FSN Adds Another Dimension to the NBA

FSN Southwest took a step into the future of high-def programming last week with the production of the first regular season NBA game in 3D HD. The March 25 game between the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers was only the third 3D HD airing of a live sporting event in the U.S. and the first time that signals for a U.S. production were transmitted by satellite rather than fiber.

FSN produced two versions of the game. One was a typical HD production with seven cameras for the cable channel. The other was a separate 3D HD production with three cameras that was transmitted via satellite to an audience of invited guests and fans at the Magnolia Theater, which is owned by Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban in the West Village neighborhood of Dallas.

The game was shot with PACE/Cameron Fusion Sports System, which was developed by PACE founder Vincent Pace and film director James Camera. The PACE cameras use two HD cameras in one unit to generates a left and right image that, when combined, create a 3D effect.

Viewers at the theater watched the game through 3D glasses on an 18 by 42 foot screen that is part of Sony’s SXPD 3D Production System.

Mike Anastassiou, the FSN Southwest senior executive producer who directed the 3D telecast, notes that “it was so lifelike that the audience jumped out of their seats when there was a slam dunk the same way they would in the live arena.”

FSN has no immediate plans to produce additional games in 3D HD.

Last year, the NBA and PACE produced the All-Star Game and game two of the NBA finals in 3D HD last year and the NBA is exploring the idea of producing additional games.

Both games used fiber to transmit the signals while satellite was used for the Maverick’s game.

Anastassiou noted that they had originally wanted to use fiber but the provider would have had to lay about a half of mile of fiber to reach the Magnolia theater and was unable to guarantee that the project would be completed on time.

Satellite, which offers less bandwidth and requires more compression, raised some worries about “the quality of the signal and the potential for artifacting,” Anastassiou said. “But we worked with the league and PACE and every one was happy with the satellite test.”

The successful use of satellite also means that the NBA could use the technology for international events. “If you are going to do 3D across the pond that’s a long fiber run,” he said.

The 3D technology required several changes in the way the game was produced. Anastassiou notes that he used a much more restrained directing style with fewer cuts. He also used low angles, which emphasize the 3D effects, and used fewer close-ups, which reduce the sense of depth.

“The objective was to give them a court side seat so the framing was much wider,” he said. “When you go tight, you don’t have the foreground or background elements and it flattens out the dimensions. I was conservative and stayed patient and sat on shots much longer than normal.”

This technology is unlikely to be available in homes anytime soon. Currently, HD TVs can’t handle 3D signals but some manufacturers are working on chips that would allow 3D productions be seen at home.

In the meantime, the technology is primarily attractive for closed circuit sports or theatrical films.

The Mavericks game was aired to only a select group of a few hundred invited guests and fans but last year the NBA showed the second game of the finals in 3D HD to about 15,000 fans in Cleveland.

“With those numbers the economics begin to make sense,” Anastassiou said.