Plenty of Tech Fireworks in Store for Fox Sports 1’s MLB Postseason Debut
MLB Postseason baseball arrives on Fox Sports 1 for the first time today, as the 14-month-old network enters the spotlight with a pair of National League Division Series Game 1’s. Although the games may be on cable rather than broadcast, the Fox mentality remains the same: big, bold, and tech-driven.
“From an operations standpoint, we are really approaching these FS1 games as we would a [broadcast-]network postseason game,” says Mike Davies, SVP, technical and field operations, Fox Sports. “From a quality level on-screen, this group of shows on FS1 will be at or above Fox network standards.”
Whether the game is on FS1 or Fox this postseason, there will be no shortage of eye-catching production elements — from ultra-high-speed and 4K cameras to virtual graphics and augmented reality to the crisp on-field audio that has become a staple of Fox’s MLB coverage.
“The postseason is a great place for technology because you get a lot of chances to work with it,” says Davies. “Where you start at the beginning of the Divisionals will evolve through the NLCS and World Series, so there is a lot of time for enhancement. Whereas, in an NFC Championship or Super Bowl, you basically get one shot. So that makes it possible to bring out technology that may still need some refinement and experimentation.”
Cameras Galore: DirtCams, Ultra-Mos, and Flex4K
Fox, which is deploying a mix of NEP and Game Creek Video mobile units for its postseason shows, will deploy upwards of 16 cameras for each NLDS and NLCS telecast — with that number set to increase come World Series time.
Headlining Fox’s stable of specialty cameras is an enhanced version of Inertia Unlimited’s Dirtcam (or Diamondcam). Based on the company’s Gophercam technology and used prominently in Fox’s NASCAR coverage, the ultra-miniature RF system is buried in the infield dirt in front of home plate with a tiny lens peeking out just above ground to shoot up at the batter and catcher. Fox, which tested out the latest version of the system (featuring a new lens in a smaller casing) during a two-week stint at Angel Stadium of Anaheim in September, will deploy the Dirtcam for the Dodgers-Cardinals NLDS series and hopes to expand its use to two systems during the NLCS.
As for high-speed cameras, Fox has joined the growing number of networks (including Turner’s postseason coverage) deploying Grass Valley’s LDX XtremeSpeed 6X cameras. In addition, Inertia Unlimited is providing two Phantom X-Mos running at 2000-3000 fps, one X-Mo for Hawkeye, and one 4K X-Mo running at 1000 fps integrated with an Evertz Dreamcatcher for the pan and scan application.
“No other show is operating at 1000 fps 4k under stadium lights,” says Inertia Unlimited President Jeff Silverman. “They are capable of it but don’t have the light for it. We can.”
Viewing the Diamond: Hawk-Eye, Ozone, and WindTrax
Viewers can expect to see plenty of virtual graphics integrated into Fox’s MLB postseason telecasts this year.
First up is Hawk-Eye, the Sony-owned advanced tracking technology used for the challenge system in three of the four tennis majors, goal-line technology for Premiere League and other leagues, and the Umpire Decision Review System in cricket. Fox is using Hawk-Eye to create an on-screen graphic displaying a three-dimensional perspective of the ball passing through the strike zone along with real-time data, including speed of pitch and hit speed. The technology is available on three cameras — main centerfield, first base, and third base — feeding Fox’s SideTrax feature, which provides a side angle of the ball passing through the strike zone.
Hawk-Eye will be used exclusively on the NLDS Nationals-Giants series, before taking on a new, ultra-slow-motion twist in the NLCS.
“Starting in the NLCS, we are looking to put this technology on the side on a Phantom camera,” says Zac Fields, VP, graphics and technology, Fox Sports. “So you will not only have the angle of being on the side of the pitch but also an extreme-slo-mo shot with some enhanced graphics.”
In addition to Hawkeye, Fox will roll out Sportvision’s ozone graphic, which displays defensive shifts and spray charts, across all its postseason coverage.
ncam’s Augmented Reality
Beginning with the NLCS, Fox will deploy the ncam camera-tracking system on a robotic camera to integrate real-time augmented-reality graphics into its telecasts. The ncam system consists of a multisensor bar mounted on any variety of camera and driving real-time data (position, rotation, focal length, and focus) to a virtual-graphics platform.
“For the NLCS, ncam will provide virtual graphics, including starting lineups and player full-screen graphics, which really add some perspective in place of a regular full-screen graphic,” says Fields. “It allows production to give varying looks of graphics, rather that just the typical full-screen graphic. If a player had a key hit in a specific area of the ballpark, we can illustrate that with this technology.”
Fox has worked with ncam since June 2013 on various projects, including both in-studio and remote installations, headlined by their work at Super Bowl XLVIII in February and at the MLB-All-Star Game in July.
The ncam system also helps drive Fox’s Wind Trax, which is back after a successful run at the Daytona 500 in February. The virtual wind-speed and –direction–visualization system is driven by the camera-mounted ncam system, sending tracking data to a Vizrt Viz Engine 3D rendering system, which creates virtual graphics displaying real-time wind patterns inside the ballpark.
“That is a really big initiative for us, and we think that is going to be a major differentiator,” says Fields. “In the past, you have been limited to having a camera operator shoot a blowing flag or to a graphic simply pointing in the direction of the wind. This really tells the story of how those wind paths change once they enter the stadium.”