ESPN Continues To Enhance Technology With Home Run Derby

The Home Run Derby has served as a playground of innovation for ESPN, which regularly tests out and debuts new technology during its telecast of the MLB All-Star event. Last July, the Derby became the first event to be produced by ESPN 3D (previously, the network had taken the 3D world feed of the FIFA World Cup) and marked the debut of various production elements from ESPN’s Emerging Technology arm. Expect the same this year for ESPN’s 14th consecutive year of live Derby coverage.

ESPN 3D’s One-Year Anniversary
The 2011 Derby from Chase Field in Phoenix will continue this tradition. ESPN 3D is back for a second go-round, having raised the level of 3D production by leaps and bounds of the past 12 months.

“I think the advances [in 3D production] in one year are remarkable,” says ESPN VP of Production Mike McQuade, “But, like anything else, people and technology just continue to evolve, and ideas continue to evolve.”

In February, ESPN used a single mobile unit and crew to produce both the 2D and 3D telecasts of Friday Night Fights. Long viewed as the Holy Grail in the quest for cost-effective live 3D sports production, this single-truck 2D-3D setup (the 2D show relies primarily on the left-eye feed from the 3D rigs) will be deployed this year for several more fights, the bulk of ESPN’s X Games coverage, and the Little League World Series.

Missing from that list, however, is the Home Run Derby. The 2D and 3D productions will be largely independent of each other in Phoenix, with devoted mobile units, crews, cameras (although a handful may be shared), and commentators.

Nonetheless, McQuade believes that the single-truck model is not far off for events like the Derby.  “We did not [use the integrated 2D-3D model] because of the lateness in which 3D was decided. I believe, with another year, we’d be very close to thinking about doing that.

“I actually believe I may have done the first. ESPN produced one before there was an actual [3D] network, and that was the Masters in 3D last year,” he adds. “The idea at that point of doing it out of one truck was unheard of. So I think it’s definitely made some great strides.”

2D Side Continues To Innovate
The return of the 3D will not be the only production storyline in Phoenix, with the 2D side deploying a host of new technologies.

Chief among these production elements will be the ESPN Ball Track system. Similar to what ESPN uses for its British Open Championship coverage, the system displays the trail of the ball once it’s hit and allows hit-chart graphics to be created for a particular hitter.

In addition, a new virtual-graphics package will be at ESPN’s disposal to display distance and home-run markers, offering more options for analysts describing batter tendencies, hot zones, and so on.

And an updated distance-tracking system will be available on — which will stream the Derby live along with ESPN Mobile TV — providing accurate distance readings immediately after the ball lands.

While all these visual enhancement are primed to pique viewers’ interest and deliver more data than ever before, it is the enhanced focus on audio that McQuade is most proud of for this year’s coverage.

“The enhancement that’s never talked about is the audio,” he says. “I know people don’t sit at home alone and watch sporting events [for the audio]. But when you take the time to actually listen to this event and just listen to the ball come off the bat, that to me is an enhancement that’s not talked about enough.”