Live From Roland Garros: Live VR Is Served Up From Top Three Courts

Cedric de Saint-Martin, digital innovations engineer, France Télévisions, and the innovation technologies division of the French national TV service are testing a number of innovations at Roland Garros. One of the biggest is live VR coverage incorporating technologies from three French-based companies: a  VR camera system from Videostitch, integration of digitally inserted graphics via Push-Pull TV; and encoding courtesy of cloud-based service FireKast.

Left to right: Jean-Noel Gadreau of Push-Pull TV; Cedric de Saint-Martin of France Télévisions; and Serge Dulin of Push-Pull TV inside the RG Lab at Roland Garros.

From left: Jean-Noel Gadreau, of Push-Pull TV; Cedric de Saint-Martin, of France Télévisions; and Serge Dulin, of Push-Pull TV, inside the RG Lab at Roland Garros

“Last year, we experimented with VR,” says de Saint-Martin, “and the feedback was that the VR quality was not very good but the experience was good. So we wanted to continue and improve the quality and scope of VR. Our goal is to eventually make it so that the production team can do it rather than the innovations team.”

The coverage begins with a Videostitch Orah 4i live VR camera mounted atop the sun shade above the umpire chair on each the three top courts: Philippe Chatrier, Suzanne Lenglen, and No. 1 Court. The camera comprises four cameras that record at 2,048×1,536 pixels each and 30 frames per second; it also measures less than 3 sq. in., weighs only 17 oz., and is currently priced at $1,995.

“The camera signal is sent back through fiber to the broadcast center, where we stitch the different camera images into one 4K image,” explains de Saint-Martin. “We then put a logo onto it and graphics. FireKast encodes it live and sends it to the cloud, where it can be published to different applications.”

Push-Pull graphics technology brings a new level of data integration to VR at the French Open.

Push-Pull graphics technology brings a new level of data integration to VR.

Serge Dulin, co-founder/GM, Push-Pull TV, says that his company’s graphics-insertion technology is being used to lay graphics into the live video for both the VR app (RG360, available in the Apple, Android, and Samsung Gear stores) and is testing an application that will bring not only the 360 video but also the graphics insertion to digital cable set-top boxes. The latter will allow viewers at home, eventually, to access the 360-degree view on the TV set. One potential application: the 360-degree view could be located in a picture-in-picture view so that viewers can play director in one picture while watching the main production in the other.

According to Push-Pull TV founder Jean-Noel Gadreau, the Push-Pull system is pulling in hundreds of data points (like score, aces, double faults, etc.) and delivering them to virtual digital scoreboards that can be inserted into the image and look as if they are part of the physical structure of the court.

The use of all the technologies at Roland Garros embody a movement toward making the VR experience not only more compelling with personalized content like statistics but also making the experience easier to create.

“The installation of FireKast onsite is simpler than having three 4K encoders onsite because the cloud service can publish the VR streams to different bitrates so that anyone can view the stream, even if they don’t have the bandwidth to view the 4K signal,” says de Saint-Martin. For example, the 360 coverage is also available at YouTube, but YouTube resolution maxes out at around 2K.

The Roland Garros 360 app is called RG 360 and is available in the French Apple app store and Android store.

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