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Yes, we know we said our next blog post would be our answers to Questions for Your 3D Tech Provider.  Consider this a warm-up, because we felt that these issues were so important that we needed to address them right away.

In many emerging markets, folks often start offering products and expertise before they’re fully-baked.   There’s a bit of that going on in terms of 3D technology right now, and we thought that pointing out the following facts might be helpful to people who are interested in mounting world-class 3D sports productions.

If you’re planning to shoot and broadcast live sports in 3D, the 3D system you use absolutely MUST HAVE the following capabilities.  Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for disaster.  Granted, you may consider “disaster” an extreme sport, but if you don’t, look for these things:

1) Zooms. And not just any old kind of zooms:  automatic, repeatable, perfectly-aligned zooms that can be done remotely.  Picture this:  Tracy Porter has just snagged an interception 80 yards away and is hoofing it down the field.  Your cameraman has Porter squarely in his sights.  Would you prefer to wait for someone to adjust the zoom by hand, and adjust it again and again during Porter’s mad dash, stopping to check alignment all the while and trying to ignore the fact that the lenses don’t match — or would you just prefer it to WORK, as it does in a 2D shoot?  We thought so.  (3ality Digital’s systems feature motorized, sub-pixel-accurate and repeatable zooms.)

2) Fast set-up – that stays set up. Unlike feature film production, sports is an every day business.  Hoops playoff this day, baseball all-stars the next.  You need to bring in your gear, set it up, and conduct a perfect shoot.  The fact that you’re shooting in 3D shouldn’t have an impact on your schedule.  You should be able to move fast and not worry about whether or not your cameras are working in concert, just as in a 2D shoot.  And you should be able to do it all yourself — no 3D “middleman” telling you it’s all very seriously complicated and only he can do it for you — right before he takes eight hours to set up.  Yup, you just missed Van der Sar’s first big save, while you were waiting.  (3ality Digital gear can be up and running in about an hour, and that includes alignment time.  Once aligned, the system stays aligned.  If something untoward happens — say that midfielder turns out of bounds and crashes your rig — settings are recorded and repeatable, quickly and easily.  And we train you how to use our systems, so you can do it without us.)

3) Perfectly aligned images, right out of the camera. Sports fans like graphics with their games.  Graphics help them keep track of what’s going on.  Unfortunately, graphics must be generated on the fly and placed dynamically.  (If we all knew what was going to happen during each game, we’d be in Vegas right now, wouldn’t we?)  If the images are not aligned, those beloved graphics are going to give sports fans a headache and maybe even make them a bit ill.   Not the general reaction we’re expecting to a front-row POV at a Lakers game.  (3ality Digital’s systems let you track and adjust alignment on the fly, down to the sub-pixel.)

4) Metadata feeds for graphics. Unfortunately, it’s just not enough to generate perfectly-aligned images for the guys who do the graphics.  They also need to know where to place the graphics in 3-space.  Another picture for you:  Manny Ramirez has just pounded a big fly ball, and is on his way to first base … running right through the stats box.   By providing a constant stream of detailed metadata on things like inter-axial distance between lenses, convergence, and depth parameters, you help your graphics guys know exactly where to place their boxes, every time.  (3ality Digital’s systems constantly provide dynamically-generated metadata that can be passed along to all parts of the workflow.)

5) Consistency in depth, especially between edits. Your EVS guys work hard for you:  cutting together games, creating instant replays, throwing in a little slo-mo for dramatic effect.  Meanwhile, in 3D, if depth parameters jump around from shot to shot, your EVS guys are going to generate a hodge-podge of clips that run the risk of making your audience feel woozy and perhaps abandon the game for reruns of “Two and a Half Men.” (3ality Digital’s systems let you set depth parameters, and automatically adjust settings when those parameters are about the be violated.)

So, there it is.  The five essentials for shooting sports in 3D.  Don’t believe us?  Take a look at our resumé.  We’d be happy to provide references, as well.

The 2009 BCS Championship was the first 3D sports broadcast open to consumers.

No form of entertainment will do more to feed home viewers’ appetite for 3D than sports. Sports are compelling, dynamic, and downright pulse-pounding. And fans are, well, fanatical.

But they are also fickle, which creates a challenge for 3D sports broadcasters. All the action that makes a sporting event so exciting to watch also makes it incredibly difficult to produce pristinely. With no second takes and no marks for the “actors” to hit, there’s little room for error in image capture and transmission.  Shooting and broadcasting in 3D requires systems with rock-solid reliability, easily repeatable configurations, and a high degree of automation.   After all, if you screw up the “money shot” in a sports broadcast, you don’t get a second chance, and you certainly can’t “fix it in post.”

That new third dimension also presents challenges that were solved long ago for 2D broadcasts:  Where do you place the graphics?  How do you handle quick cuts from one hot spot to another?  How do you generate instant replays in slow-mo?  The flexibility and adaptability provided by camera rigs integrated with software-based 3D image processing become key.  Using mechanical 3D rigs that require manual settings won’t get you to the goal line:  it’s like playing the game with your third-string QB.

Given all the interest in 3D sports broadcasting being generated by the upcoming Winter Olympics, World Cup soccer events and the 2010 launch of Sky’s 3D channel with its heavy emphasis on sports, this is a critical moment for the medium.

The industry needs to deliver a state-of-the-art experience to the fans of global sporting events. If it does, game over: 3D is a bona fide hit with home viewers. If it doesn’t, even the medium’s most ardent supporters will be left with a (literal) headache and the disappointment of a pivotal opportunity lost.

Sky Trials 3D Broadcasts at the O2
World Cup Games To Be Filmed in 3D
Sports in a new dimension

skyWe were delighted to work with Sky Sports last year to create some spectacular 3D footage of boxing matches.  (According to those who run televised sports, it was time well-spent:  “I think it [3D] is going to save the sport of boxing,” said David Hill, Chairman of Fox Sports, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last November.)   We were even more delighted that Sky went the extra step and tested delivery of 3D HD content to more than 600,000 customers in the UK last fall.    Now we’re just tickled pink — or maybe Sky blue? — that Chris John’s, Sky’s Chief Engineer, has indicated that Sky is working to roll out a commercial 3D HD service through their set-top boxes, and that the broadcaster is actively seeking to build a content library in advance of the launch.  Indeed, Mr. Johns reinforces our point of view when it comes to the art of the possible, stating that there is now “the capability for homes to see 3D by year-end.”

At 3ality Digital, we’ve long maintained that once you view sports in 3D, it’s hard to go back to 2D, which is why we’ve worked to perfect our live digital 3D image-capture and transmission systems.  We’ve also ensured that this technology can be implemented in a modular fashion, so that it’s easily integrated into the standard broadcast trucks that are used at virtually every live event.  So, choose your favorite Olympic sport — or perhaps a favorite footie club — and get ready to enjoy the action in 3D from the comfort of that living room sofa.  Couch potatoes never had it so good.