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Shotoku VR System Helps Take Guesswork Out of Horse Races

PIKESVILLE, MD.— In horser acing, oddly enough, there are no physical distance markers or finish lines on racetracks, as unfamiliar sights can sometimes unsettle sensitive thoroughbred race horses, creating a potential hazard for both the horses and their jockeys.

This led our company to develop what we call “Virtual Graphics.” This is a virtual technology that enhances live video production by allowing users to virtually place any graphic, object or animation on the television screen to create a better live racing experience for TV viewers.

Joe Gordon We have been providing high-quality products and services to the racing and sports industries for 54 years. What began as an audio company supplying sound systems for racetracks grew into an organization that provides solutions for video production, advanced digital graphics, along with photo finish and timing systems. We are constantly evaluating new technologies to improve production values that draw the audience in, closer to the action. This is our first foray into virtual reality, however, and it’s working very well.

The technology is similar to the first down lines that appear in football broadcasts. An image of the finish line and other key distance markers are inserted virtually on the racetrack surface during the live broadcast of each race so that the horses seem to run over a painted line. Virtual graphics are overlaid on a live camera to present realistic images.

We worked with Vizrt—a provider of cutting-edge systems for the creation of virtual sets—to implement this technology. They suggested that we use a broadcast camera and lens combination along with the Shotoku Broadcast Systems SH 100VR lightweight VR-tracking pan and tilt head system, and also incorporate Shotoku’s Serial Position Interface (SPI) and lens encoder, items designed specifically for virtual studio applications.

Shotoku’s powerful SPI processor sits at the heart of the VR system. It collects data from the high-precision encoders that are directly attached to the moving parts of the head and lens, and uses that data to establish the precise location of every axis. This information is communicated via a high-speed serial data stream to the Vizrt graphics engine. The SPI ensures that data is produced accurately and fast enough to be synchronized with every frame of video, guaranteeing smooth blending of the real and virtual worlds.The advertising opportunities are also unlimited and can provide users with an additional revenue stream. Logos and ads can be virtually placed at the finish line, providing our sponsors with the opportunity to expose the masses to their message on a repeating basis, rather than just running a commercial once, 15 minutes before the race.

We took delivery of the system in late August and it’s been used successfully for every race since the Sept. 5 opening date at our track, Laurel Park, in Laurel, Md.

Joe Gordon is executive vice president of International Sound Corp. He may be contacted

For additional information, contact Shotoku Broadcast Systems at 866-746- 8658 or