This summer is a dream come true for armchair fans as broadcasters beam every second of sporting action to millions of viewers around the globe. Whether it’s the rallies of the tennis tournaments, the 100m hurdles or the penalty kicks of the football finals, audiences have been spoiled for choice with the wall-to-wall TV coverage.
At every sports event, whether it is the athletes in the field or the broadcasters filming the action, the end goal is the same: to achieve the best possible performance. So, like all sporting professionals, it is essential that broadcasters select the highest quality kit. Getting the basics right to capture the best possible images is key. Obviously, the starting point is selecting the most appropriate camera, but every single piece of equipment contributes to the success of the overall footage.
Every different sporting occasion brings new challenges for broadcasters, and with the ever-changing technology in this industry, innovation plays a key part. During this summer season’s sporting events, broadcasters using HD cameras is a consistent theme, and in many of the major events, every piece of action is being filmed using HD cameras.
In addition, the difference between this year’s tournaments and historical ones is the growing number of cameras used to cover events. More cameras allow the broadcaster to obtain more angles, which in turn enables the audience to be more involved in the game.
Wireless cameras are now also commonly used along with wireless links that use advanced codecs and more robust carriers, ultimately resulting in better resolution on screen and no freezes. There are hardly any limitations for wireless operated cameras today — down and uplinks to helicopters, on Skidoos, on sledges, on steady cams. Without wireless, the shooting of some of the most stunning pictures would not have been possible.
Standalone wireless camera transmitters have become much more portable and are down to matchbox size and weight, with battery power to match. The ideal link to ensure excellent wireless pictures is a stabilized camera mount, which eliminates jerky movements without adding significantly to the weight of the rig, giving the operator the freedom to keep up with the sporting action.
The range of shooting options is endless and is one of the reasons why in sports, viewers expect to see such dynamic pictures, having become accustomed to watching the results of more unusual and interesting camera angles. That is where innovation steps up to the plate, and the products offer an invaluable contribution to broadcasters’ portfolios of equipment, enabling them to capture these diverse pictures.
Camera supports for sports
Sports coverage has benefited greatly from the transformation in camera technology, and these trends have been reflected in the development of heads and other camera support equipment. When it comes to camera supports, the aim of the equipment is to provide broadcasters with the ultimate support in the true sense of the word. It has to be resilient, reliable and meet the highest performance expectations.
A broadcaster’s coverage is only as good as the equipment available. As new technology enters the arena, there are more examples on the TV screen — whether it is better quality pictures from the latest HD cameras or snippets of virtual reality (VR) during a presenter’s sporting analysis. Techniques such as super slo-mo replays have also become an essential part of TV sports coverage and help viewers understand precisely what is happening during an event.
All of these techniques rely on high-performing, quality support products. Smooth movement is essential in real-time sports coverage; a high-quality pan and tilt head is vital, which is why experienced camera operators tend to insist on their favorite heads. Professionals in the industry are looking for performance that matches the high-performing cameras available to today’s industry experts. For example, when the action is slowed down during replays, judder and bounce in pan and tilt heads is magnified, so smooth movement is even more critical.
For sports coverage, or any other application, ideally a camera needs to be freely suspended in space, staying precisely where it is put, and moving smoothly in response to subtle inputs that are driven by the creativity of the shot. That is how the perfect pan and tilt head should perform, keeping the camera perfectly still unless, or until, it needs to be moved and then it should do exactly what is expected at any angle of movement.
Drag is also an essential component of the design of a pan and tilt head, as some resistance to movement is necessary to discriminate between wanted and unwanted movements. Every operator and shoot is unique, so the pan and tilt head should enable the user to tune in to the amount of drag needed. All professional heads do this, although some do it with a stepped adjustment.
Virtual reality in sport
For sport applications, VR is certainly by far the biggest growth area, and we have seen a VR boom in recent years. Virtual advertising in sports is probably the best illustration of how advanced the technique has become at this year’s events. Today’s technology enables many of the traditional approaches to advertising in sports arenas to be replicated in live TV coverage. Advertising boards, painted pitches, giant screens and pitch carpets can all be identically copied, created and replaced in VR.
Augmented reality, where broadcasters use virtual graphics on top of live images, is another growing trend in the sports broadcast arena. Augmented reality techniques enable different branding to be composited onto an agreed object and made relevant to the country the program is aired in. Therefore, broadcasters can target their own advertisers with messages relevant to each national or regional audience.
In all of these cases, the success of the programs depends on the quality and performance of the VR equipment. The graphics software is often at the top of broadcasters’ VR technology agenda. However, there are other equally important requirements. For example, a broadcaster could choose the highest quality graphic software system, but without the right tracking system and the right camera support equipment, the quality and performance is lost.
For broadcasters to achieve the perfect match of real and virtual elements, the graphics system has to know precisely where the camera is pointing to understand the field of view so that the scale and perspective can be correctly matched. To do this, all camera movements must be captured, then tracked and communicated back to the computer that is rendering the graphic. This information has to come from the camera and, because VR is now used so extensively in live television, it needs to be delivered in real time.
For TV audiences, this season is proving to be a sensational sporting summer. However, as we know in this industry, mounting a broadcast operation to cover any of the popular TV tournaments is a far cry from lounging in an arm chair and flicking through the remote. The developments in technology certainly make the process easier, and with the right camera support equipment to match today’s dynamic cameras, the coverage of every sporting event can certainly be a success.
—Steve Ward is chief marketing officer at Vitec Videocom.