ESPN Taps Orlando as 3D Hub

As it prepares to launch its new 3D network, ESPN 3D, in June, cable sports giant ESPN has decided to make its "ESPN Innovation Lab", located within the newly-rebranded ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla., the center of its 3D development efforts.

ESPN, which announced the new 3D development hub at a media briefing at the Innovation Lab in Orlando, said it will invite various technology companies to use the site to test emerging 3D technology enhancements. ESPN will also bring online a new production center in Orlando that can be used for producing live sporting events for multiple ESPN platforms and for training production personnel in telecasting 3D events.

Chuck Pagano, EVP of technology for ESPN, said that the Innovation Lab is intended to "take a playground approach to technology" in evaluating new tools like 3D. The facility has already created two new production enhancements that have been used on-air: the Ball Track hit-tracking graphic for baseball coverage, which uses Doppler radar to track home runs; and ESPN Snap Zoom, a freeze-frame effect that can zoom in on a particular play and which was unveiled during "Monday Night Football" coverage last September.

The new production facility in Orlando, which was integrated by Sony's Solutions Group, houses eight Apple Final Cut edit rooms with Grass Valley K2 servers which will feed highlights into the main server system at ESPN's Bristol, Conn. headquarters. The production center, which is outfitted with a Sony MVS-6000 switcher and Sony LCD monitors, controls 42 Sony BRC-2330 robotic pan-tilt-zoom cameras scattered throughout the complex which will capture highlights from the various playing venues. It also has 10 Sony XDCAM PMW-EX3 ENG cameras and four HDC-1400 EFP cameras at its disposal.

ESPN 3D will launch June 11 with a live broadcast from the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Johannesburg, South Africa. The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex has also been designated by FIFA as an official viewing site for the World Cup, said Disney Sports SVP Ken Potrock, and will be hosting viewing parties across the resort throughout the competition. At least one of the viewing parties will be in 3D, possibly in the Grill restaurant.

ESPN President George Bodenheimer said that discussions with cable and satellite operators about carrying ESPN 3D were going well. "We're getting good feedback and we'll be announcing our first distributor soon," said Bodenheimer, though he didn't provide anymore details.