Developments in OB: Stereoscopic and 3-D

Could the future of live sports broadcasts lie in 3-D? A number of trials could pave the way for widespread broadcast either to cinema screens or to the TV screen. France Telecom is planning to trial stereo production of France Premier League football matches, with a plan to debut stereo transmission over its 100Mbps FTTH network by 2010.

Adrian Kingston, SIS lead engineering manager for Wimbledon, contends that if there is to be widespread production in 3-D, it will end up as parallel, not separate. That means one set of cameras providing images for 3-D HD, 2-D HD, Internet and mobile applications.

The BBC was behind the world's first satellite-delivered 3-D HD OB, covering an international rugby match in conjunction with The3DFirm in March 2008. A few weeks later, regional U.S. network FOX Sports Net Southwest broadcast via satellite a Dallas Mavericks NBA game with 3-D pioneer Pace. In both cases, signal transmission rather than production was the key challenge.

The BBC and The3DFirm production rigged three pairs of Sony 950s with wide-angle HD zooms. Each pair of 1080i streams was uplinked at 19Mbps to reduce bandwidth, but 40Mbps per stream is anticipated for future projects. The bandwidth implications are significant. Each Pace Fusion camera unit delivered two uncompressed 1.5Gbps HD signals that were conveyed to two digital cinema projectors. Harris MPEG-4 encoders compressed the feeds to two 20Mbps streams that were combined into one 40Mbps ASI stream to fit on a C-band satellite transponder. The satellite signal was received at the cinema, decoded back to two uncompressed signals and fed to Sony 4K projectors.

Future experiments for The3DFirm include producing super-slow motion 3-D, mixing crowd atmospherics into a surround mix and inserting replay action into sections of the viewing area. Even something as standard as a graphical dock indicating game progress needs reworking in terms of presentation. Does it sit on the screen plane or closer to the audience?

All stereo OB pioneers are wary of deterring audiences with gimmicks that don't work. Stereo works best by trying to replicate the atmosphere of being in a stadium, not mimicking traditional 2-D coverage, It's currently a niche application, but advocates argue that it could have as much impact as high definition.

Other problems with OB recording include minimizing the size of the camera rig so it doesn't obscure the view of spectators and increasing the number of cameras to provide new angles and focal lengths. Since multicamera 3-D shoots are perfectly fea-sible, the remaining hurdles are logistics and negotiation. We need to get to the point where 3-D isn't just bolted onto standard 2-D coverage but starts to achieve a higher status.

By Adrian Pennington, Broadcast Engineering