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Sport Graphics Powered by 3D, Real-time

Sports broadcasts are becoming ever more attentive to graphics, with webcasters and venues joining broadcasters in seeking better visual context to the plays and the players.

Cutting-edge apps map live action over 3D motion graphics updated in real time while incorporating third-party elements; HD is now becoming a must-have for college games. And as demand filters down the food chain and the economy feels iffy, price comparison is increasingly important.

The instant replay has been around for years, but is getting a sprucing up with new graphic elements.

SportsNet New York, a regional New York City sports cable network uses Orad’s Hi-Tec Systems’ Motion Video Play (MVP) to illustrate pitches, close plays, batters’ swings and the tracking of key movers and moving objects on the field. MVP was also used by NBC for its French Open and Wimbledon coverage to track service direction, ball and player speed, ball contact, as well as those locations on court where players find the most success. It’s also been deployed by CBS’ “NFL Today” and coverage of the US Open.

MVP works without camera modifications, according to Shaun Dail, Orad’s sales vice president for North America. “We just use image recognition [shot tracking], which makes for a lot cheaper production because it only takes one person to operate.”

Orad has upgraded MVP to reduce the number of steps it takes to review a clip, making the system even faster and easier to operate.

Simplifying the graphics creation process is also an important goal for providers. “What is always interesting is the production efficiency,” said Francois Laborie, executive vice president of marketing for Vizrt. “You need far less manual process to get video in the system, to provide graphics, to combine them and to play them.”

To facilitate video imports, Vizrt signed integration agreements with EVS, a leading supplier of storage systems for sports broadcasting. On the play-out side, Vizrt has improved support for several channels of video and graphics out of the same engine, said Laborie.

He ballparked the price for Vizrt solutions from “a few tens of thousands to a few million dollars,” depending on the options selected. Most apropos for sports applications would be the Viz Video Hub for media asset management, Viz Trio for the graphics and Viz Engine for play-out.

Today, graphics systems create and import third-party formats as well as data updates while the action unfolds.

To enable sportscasters to tap into a broader talent pool for live animation, Avid will launch Deko 3D Open Format Support with its new 5.2 Avid Deko 3000 package at the end of this month.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to import models and animation in their standard 3D formats—FBX and Collada,” said Teicia Gaupp, Avid on-air graphics market segment manager. The new feature enables easier import and playback of files created in AutoDesk’s 3ds max and Softimage 7.5, and Maxon CINEMA 4D. “Those layers—for example, lower third scores, head shots, animation clips—are live, editable elements of that Deko graphic,” Gaupp said.

Pixel Power’s Clarity 3D package also can render imported 3D objects in real time, according to CEO Peter Challinger, as well as offer a unique capability for real-time video mapping.

“One of the differentiating features about Clarity 3D is its ability to take multiple streams of live video and map them onto 3D surfaces of objects in real time, as you’re playing it out,” he said. “Mapping [four] real-time video [streams] onto an object—like a spinning cube—isn’t something that most systems out there can do. They lack video processing capability and I/O.”

Chyron’s new HyperX3 graphic platform enables two channels of real-time HD graphics (including full frame QuickTime and .avi files) to be played out together. The Dallas Cowboys took delivery of four HyperX3 models and Lyric PRO 7 design and render engine for its giant scoreboard last month.

“The level of live, data-driven 3D graphics has really stepped up considerably,” said Chyron CEO Michael Wellesley-Wesley. Key to the system, he said, is the LEIF plug-in for the Lyric PRO 7 3D’s creation and playback application and Adobe’s Extensible Metadata Platform (XMP), which together enhance integration and control.

“All the information is embedded in the image itself,” he said. “It can be extracted by Lyric and used to populate the data field. If I want to do a quick headshot of a sports star, I just drag his picture out of my folder and drop it into my Lyric template: not only do I get a picture, but I automatically get his name, his jersey number, team, the college that he went to, and so on.”

Moreover, images don’t just replace each other in sequence; interactive messages allow on-air graphics to transition using animations that optimize the effect.

Harris Broadcast recently demonstrated its Inscriber G7 top-of-the-line character generator running three work-in-progress software packages: G-Scribe 7.0 creation and play-out software, the Connectus graphics management solution, and a new RTX .NET-based scripting engine. All are slated for delivery by this fall, according to G-Series product line manager Curtis Mutter.

“The scripting [software] allows you to take those custom elements and embed them into your CG base,” said Mutter. The $1,500 option lets the user build a CG page dynamically along user-generated parameters, including imports of third party tools, he said. According to Mutter, the G-Series technology ranges between $12,000 (entry) and $70,000 (fully loaded). NEW FRONTIERS Image and advertising opportunities propel increasing interest from college teams in webcast graphics and digital signage for sports arenas, as well.

Rick Bagby, director of Athletic Video Services for Clemson University Athletics, chose the CINERGY2 platform from Irvine, Calif.-based Compix Media to provide Web graphics for his basketball and baseball games, and digital stadium signage for basketball and football.

“We went looking for a cost-effective tool that would allow us to do on-screen graphics—scrolling, ticker information, lower thirds,” said Bagby. He said the Compix solution was “at least half [as expensive], if not more than half, as the other comparable products.”

Although he bought CYNERGY2 with HD in mind, Compix wrote software for 16:9 SD graphics until Bagby’s budget could accommodate “full blown HD,” a proposition he estimated at $20,000 more than he had. Production, he said, has been “flawless” and “foolproof.”