Sports Imaging Forum: High-Speed Cameras Get Flexible; New Drone Rules Are a Game-Changer

SVG’s Sports Imaging Forum last month offered attendees a chance to learn more about the future of high-speed recording and how drones, POV cameras, RF camera systems, and control systems are evolving to give sports-production professionals more firepower.

Sony's Rob Willox addressed what's new in HD cameras, as well as high-speed cameras.

Sony’s Rob Willox addressed what’s new in HD cameras, as well as high-speed cameras.

Marcel Koustaal, VP/GM, Grass Valley, and Rob Willox, marketing manager, content creation, Sony Electronics, discussed the state of high-speed camera systems. Both companies recently introduced camera systems that have taken high-speed recording in a traditional camera form factor to 6X recording speed, with Grass Valley’s LDX 86 Universe camera offering 6X HD-speed recording and Sony’s HDC-4800 offering 6X 4K recording.

“We will be able to record HD at 16X in the future,” said Willox. “And the current HD application for the 4K system is to record at 4K and then dynamically reframe the 4K for HD so that, as the camera guys offer good framing, the director can reframe it to get exactly what they want.”

Both cameras bring high-speed recording to traditional camera positions, an important addition to the camera arsenal for sports-production professionals looking to capture high-speed shots from all angles without requiring side-by-side cameras.

“It’s all about storytelling,” said Koustaal. “You can record at 10,000 frames per second, but it’s going to take a huge amount of time to get to see movement. So 6X-8X recording is the sweet spot for most applications.”

“We can now dynamically add high frame rate to any camera position, and we also introduced a box camera for the robotic market,” said Willox. “So that positions 4K in an exciting way.”

New Applications for Specialty Cameras
Brad Cheney, director, technical operations, Fox Sports, said that the use of new types of cameras in new locations really is about having the right situation to use those additional elements. For example, at the 2016 MLB All-Star Game at Petco Park in San Diego, the production team was able to run a Spidercam behind the outfield. Fox Sports has a regional network located in a building that is part of the ballpark, making it much easier to set the system up and deal with any approvals and facility regulations.

The "Alternate Angles" panel (from left): Brad Cheney of Fox Sports, Peter Larsson of BSI, and Jeff Silverman of Inertia Unlimited

The “Alternate Angles” panel (from left): Brad Cheney of Fox Sports, Peter Larsson of BSI, and Jeff Silverman of Inertia Unlimited

“It was unique for us,” said Cheney. “The shots were fantastic; it is a shot we have been yearning to get for years.”

Dirtcams also were part of the MLB All-Star Game specialty-camera complement, installed by Inertia Unlimited. “We had the luxury of having conduit to home plate,” explained Jeff Silverman, president, Inertia Unlimited, “so we didn’t have to use RF.”

He has always been focused on taking remote and POV cameras to the next level, and one recent innovation is a new control system for Marshall and POV cameras from Soy, AJA, Panasonic, and other manufacturers that gives much more control over the camera.

“Marshall cameras need an on-screen menu in order to be painted, and that doesn’t work. So we decided to build an inexpensive remote control that can be used to adjust the camera,” said Silverman. “You’re much more likely to paint it if you don’t have to use an on-screen menu. It’s a very exciting and powerful controller, and it was recently used for a UFC production.”

Another recent innovation from Inertia Unlimited is a remote control that allows an operator to control a robotic camera system from nearly anywhere.

“All you need is 10 Mbps up at the venue and 10 Mbps down at another location, like someone’s house [or a centralized facility],” Silverman explained. “It does have a 10th of a second of latency, and, while that doesn’t work for some events, it is acceptable for most shows.”

The Increasing Role of RF
The area of RF-based camera systems also continues to be one of innovation driven, in part, by a decrease in available spectrum when the need for RF-based camera systems is increasing.

“We’ve seen a significant change over the years as RF is now part of the lineup card for productions, and we have seen an increasing number of RF systems at events,” said Peter Larsson, GM, BSI. “Fox Sports used 27 RF camera systems at the U.S. Open [golf tournament] this year.”

With the FCC continuing to take back RF spectrum and such organizations as Homeland Security needing RF spectrum for communications and other services, RF-service providers like BSI need to become more innovative in order to use spectrum more efficiently. And there is, increasingly, little room for error.

“Production people expect the performance to be rock solid,” noted Larsson. “Breakups are no longer acceptable.”

One future solution for preserving quality of RF service will be the use of more-efficient compression techniques.

“We have to start looking at spectrum more closely,” said Larsson, adding, “We are waiting to see H.265 encoders that are small enough to be used for a microwave transmitter.”

Easing the Way for More Drone Deployment
And then there is the possibility of using drones. Due Aug. 29, revised regulations on drone use will greatly change the production landscape, according to Jonathan Rupprecht, East Coast representative, Society of Aerial Cinematography/flight instructor.

“We’re in a transition period right now,” he explained. “Since September 2012, people have been obtaining exemptions, and we are now switching to a series of regulations, Part 107, with respect to commercial drone operation in public airspace.”

Part 107 will apply to drones weighing less than 55 lb. Those drones will not require a visual observer and will be allowed to get much closer to people than the 500 ft. previously allowed. Another advantage is, it allows non-pilots to fly a drone, provided they take a test, pass a TSA background check, and pay $150.

“The overhead costs will get cheaper because you can send out only one person instead of two,” said Rupprecht.

Added Cheney, “The new rules are 600 pages long and still somehow vague, but they will allow us to get a lot closer as we can use a drone just outside of 20 ft. from someone.”

Rupprecht noted that limitations forbid operations from a moving vehicle in populated areas, beyond visual line of sight, in Class G airspace (other airspace requires an FAA waiver). In addition, the rules call for compliance with Temporary Fight Restrictions (TFR).

Part 107 could cause problems for sports production because it does not allow night-time flights and many stadiums are located in airspace classes that require waivers. Also, it is unclear how drone pilots will be trained to use the systems properly.

“The better way to translate don’t fly over people is, don’t hit people,” said Rupprecht, “because, even if you are not flying over people and you have a problem, [the drone] can fly into people.”

Larsson noted the two current best deployment of drones he has seen: flyovers to show a golf hole and at a rugby tournament in South Africa. In the latter, an area of the parking lot was cleared so that a drone could be flown heading into and out of commercial breaks and provide panoramic views of the stadium.

Outside of FAA restrictions, the biggest issue with drones is that the payload is limited to 55 lb., which limits battery life (typically no more than three or four hours) and also includes the weight of components: the transmission system, the lens and camera, the control system.

One final area of increasing interest is the need for 4K-capable specialty cameras. There is still much work to be done in this area because current RF-based 4K systems have encoders that cause upwards of 900 ms of delay, which is unacceptable for nearly every sports application.

Larsson noted that upconverted 1080p, especially when passed through newer encoders, can be an acceptable compromise for 4K productions.

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