Anyone for 3D?

NEW YORK—The 3D broadcasts of the US Open Tennis Championships last month from the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, demonstrated that the increased efficiency of 3D production techniques and equipment enabled CBS and its production team to almost double last year's 3D camera coverage without increasing the production cost.

Since last year's US Open tennis finals telecast was awarded the George Wensel Technical Achievement Award for outstanding 3D broadcasts from The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, these new production techniques mean that a far wider range of sports broadcasting in 3D is going to become possible, feeding the need for 3D programming into lagging sales of 3D TV's and, even more significantly, home 3D glasses.


Sponsored by Panasonic, a total of 47 hours of live 3D tennis spread over Labor Day Weekend and a rain-delayed Finals Weekend was seen domestically on Comcast Xfinity 3D, DirecTV channel 103, Verizon FIOS 1 channel 1003 and Cablevision's iO TV channel 1300. The 3D was also presented overseas on BSkyB in the U.K., ESPN International in Latin America, Fox Sports Australia and Sky Italia and in addition the men's and women's finals were streamed from the USTA's website.

Dual-camera 3D camera rigs supplied by the Cameron|Pace Group (CPG) “shadowed” many of the 2D cameras by being attached to the same mounts.
A key advance was the use of dual-camera 3D camera rigs supplied by the Cameron| Pace Group (CPG), the new 3D production company launched by 3D pioneer director James Cameron and 3D camera developer Vince Pace. These were set to "shadow" many of the 2D cameras by being attached to the same mounts, giving Bob Fishman, who directed the 2D broadcast, and Mark Grant directing the 3D program, an expanded range of angles to from which to choose. In addition, since Panasonic was the official 3D electronics sponsor of the US Open Championships, CBS Sports used pre-production models of Panasonic's all-in-one AG-3DP1 3D P2 HD shoulder-mount camcorders for 3D behind-the-scenes and ENG work.

"This enabled us to cover matches in 3D not only from the Arthur Ashe Stadium, but also using 3D cameras from court 2 in the Louis Armstrong Stadium," said Ken Aagaard, executive vice president of operations and engineering, CBS Sports. "The new arrangement worked quite favorably for us during the middle weekend when there was a lot of important tennis going on from both courts."

Previously, due to a lack of 3D commercials and interstitials, during pauses in the action on court 1 the 3D broadcast had to rely on repeated loops to fill the time. "By being able to bridge these gaps with live action from the other court, in addition to replays from the EVS servers in our production trucks, we were able to make the 3D broadcast look very much like what viewers expect from the 2D show," Aagaard said.


"There were actually 14 3D rigs altogether, with nine of them in the shadow configuration," said Vince Pace, co-chairman of the Cameron|Pace Group (CPG), "and we also had a couple of 3D cameras that were sharing one of their 'eyes' with the 2D production. Most of the 3D rigs were side-by-side setups with various Sony cameras equipped with Exmor sensors. But we switched over to a beam splitter configuration, what we call a 'nano unit,' for interviews or tight shots at the end of a match."

One of the shadow cameras was a robotically controlled design mounted directly under the umpire's bench which let viewers see the players walk directly toward the camera after a point.

"We also used an algorithm called 'Frame Linking' that let the 2D and 3D cameras shoot with different focal lengths," Pace explained. "If the 2D camera is set to 200 mm, and the 3D director wants a 120 mm, this becomes an effective method of maximizing the imagery from each camera. We are piggybacking on the backbone of established 2D sports broadcasting by adopting the methodology of 2D camera positions and veteran camera operators' expertise whenever possible. But then we also took advantage of positioning a different 3D camera in an engaging angle that the viewer is not accustomed to."

All of this was accomplished on the same budget for equipment and crew as last year's US Open in 3D, thanks to innovations in techniques and equipment from Panasonic and CPG.

"Our personnel, from convergence pullers to system techs, were able to handle twice the amount of camera systems as they did last year," Pace said. "For example, the shadow systems in the Louis Armstrong Stadium did not require any additional crew for their operation."

This worked out very well for the United States Tennis Association.

"With Panasonic as our 3D partner, despite the weather challenges of this year's US Open, we were very pleased with the expanded camera coverage," said Aaron Segal, director of broadcasting for the USTA. "We feel that 3D is a major component of positioning the US Open as one of the premier sporting events of the year. It's what we see as the next frontier."

But for many people, seeing professional tennis in Z-space does more than just add an additional dimension to the experience.

"Since a lot of the shadow 3D cameras were positioned low on the court, in what we call cut-outs, this gave the viewers an experience in 3D that is like no other medium," CBS's Aagaard said. "It's hard to watch tennis in 2D after you have seen it in 3D."