NFL to attempt live 3-D production

On Dec. 4, the NFL will shoot a game in San Diego and broadcast it live to theaters around the country to show the impact of 3-D technology on sports. For subscribers, the game between the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders is being presented in 1080i HD as an NFL Network Thursday night game of the week. The two productions will be totally separate.

Burbank, CA-based 3Ality Digital will shoot the game with three different camera rigs, two with dual Sony HDC1500 cameras, one with two HDC950s and a third with two WIGE Media Cunima microcameras for POV shots. The systems all include 3Ality’s special hardware rigs and stereoscopic 3-D image processing software.

At San Diego’s QUALCOMM Stadium, eight camera positions (two cameras each) will be set up — three on the field, low and high end zones, the announcer booth and two wide-angle views — to capture the live action in full 3-D.

Images will be switched on a Grass Valley Kalypso HD switcher in a Cross Creek Television production truck (HD8) on-site and transmitted via satellite to the Technicolor facility in Burbank. From there, the signal will be sent to theaters in Boston, Los Angeles and New York. RealD 3D out of Beverly Hills, CA, is providing the displays in theaters (with NEC 4K projectors) already set up for 3-D display. RealD is overseeing production and transmission of the 3-D broadcast. The projectors were fitted with a special polarizing filter supplied by RealD, and audience members must wear special polarizing glasses to get the full 3-D effect.

The game will be shown live on the projectors in the theaters and on 3-D televisions from JVC set up in the theaters and in various locations throughout the stadium.

“We spent a lot of engineering time to make the 3-D part of the production work properly, as much as we can, so that we don’t have to have a special 3-D truck or a custom 3-D switcher,” said Howard Postley, chief technical officer and COO of 3Ality. “The real sophistication is in the rigs and rig controller in order to make a lot of the things that are hard to do in 3-D easy.”

Postley said the 3-D processes his company uses are much more “pixel accurate” than other systems used in the past. “The more accurate the camera system is, the more watchable the 3-D images will be,” he said. “This NFL production is not just a 3-D capture. You’ll see all of the things associated with a traditional sports telecast, such as 3-D graphics, multicamera switching, roll-in packages and transitions. It was important that we make this broadcast familiar to what you see on TV every Sunday.”

The real challenge is to get people excited about 3-D technology for them to purchase the special 3-D compatible sets necessary to view the content. To date, only Samsung has announced a production model for sale, but other CE manufacturers, such as JVC, are expected to demonstrate new models at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, in January. Consumers will still have to wear polarized glasses in their living room. (Glassless technology currently exists, but affordable sets are more than five years away.)

“Right now, there’s a limited number of 3-D TVs you can buy, and the content is lacking,” Postley said. “We think that the paucity of 3-D features available is not enough to drive mass adoption of the technology in the home. That’s why we think special events in theaters, like sports and entertainment concerts, will be the real driver. The demand that we see is unbelievable. Whenever someone sees it, they say, ‘When can I have this in my home?’”

Most 3-D technology is hard to compress and transmit over current broadcast infrastructures, making any 3-D event literally that at this point. While both the NFL and the NBA have experimented with 3-D technologies as a way to extend their brands, most broadcast facilities are not capable to transmitting the content efficiently. Only when the production model mirrors that of conventional telecasts will the technology be seen in consumers’ homes.

The NFL first demonstrated 3-D technology in 2004 when it shot (on film) the Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers with two cameras in parallel.

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