Yankees, Mariners Step Into 3D Spotlight

This will be another historic weekend in sports broadcasting: the YES Network, FSN Northwest, and DirecTV will broadcast two games between the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners in 3D. For hardcore baseball fans, it signals a new day in enjoying the game at home, and, for hardcore sports-production professionals, it signals a new challenge: is baseball 3D-friendly?

“It’s a learning experience,” says Ed Delaney, VP of operations for YES Network. “We want to put the best broadcast we can on the air, and there is a lot to learn.”

NEP’s recently refurbished SS31 production unit will be on hand for the broadcast. Similar to its original incarnation, SS31 is a single-expando with a front-to-back control room and a Calrec Q2 audio console. The truck also features a Sony MVS-8000A production switcher, EVS XT[2] servers, support for 10 tape machines, and the ability to support 14 PACE 3D camera rigs in a variety of configurations. Chyron graphics will be used for the games, and a B unit will house the stereographer and convergence operator, with 3D expert/PACE CEO Vince Pace and his team on hand to oversee the production.

Tonight’s game will be produced in 3D as a full rehearsal to enable the team of nearly 40 personnel to iron out some of the kinks. Delaney says the technical side of the operation is in great shape, with six 3D camera positions to be complemented by 2D cameras whose signals pass through HDlogix 2D-to-3D converters.

“We did a test with HDlogix during spring training and had some success with it,” says Delaney.

Five hard cameras will be in place: one each at low home, low first, low third, centerfield, and high home. A sixth camera, a handheld 3D beam-splitter rig, will also be used for game coverage. And shots in the announce booth will be captured with the Panasonic AG-3DA1 3D camcorder, a unit that is quickly earning the nickname “Wall-E,” given its uncanny resemblance to the animated robot of Pixar fame.

Delaney expects the shots from low home to deliver the best 3D impact. The high-home camera position, however, remains a concern because it will be shooting through the screen behind home plate. During tonight’s rehearsal, the quality of those images will be evaluated, and, if necessary, the camera will be moved to an alternative position that is not behind the net.

“We will learn a lot during the rehearsal,” says Delaney.

The biggest challenge during the broadcast will rest on the shoulders of the director since baseball broadcasts typically involve a lot of cutting from one camera to the next.

“The pace of the game and how it is cut is an issue, and it isn’t going to go away,” says Delaney. “It isn’t cut like football, hockey, or basketball, where the action goes side to side and you can stay wide with a shot. Baseball is about cut-cut-cut. With 3D, that can blow people’s heads off. So that is going to be the biggest learning curve.”

Delaney is already assembling a 3D wish list for future broadcasts, including the desire for a low camera position that is closer to the dugout and can give the viewer the sense of watching the game from the top of the dugout: “It would be like having the best seat in the house.”