THE America's Cup '95 yachting series currently being raced on the waters off San Diego in California is embracing computer technology like no other sporting event before it. Both on and off shore, computers dispense tactics and deliver information in a way that officials say could set a benchmark for future sporting events. While computer technology is nothing new to yachting, tacticians on the boats competing in the four-month long event claimed it had reached new levels of sophistication. At the America's Cup press centre in San Diego, state-of-the-art computer technology is being used to disseminate information worldwide within seconds. Video conferencing, virtual reality, the downloading of magazine-quality photographs direct to desktop publishing systems and the use of on-line services such as the Internet and CompuServe are all part of the press centre's operations. The most innovative of the systems is the use of virtual reality to view the races. It is possible to follow races in real time at America's Cup press centres in San Diego, Tokyo, Paris and Sydney even if the races are not being televised. All the yachts and marker buoys are equipped with a direct global positioning system (DGPS) via satellite. Digital data of down to a metre in focus is downlinked to Earth, decoded and fed to Silicon Graphics computers. The race can then be reconstructed in the press centres. The animation system not only allows a detailed version of the race, progress of each boat and its distance from its competitor, but also supplies information on wind direction, distance from the finish line and so on, for those on board the boats. Virtual camera angles can be shifted and film the scene from any viewpoint, either on board the yacht or from a helicopter. The software for the system was developed by Medialab, a French digital image specialist. Silicon Graphics, using its ONYX system provided the hardware. The principal computer database at the event is ACLV Medialink, which provides direct-dial services for newspapers, magazines, radio and television worldwide. The service offers magazine-quality photographs, press releases in text files, audio clips from daily press conferences, 3-D virtual graphics, and video clips of the races - the last three being in the form of Quicktime movies of varying broadcast quality. 'This is pretty much leading edge technology,' said Barry Pickthall, an official at the database centre. 'No other sporting event has been able to do what we can do in San Diego.' Sponsors of the press centre, Louis Vuitton, have hired a team of sports photographers to contribute to the photographic database library. According to Mr Pickthall, new technology allowed data compression to exceed 90 per cent, making a 35 megabyte file - which was needed to provide magazine-quality photographs - only two megabytes, while a eight megabyte newspaper-quality picture can be compressed to 500 kilibytes. 'The compressed files can be transferred at much higher speeds through ISDN lines, saving users time and money,' Mr Pickthall said. The database centre is equipped with three workstations, each with a Macintosh CPU, a FWB external drive and a Nikon scanner. The Internet link is being provided by a company called Events On Line ( http://www.ac95.org ). The service is called America's Cup On Line, which garners information from ACLV Medialink, and adapts it for the Internet. Company director Larry Edwards said more than 900,000 pages and photographs had been accessed by users from nearly 60 countries including Hong Kong. 'It has gone way beyond our expectations,' he said. By the end of the event in May, Mr Edwards said he expected about 10 million pages and photographs to be accessed. 'I think this is a realistic figure since interest in the series is bound to increase,' he said. Mr Edwards said that as information on the America's Cup continues, the group's information files will keep growing. He said the company was on-line to beat all Internet event-access records. Meanwhile, out on the water, the yachts are breaking through new waves of technology. Matthew Thompson, on-board systems designer for the New Zealand boat, TAG Heuer Challenge, said the cup was the most technologically sophisticated of all yacht races. 'In terms of other racing, this is way ahead,' he said. 'There are basically two systems - performance analysis and tactical systems; that is, decision support while on the boat,' he said. He said on-board computers collected data on a number of variables such as speed, wind direction, angle and speed, boat speed, keel and rudder angles and position fix. When the boat returns to shore, these log files are analysed to enable further improvements. One of the biggest breakthroughs, according to Mr Thompson, was the increase in power of portable computers (Mr Thompson uses a pen-based PC with Windows for Pens software). 'Before, to analyse data we needed workstations, now we can get just as much power with portable PCs,' he said. The software used to run the system was developed by Mr Thompson . 'There are a couple of commercially available packages, but not of much note,' he said. 'I had been developing this package when approached by the TAG Heuer syndicate. I was going to make it commercially available, but they asked me to hold on until the races where over.'