The Future of Event Broadcasts

BBC OB Trucks

BBC OB Trucks (Photo credit: mattcashmore)

One of the greatest challenges in any event broadcast is coverage. Apart from the standard budgetary and staffing constraints, productions have to deal with available camera positions that are often less than ideal, as well as having to second guess coverage needed for more dynamic events such as festivals, non-traditional sports, and wide-ranging events such as motor racing.

There has been a great deal of research into free-viewpoint video. In essence, this allows the placement of virtual cameras throughout a location by combining a number of different video sources to create a new, movable source. The Piero system, developed by BBC R&D and sold by Red Bee is the first generation of this approach and is used a great deal in sport coverage. Piero allows a virtual camera to fly through a freeze-frame image and examine it from different angles. This is particularly useful in analysing the elements of a play.

The i3DLive project is taking the basic technology behind Piero and developing a similar system that will allow a virtual camera to fly through moving images. The live action is captured from many differing viewpoints using a number of fixed cameras or cameras mounted on a pan/tilt head. This allows for the creation of a 3D computer model of the action which can be viewed from any angle – even those that would previously have been impossible without a camera appearing in shot. Currently this system is experimental and requires a great deal of processing power and therefore is limited to post-produced work.

The Super Hi Vision system from NHK has been getting a lot of attention recently. The lion’s share of the attention has been for the display side of the technology, which is understandable given its 16x HD resolution and 22.2 surround sound system, but there’s a very interesting story when viewed from the acquisition side of things. Ultra High Definition Television, as the system is officially known, has the advantage of an image that can be cropped to derive a number of HD feeds from a single shot. A number of SHV cameras set up as wide, locked off shots could provide complete visual coverage of a venue and provide a greater level of flexibility than current robotic cameras. When free-viewpoint systems are sufficiently robust, the potential of this sort of camera array will be nothing short of revolutionary. The bulk of a shoot will be able to operate unmanned with full control not only in the gallery during the event, but also with the ability to create new shots and angles in post production. We will no longer have to worry about “missing that shot.”