Live From X Games: GoPro Cameras Go Live for ESPN With New Vislink RF Transmitter

While the first appearance of an FAA-approved drone during a live sports telecast has stolen the techy headlines this week at Winter X Games, another new video-capture tool is also making waves: a wireless RF GoPro camera system specifically for live HD broadcast. GoPro cameras have been a fixture at X Games for years in a postproduction environment, but this marks the first time the ultra-miniature cameras have transmitted live video that can be immediately integrated into ESPN’s telecast.

GoPro has worked with Vislink over the past two years to develop an RF transmitter small enough to be worn or mounted in the unique locations that GoPro cameras are capable of shooting in. Previously, GoPro footage was restricted to a postproduction workflow, with memory cards shuttled back to the GoPro’s trailer in the truck compound to create quick-turnaround packages.

The integrated GoPro-Vislink HD RF FollowCam in action at X Games in Aspen

The integrated GoPro-Vislink HD RF FollowCam in action at X Games in Aspen

“We are extremely excited to be working with ESPN and Vislink,” says Jim Geduldick, cinema and photo marketing manager, GoPro. “We have been working on it for quite a while, so to see it come to fruition is a pretty great feeling.”

The two RF units deployed at X Games by GoPro and Vislink are HERO3+ and HERO4 cameras powered by traditional GoPro batteries. A tether unit links the camera and the transmitter and is attached to the helmet of athletes willing to wear it. The second system, an all-in-one integrated unit, is being used as a FollowCam attached to a pole rig for X Course.

A FollowCam shot was taken live multiple times during Slopestyle qualifying Thursday morning, the first such deployment. The shot also marked the first time a FollowCam had ever gone off a jump directly behind an athlete during live competition.

“While FollowCam is not new at the X Games, it is new to have the camera in midair with the athlete and having the FollowCam go off jumps in competition,” says Geduldick. “[Veteran GoPro camera operator] Caleb Farro was in very close proximity to the rider during a [very complicated trick] like a switch double cork, so it was a perspective I don’t think anyone has ever seen before on live TV.”

GoPro camera operator Caleb Farro follows athlete off a jump with new RF GoPro cam.

GoPro camera operator Caleb Farro follows athlete off a jump with new RF GoPro cam.

Although GoPro declined to address the specific amount of latency, the fact that ESPN is taking the camera live during its telecast is a ringing endorsement of a potentially legitimate live-broadcast tool.

“Our goal is to have latency as low as possible and have it in sync as much as possible with the other systems that ESPN and the other broadcasters are using,” says Geduldick. “Shrinking things down into this tiny form factor always makes it more of a challenge for anyone working with wireless RF broadcast systems. But our main goal is to get in sync and find out exactly what is acceptable from the broadcaster’s point of view.”

X Games looks to be just the beginning for the GoPro-VISLINK product. GoPro will deploy the systems at selected AMA Monster Energy Supercross events and has already launched a page on its Website, with information on the project and how to get involved in this beta phase. More details on productization, pricing, and availability are expected this spring.

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