World Cup 3D Production Proves Fertile Testing Ground for Sony

For four weeks, the World Cup in South Africa is serving as a fertile testing ground for live 3D sports production. Sony is sponsoring the 3D production of 25 matches and providing much of the equipment being used to do so, so the company hopes to come out of this month knowing not how to make 3D images, but how to make good 3D images. Through the first half of the tournament, Sony has learned a great deal and is already applying that knowledge to its next project – possibly the 2012 Olympics.

“Every game gets a little bit better,” explains Robert Willox, director of marketing for Sony Professional. “I think they’re really in a position now where they’re telling a story with the equipment.”

Equipping the Host with a Host of Equipment

That equipment includes 6-7 camera rigs for each game, each comprised of two Sony HDC-1500 cameras mounted on Element Technica rigs. Sony HKC-T1500 block adapters in the mobile production trucks enable flexibility in the setup of those rigs, but the locations of the cameras are not quite ideal.

“We made a decision to telecast this in 3D after they’d started selling tickets, so you really have to work with the venue to find camera positions,” Willox explains. “The field level slash positions are great, but the positions that are up in the stands have to be renegotiated.”

A Sony MVS-8000G production switcher with a 3D software package is installed in each production truck, along with 24- and 42-inch LMD series 3D monitors. PVM 23-inch monitors are utilized to view camera setup and channel balance. The matches are recorded in HDCAM SR (SRW-5800) with full-bandwidth left- and right-eye signals on a single tape.

Help Is On Site

Sony’s MPE-200 multi-image processor with MPES-3D01 stereo image processing software controls the rigs, maintains camera alignment, and corrects for image geometry and color matching, among other errors. The MPE-200 was developed at a Sony research lab in England and the engineers who worked on it are on site in South Africa.

“If they need to revise something or if they find a problem, there’s a pretty quick feedback loop back to the code writers,” Willox explains. “This is as big as an Olympics for us in terms of technology. We need to be ready if there is a need to add some 3D capability to London [for the 2012 Olympics,] so whatever we do here is a huge learning ground.”

No More 2D Equipment for 3D Productions

Most of the equipment currently used for 3D was designed around 2D requirements, and is being re-tasked to work in 3D, but Willox says those quick fixes will soon hit the end of their life cycles.

“We’re going to have to make 3D-specific technologies, but we don’t want to build until we know that this is really going to fly,” Willox says.

Lenses, however, is one part of the production process where companies cannot afford not to build. In an over-under rig, positioning an older lens with the lens barrel pointing straight down toward the mirror can pose some problems.

“It’s not designed to work in that mode, so the zoom motor might not be smooth enough to move as easily vertically as it does horizontally, or it may sag a little bit,” Willox explains. “Working with the compound rigs and mirrors is really tough. Taking yesterday’s lens technology and adapting it for today’s events can be the most taxing.”

Two by Two for Life

One way to avoid some of that taxing work, Willox says, is to identify pairs of lenses that work well together, and keep them in pairs for their entire life.

“And if you can keep that pair of lenses with that camera, on that rig, that’s most preferable,” Willox explains. “In a lot of ways it’s like working with that 1977 technology where you had that one lens that worked with that one set of satcoms. You would like to keep everything together.”

Creative Opportunities

On the creative side, 3D enables camera operators to finally leave the 4:3 “safe area” and use the full 16:9 screen area, as there is no letterboxing in 3D. In 3D, graphics can be pushed to the true edge of the picture and the full screen can be utilized for game action.

“After 16:9 being available for 10 years, let’s start optimizing for it,” Willox says.