Sony helps bring 3D World Cup games to life

Sony says it has proven that live events can be done affordably in 3D.
A total of 25 World Cup games were broadcast in 3D (Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images).
A total of 25 World Cup games were broadcast in 3D (Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images).
Grinyer: "We?ve managed to create a workflow that would mean 3D should be more attainable for sports broadcasting."
Grinyer: "We?ve managed to create a workflow that would mean 3D should be more attainable for sports broadcasting."
3D World Cup games were made possible by adding 3D capability to two existing HD vans.
3D World Cup games were made possible by adding 3D capability to two existing HD vans.

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Sony Professional has played a key role in making 3D World Cup games possible. Working with a number of partners, the company added 3D capability to two outside broadcast (OB) trucks originally built for HD operations.

A total of 25 World Cup games were broadcast in 3D, on channels such as ESPN and in around 500 cinemas in 16 countries worldwide.

One of the key goals of the 3D World Cup project, according to Mark Grinyer, Sony’s head of sports business development, was to prove that an outside event could be covered in 3D at a reasonable cost.

“As a project, working with HBS, Telegenic and AMP, we’ve managed to create a workflow that would mean 3D should be more attainable for sports broadcasting,” Grinyer told Digital Studio.

“That was one of our targets, to try to drive out some of the high cost of doing 3D.”

The key to making 3D production affordable was to take two existing OB vans and convert them, rather than constructing new 3D-capable vehicles from scratch.

“Both the trucks were designed as high-end HD vehicles and we’ve added the additional wiring and cabling, the additional equipment that means those trucks can operate in 3D mode,” Grinyer explained. “They’re the best of both worlds because they can operate in 2D and in 3D.”

The conversion process took around one week and Grinyer says that in most cases, an HD to 3D van conversion can be done in two weeks. This requires putting in 3D processors for alignment of left and right streams; updating firmware; potentially changing RCPs; and adding a private network link for the 3D processors and cameras.

Besides cost, another benefit of converting existing vans was that the vehicles had seen live action before.

“Both the trucks are well-built; they’ve been used for a number of events prior to being selected for the World Cup,” Grinyer explained. “That’s why we’ve used known, good 2D trucks, rather than brand new trucks from anywhere. We knew the aircon would work and the all the infrastructure was pre-tested and working, and well known by the engineering crews, which is a key thing – we’re adding another lair of complexity on top of the engineering guys’ jobs.”

Using existing, converted trucks means that the 3D games are being broadcast in 1080i 50, rather than the optimum 1080p 50. Grinyer feels this is entirely appropriate given that Sony is trying to produce an image that can be viewed at home and on cinema screens.

“We are producing for television for ESPN and [other] broadcasters, but we’re also using that same signal to go to cinemas,” said Grinyer.

“We do have to compromise a bit on the depth of the 3D to make sure that we don’t make a picture in the cinema that is going to upset people. The amount of 3D that your eyes can take is related to the size of screen. Between February and June, we ran nine test events, which included uplinking to cinemas and testing that exact issue, to make sure we could produce it once and it was useful for both deliveries.”

The entire 3D World Cup project is very much a learning exercise for all involved. One key element of the project is learning how to best film a game in 3D. “We’ve been very careful to shoot it as a 3D, rather than 2D, production,” Grinyer explained.

That means taking care not to cut and pan too quickly and placing cameras differently than in a standard 2D broadcast. “We’ve got eight camera pairs, but we’ve placed them differently to make sure that we get the maximum benefit for the 3D audience – we have four cameras at pitch level,” he said.

As for what the viewers think, no official audience feedback data is yet available, though Grinyer said feedback from cinema operators has been positive.

A 300-seat 3D cinema that has been set up at the international broadcasting centre in South Africa is also full for most games. Grinyer, who is a football fan, said he finds games, “a lot more watchable in 3D”.

For broadcasters that want to dabble with 3D, but aren’t sure yet if a van upgrade is worth it, a solution is available. “From the point of view of an OB truck, if you want to have a go but aren’t sure if you have a market, you can hire in a platform,” said Grinyer.

Sony recently did exactly that for a broadcaster in Russia that wanted to test audience reaction to ballet in 3D. “I think there’s more of that planned. It’s not difficult to take a system and put it over a truck that exists and do some testing and do some trial events so that you can see if the audience likes it and your consumer is into it.”

Sony will be hoping that more and more broadcasters decide to take the plunge.

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