ESPN Continues To Innovate at Winter X Games

For more than a decade, the X Games have served as a forum for ESPN to experiment with technologies that have yet to be deployed during a live telecast. And Winter X Games 15, which run Jan. 27-30 in Aspen, CO, are no different.

Bringing Post Into Real Time
Neartime VFX allows ESPN to display visual effects that move along with a panning camera in near real time during the telecast. Usually, life-like graphic elements are deployed only in post-produced content. Producing these effects in near real time allows time-sensitive content to be introduced.

“We’ve taken what people have normally done in post and done it in near real time,” says Anthony Bailey, VP of emerging technology for ESPN. “We can allow a snowboarder to go underneath or through a virtual monitor or graphic and it looks as if it was really there on the course. Our goal is to have the fan say, how did they do that.”

The application is being deployed for snowboarding events and will be used primarily for bumps, transitions, and features coming in and out of commercials. The system requires just a single operator and minimal equipment.

A member of Bailey’s staff traveled to Aspen before the production crew arrived to optically map out the snowboard course. This camera data was extracted and input into the real-time graphics-rendering system. The operator then uses the timecode of the EVS server to synch up the real-time footage with the virtual graphics.

“And while, we’re putting this together],” says Bailey, “we take into account the reflection shadows, the motion blurs, occlusions, and anything that would be there if they actually did this — if there was actually a screen or a graphic flying through the [real-life event].”

Software Update ‘Opens Floodgates’ on MVS-8000X Switcher
This year will mark the first Winter X Games to be produced in 3D, and along for the ride will be the Sony MVS-8000X switcher with newly installed Version 10 software. Sony unveiled the 3D-friendly switcher at the 2010 NAB, and it has been aboard NEP’s Supershooter 32 for ESPN 3D productions since last summer.

But this latest software upgrade “opens up the floodgates in terms of capabilities,” says Glenn Hill, senior engineering product manager, live production systems, at Sony.

The upgrade gives the switcher 144 standard HD inputs (up from 80), four total M/Es, and four keyers per M/E (up from two). This increased capacity essentially gives the technical director the same capabilities as with a traditional 2D show.

“When you do 3D, you essentially have to use two of everything, for the left eye and right eye,” says Hill. “So, by opening up all the capacity of the switcher, the technical director has the exact same capabilities that they would normally have on a 2D show.

“On this X Games, [ESPN] is running a dual-pair left-eye/right-eye [production],” he adds. “So, with 180 inputs on the switcher, that effectively gives them 90 3D sources on the switcher, which is the most they’ve ever had.”

The Version 10 software was installed and first deployed for ESPN 3D’s NBA coverage of the Los Angeles Lakers at the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 21. This soft launch of sorts enabled the network‘s technical director to become comfortable with the increased capability.

“He said everything at the game went great, and he was very happy to be able to do a 3D game before the X Games on the new software, because it did take some reprogramming,” says Scott McQuaid, senior sales support engineer, live production systems, for Sony, who spent the week with the ESPN 3D crew in Denver assisting in the software installation.

“It doubled the keyers ,” he points out. “[The technical director] had four M/Es with two keyers per M/E before the software upgrade. Obviously, he was happy about that, and the [NBA game] was a nice warm-up.”

Password must contain the following:

A lowercase letter

A capital (uppercase) letter

A number

Minimum 8 characters