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Live-Event 3D:The Next Round

Ever since major broadcasters and programmers began experimenting with 3D sports production, producers have talked about the need to put the technology on a more sustainable financial footing. “This business model of experimentation—meaning we are going to do the usual 2D broadcast and then layer onto it another crew and completely new gear so that costs are more than doubled—has got to go away,” says Steve Schklair, CEO and founder of 3D production company 3ality Digital. “Using one crew extracting both the 2D and 3D image will require some creative compromises, but in my mind it is the only way to move forward.”

A notable step in that direction will happen on Feb. 18, when ESPN will produce live 2D and 3D coverage of a boxing event using only one crew and set of equipment—the first time this has been attempted for a live sporting event in the U.S. and possibly the world.

The boxing telecast, which includes a bout featuring middleweight titleholder Fernando Guerrero, will be shot with 3D equipment. Two cameras on 3D camera rigs will capture the left and right images for the stereoscopic feed viewers will see on ESPN 3D, explains Phil Orlins, coordinating producer at ESPN. The left-eye feed from one camera on the 3D rig will provide the 2D, high-definition feed for ESPN 2.

Covering a boxing match is obviously much easier than doing a high-quality production of football or even basketball. But the landmark production highlights a number of important developments in both technology and the techniques for doing stereoscopic productions.

“It’s been a year of some important advances” in both technology and production strategies, notes Rob Willox, director of 3D business development for Sony Electronics, which has been working closely with ESPN and others on improving cameras and 3D workflows.

Over the last year, Orlins says, ESPN’s 3D production teams have dramatically reduced the weight of the sideline cameras used for football; managed to overcome problems in using slowmotion cameras; developed new rigs to better follow the action; and most recently, figured out a way to add 3D cameras to the Skycam that follows the action down a football field.

Meanwhile, producers have also gained valuable experience that is allowing more efficient 3D productions. ESPN used separate 2D and 3D crews during the Winter X Games in late January, but about half of the 3D cameras were used for both the 2D and 3D feeds, resulting in significant cost savings, Orlins says.

ESPN is expanding ESPN 3D to a 24/7 network on Feb. 14. No timetable has been set for the network’s next one-crew 2D/3D production, but ESPN and is exploring the idea of doing a basketball game. “We’re looking at it very closely,” Orlins says.

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