Getting the TotalView

NBC Sports is supplementing its multi-camera live coverage of the 2001 NBA Finals series with first-of-its-kind panoramic analysis of selected replays.

Full-court (360-degree) images in full-motion and freeze frame are captured with a small digital video camera and processed with specialized compositing software from Be Here Corp., Los Angeles. NBC announcer Doug Collins has been using the TotalView broadcast system during downtime in the action to analyze play, breaking down these wide-angle views as he directs the software to zoom in, pan, tilt and freeze a particular play while he discusses it.

The TotalView system comprises a special wide-angle lens, image-processing software, and production and playback hardware. A tiny 3-inch-square digital camera with customized wide-angle lens has been mounted atop the backboard glass at each end of the court at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and at Philadelphia's First Union Center. Be Here's processing software smoothes the separate video frames to create a panoramic composite for live broadcast.

Using a small touch-screen controller, Collins points to and maneuvers through these live panoramic images or freezes the game action while analyzing a play. A Be Here technician with the same controller locates and dissects plays called for by Collins.

Although the company would not reveal specific costs of the system, the price depends on how much production is involved and how many cameras and crew are needed. TotalView has been used by Entertainment Tonight
for its Oscar-night coverage, as well as in surveillance, still-frame panoramic photography and Internet video applications. The NBA Finals are the first use on live TV.

Indeed, NBC knows it's taking a chance using TotalView for its highest-rated sports broadcast of the year but "sees potential going forward," says Andy Rosenberg, coordinating director for the NBA on NBC.

He points out that, because NBC wasn't 100% sure the system would work flawlessly, TotalView is not being used in real time—at least it wasn't during Game One last week—but during time-outs and before and after commercial breaks.

"We're eager to work with the Be Here people, but, because the [Be Here] technician is a computer guy and not a TV guy, there's going to be a learning curve," Rosenberg says. "Hopefully, that curve won't take too long to make it look good on TV. We don't know what it's going to be like getting these images on the air under the pressure of the NBA Finals and during a live broadcast."

Be Here previously worked with the NBA on the first live Webcast of an entire professional sports game and the Webcast of portions of the 2001 NBA All-Star Weekend.

"It's all about allowing the viewer to see a view that he otherwise has not been able to see watching sports TV today," says Be Here President and CEO Andrew Thau. "The key is the ability to navigate within the view. Most people find this compelling."

During the NAB convention in April, Be Here and Philips demonstrated a viewer-navigable panoramic video application for interactive television embedded in a set-top box. The NFL, NBA, NHL, ESPN, Fox and E! Entertainment have all used Be Here's technology on the Internet for interactive viewing applications.

"What attracted us to Be Here's technology is that it gives us a different way to break down the way plays occur," NBC's Rosenberg explains. "It allows viewers to watch people other than the primary player and see how plays develop. We're always looking for new technology that will enhance a broadcast but not detract from it."

Be Here was founded in 1996 in Cupertino, Calif., the current site of its technology-development center. Its investors include Eastman Kodak, Intel Capital, Philips Electronics, Enterprise Partners and Wasserstein Adelson Ventures. The company recently completed a $6 million round of additional funding from Snider Capital (co-owner of several Philadelphia sports teams and Comcast Cable).