SportsTechLA: 3ality Support of BSkyB Launch Proves 3D Broadcast Production Model

The launch of BSkyB’s dedicated 3D channel provided an opportunity for 3ality Digital Systems to prove that, with the right training and equipment, broadcasters can fill 3D channels in ways that are familiar to them in the 2D realm. During SVG’s SportsTechLA event, held Jan. 19 at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, 3ality executives took the podium to discuss the launch of BSkyB’s dedicated 3D channel, which uses a 3D remote-production unit from Telegenic that 3ality outfitted with camera rigs and systems.

“Telegenic chose 3ality technology to do this launch, so we sent over a basic kit of four cameras, image processors, and started a training program, which is really the important part,” said 3ality CEO Steve Schklair. “We sent over the kit, trained the Telegenic people, and now they’re shooting amazing content without the help of 3ality or PACE. We now see that broadcasters can fill channels in the ways that they’re used to working.”

The panelists chose not to bring photos of the 3D truck because, as they explained, it looks just like an HD truck.

“Building the truck isn’t very hard,” said 3ality COO/CTO Howard Postley. He noted that 3ality equipment is frequently brought on location, cameras and image processors are added onto a production truck, and the truck is ready for 3D production within an hour.

“Augmenting the TV truck itself was more or less that, putting image processors into the racks,” he said. “It was a lot more about the workflow and how the people used the truck than the technology behind it.”

In a standard crew, Postley pointed out, only three to five people are 3D-specific. Everyone else in the truck is doing the same thing they always do: working as engineers, directors, audio technicians, etc. However, where a 2D show has a hierarchical chain of command, with the director at the top, in a 3D show, a new order is created.

“In a 3D show, because you’re adding in a lot of new information, skills, and processes that have to be performed, you bring in a broadcast stereographer, who is essentially the director of 3D,” he explained. “That stereographer needs to develop a good working relationship with the producer and director, which might be difficult as they are unlikely to be sitting right next to each other.”

Graphics was a hot topic of discussion for the 3ality executives, because graphics are critical to sports broadcasts and the most common solution — floating the graphics in front of the 3D action — is not necessarily the best. Volumetric 3D, often referred to as “2½D” and most commonly used in videogames to make flat objects appear to have volume, is a different way to answer the question of graphics placement.

“Volumetric 3D can have simulated depth, whereas stereoscopic 3D may or may not include volume but includes depth,” Postley said. “A lot of people have said I’ll take my graphics system, tie two graphics engines together, and that’s great for adding volume to a shot. But placing the score in depth, so that a player can walk in front of a virtual graphic, requires someone to know the depth and geometry of the shot, and that’s complex.”

However, image processors handle geometry management, so Postley’s team is working to manage the transition of geometrical information from image processors to graphics machines, so that the images can be composited in depth.

“We want to exchange geometric information between the various devices that care,” Postley said. “That’s image processors, graphics generators, switchers, DVEs on switchers. We’re trying to work out the best workflow there. The challenge is, if you’ve got five different graphics systems, for score, bug, player info, etc., and compositors for each, you’re going to run out of routers and money.”

The networks are also going to run out of money, Schklair said, unless they find a way to combine the 2D and 3D productions. A producer could take the 3D feeds from the 3D cameras, eliminate one eye, and do a 2D cut, but that production would be wider and slower than what today’s 2D viewer has come to expect.

“At some point, there’s going to have to be a compromise between the fast-cutting 2D productions that we’ve gotten used to and the slower version of 3D,” Schklair said. “I do think the world is migrating to way too much activity on screen and not letting the games play themselves. Eventually, they’re going to have to meet in the middle, because the only way this works is to have a single crew on the field. As a community, we’re going to have to redefine the creative. The economics are not going to support both.”