An LCD screen uses electrical impulses to shape tiny crystals so that light can pass between them. The light that passes through forms the image you see on the screen. Plasma screens use an ionized gas to create light and images. In both technologies, we refer to each point of light on the screen as a pixel.

The screen at the Dallas Cowboys stadium uses a different technology -- light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. At its most basic level, the LED is a light bulb. The light bulbs in the stadium's display are tiny and come in one of three colors: red, blue or green. By combining the light from four LEDs (two red LEDs, one blue LED and one green LED), the display creates a single pixel. Mitsubishi refers to each LED as a dot.

Mitsubishi arranges the dots in a pattern the company calls Mitsubishi Electric Diamond Vision. The LEDs are in lines of alternating blue and red or green and red dots. Any given square of four LEDs on the display will have one blue, one green and two red lights. The arrangement allows the display's processor to share LED dots between different pixels, creating what the company calls dynamic pixels.

To create a high-definition effect on a display as large as the scoreboard, you need a lot of LEDs. The Dallas Cowboys scoreboard has 30 million LEDs [source: Grotticelli]. The density of LEDs allows the screens to display images at 1080p resolution -- the same resolution you'll find in high-end HDTVs at your local electronics store.

Reaction and Controversy

Despite the objections of various coaches and players, the scoreboard in the Dallas Cowboys stadium isn't likely to go dark soon.
Despite the objections of various coaches and players, the scoreboard in the Dallas Cowboys stadium isn't likely to go dark soon.
AP Photo/Matt Slocum

There's no denying that the massive high-definition scoreboard makes a statement. Perhaps that statement is that everything really is bigger in Texas. But not everyone is happy about the display.

One person who wasn't thrilled about the display was Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher. Fisher sits on the NFL's competition committee and has been quoted as saying the display has "a lot of issues" [source: Mortensen]. Perhaps one of the contributing factors to Fisher's opinion on the matter stems from the first NFL game to be played in the new stadium.

The preseason game took place on Aug. 21, 2009, between the Dallas Cowboys and the Tennessee Titans. In the third quarter of the game, Titans reserve punter A.J. Trapasso kicked the ball so high that it hit the screen. Fisher threw a red flag to challenge the referees and have the fourth down replayed. Dallas Cowboys owner Jones responded by saying that it wasn't a big deal -- if a ball collides with the screen the rules allow for another kick. He also said that anyone who hit the screen was likely trying to do so on purpose [source: Kuharsky and Mosley].

Kickers and coaches have complained that the board is in the way, particularly for kickers who specialize in creating a long hang time with their kicks. The Dallas Cowboys management has said that only kickers who are trying to kick the ball straight up would have a problem. The debate continues.

Considering the size of the display and how it's tethered to the stadium, alterations aren't likely. There's very little room above the screens to raise them very far, and the cost to change the scoreboard would likely be extravagant. For now, it looks like the stadium will remain as it is. The real question will be if the scoreboard will generate more controversy on Feb. 6, 2011. That's when the stadium will serve as the location for Super Bowl XLV.

Learn more about HDTV technology by following the links on the next page.

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More Great Links

Sources

  • Archer, Todd. "NFL: Dallas Cowboys' scoreboard can stay put." Dallas News. Aug. 28, 2009. (Jan. 28, 2010) http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/spt/stories/082909dnsponflcowboys.124a4f032.html
  • Dallas Cowboys. "Cowboys Stadium Unveils World's Largest HDTV Video Board." (Jan. 28, 2010) http://stadium.dallascowboys.com/assets/pdf/mediaVideoBoardRelease.pdf
  • Grotticelli, Michael. "Dallas Cowboys unveil 1080p video screen." Broadcast Engineering. June 9, 2009. (Jan. 27, 2010) http://broadcastengineering.com/news/dallas-cowboys-unveil-video-screen-0610/
  • Kuharsky, Paul and Mosley, Matt. "Punter kicks into HD screen over field." ESPN. Aug. 22, 2009. (Jan. 29, 2010) http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=4415658
  • Mitsubishi Electric. "Mitsubishi Electric Diamond Vision is Dallas Cowboys Choice for New Stadium." April 16, 2008. (Jan. 28, 2010) http://www.diamond-vision.com/news_detail.asp?id=9
  • Mitsubishi Electric. "The Diamond Vision Advantage - Dynamic Pixel." 2003. (Jan. 28, 2010) http://www.diamond-vision.com/dynamic_pixel.asp
  • Mitsubishi Electric. "The Diamond Vision Advantage - Quad Dot Pattern." 2003. (Jan. 28, 2010) http://www.diamond-vision.com/quad_dot_pattern.asp
  • Mitsubishi Electric. "WD-82837 Home Theater TV." (Jan. 29, 2010) http://www.mitsubishi-tv.com/pdf/WD82837_dimsheet.pdf
  • Mortensen, Chris. "Talking point: Videoboard in way of play." ESPN. Aug. 24, 2009. (Jan. 29, 2010) http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=4416217
  • Nix, Mede. "Getting ready for Super Bowl XLV -- It's just 374 days away." Dallas News. Jan. 27, 2010. (Jan. 29, 2010) http://stadiumblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2010/01/getting-ready-for-super-bowl-x.html
  • Nusca, Andrew. "Dallas Cowboys Stadium: World's largest HD video display, says Guinness." ZDNet. Sept. 28, 2009. (Jan. 27, 2010) http://blogs.zdnet.com/gadgetreviews/?p=7909