New technologies get a workout at World Cup

For new technologies such as MPEG-4 compression and 3-D television, the World Cup has been like a global proving ground — giving television technicians valuable experience and satisfying end users that the technologies are finally reliable.

One such technology is MPEG-4. The 2006 World Cup and the 2008 Beijing Olympics relied on the older MPEG-2 compression, but that has now changed. Intelsat, with a staff of 13 and 3.5tons of equipment in South Africa, is encoding the 2010 World Cup feed with MPEG-4 and distributing it around the world.

Latency issues, which plagued the early days of MPEG-4 compression, are now gone because of advances in software algorithms. Intelsat is serving 150 non-rights holders, and the transmissions have gone well, the company said. Intelsat is using HD and SD encoders by NTT and Ericsson, as well as a host of modulators, IRDs and spectrum analyzers.

ESPN, the only U.S. network that is broadcasting the World Cup in 3-D, is also using MPEG-4 compression to deliver its 3-D broadcasts from South Africa to the U.S. The results, the network said, have been excellent and the picture quality exceeds that of MPEG-2. The live images on TV, via cable TV service, look great.

As for 3-D television, the World Cup is the largest showcase thus far, and video crews are gaining a wealth of experience from producing the games live in 3-D. Host Broadcast Services, host broadcaster of the tournament and producer of most of the 2-D and 3-D HD coverage (including that used by ESPN for its new 3-D channel), is getting more skilled with each of the 25 games it is covering. When the games end July 11, its crews will be one of the most experienced 3-D teams in the world.

While the first of the World Cup matches were focused on just using 3-D to create uniform game coverage, the crews have now graduated to making the productions more sophisticated with better cutting and timing. With each match, the productions improve. Many of the veteran 2-D crewmembers are relearning their craft at the World Cup.

For example, the crews have learned that shooting in 3-D allows the production to "cross the line" more often by allowing the cutting to cameras on both sides of the field. With 2D video, if the action is moving from left to right all the camera cuts need to be from the same side of the field to prevent the viewer from getting disoriented. Not so with 3D.

Another lesson is the need to frame the main stadium 3-D cameras a bit tighter on game action. However, the camera operators face a delicate balance because if they are too tight on the shot it requires more panning. That can lead to quick movement, which can introduce motion blur and compression artifacts into the picture. It is a delicate balancing act for the camera operators.

Also challenging is the time it takes to break down and move 3-D equipment from location to location. To move quicker, the crews have color-coded the gear for faster assembly. The crews are using Element Technica 3-D rigs, which have held their alignment well and saved setup time.

Ten broadcast networks and 400 theaters are distributing the World Cup 3-D feed, including ESPN, Al Jazeera, SBS Korea, SBS Australia, SogeCable in Spain, TF1 and Canal+ in France. 3-D production units are from Telegenic and AMP.

Each game uses eight cameras, with four positioned on the main camera shooting platform and four at the field level. Two cameras are behind the right-hand goal, on the near and far sidelines while cameras on the left side of the field are near the player bench and behind the left-hand goal.

The cameras are Sony HDC-1500 cameras mounted on Quasar 3-D rigs from Element Technica. The cameras are fitted with Canon HJ22ex7.6B portable HD ENG lenses.