Baseball Cards May Soon Be on the Cutting Edge of Technology For a Change

Baseball Cards May Soon Be on the Cutting Edge of Technology For a Change

Despite many attempts to utilize different materials and production techniques over the last two decades, baseball cards have remained largely static, the result of putting photos, graphics and text on some type of cardboard. This fact hasn't done much to disprove the widely held notion that collecting cards is a dying pastime with little to offer to younger, more tech-savvy people with a wide range of entertainment options.

It's doubtful the hobby will ever return to its peak level of participation, but there are changes afoot that may at least end its inability to keep up with the times. A pair of emerging technologies with obvious applications in the creation of new types of sports cards has the potential to change the way the public views the industry.

The first of these is called augmented reality, and it's already being used by Topps for its 3D Live cards that come to life at the company's ToppsTown website. Augmented reality uses computers to overlay images or data over things people interact with in real life. Though still in its infancy, it's finding its way onto cell phones, is being used in new toys and is set to become much more common in marketing in 2010.

For 3D Live, Topps partnered with a company called Total Immersion to create simple games that can be played using a webcam and codes found in Topps baseball products. Thanks to the augmented reality technology, players appear to come to life and stand on top of the card or a nearby desktop, where it appears they are pitching, catching and batting in 3D.

As the technology becomes more sophisticated, creative programmers and card manufacturers will be able to dream up ways to make cards more interactive. Topps has already announced plans to unveil football versions of the 3D Live cards in the near future.

The second development, the embedding of video in paper or other thin materials thanks to ultra-thin LCD screens powered by batteries, is a little further away. But it's about to get a test run in a high profile way in a September issue of Entertainment Weekly magazine, which will utilize just such a set-up to show video ads for the fall CBS TV lineup and PepsiMax.

Sports cards have tried to approximate motion before, as anyone who's been in the hobby long enough to remember Sportflics or Diamond Vision can attest. So while some skepticism may be justified, the ability to have cards (which are thicker than magazine pages and could hypothetically hold more complex internal gadgetry) show actual video is one that could shove the hobby into the next phase of its evolution.

It's not hard to envision cards commemorating special sports moments that would show highlights of those events, or cards that update themselves with new clips as a season progresses. The possibilities truly are limitless.

Over the next year or two, several things that once seemed like the stuff of science fiction will become a part of everyday life. Refreshingly, it seems the once staid world of baseball cards could have an excellent shot at joining in on the fun.

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Nick has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia, especially football, basketball, boxing and MMA, for over 25 years. He's been writing about the hobby for a while too, most recently for When cards and collectibles give him writer's block, Nick spends time editing and writing for, contributing to SLAM! Wrestling and reviewing music for He lives outside of Hershey, PA (a.k.a. Chocolatetown, USA) with his wife Diane, daughter Beth and son J.T.

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