3D’s Not HBS’s Only World Cup Tech First
By: Kevin Hilton, European Correspondent
Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - 9:01 am

The 2010 FIFA World Cup is a little more than three weeks away, and broadcast teams are already heading to South Africa to prepare for the first match between the host nation and Mexico, which will be the first FIFA World Cup match to be produced and broadcast in 3D. Francis Tellier, chief executive of host broadcaster HBS, does not play down the significance of stereoscopic coverage in South Africa but points out that only a fraction of the billions watching football’s World Cup on TV this summer will see it in 3D.

“The exposure to 3D is limited compared to 2D,” he says, “but providing the capability is part of a motivation to make broadcast history.”

HBS began testing stereoscopic broadcast systems two years ago and recently covered the Ice Hockey World Cup in the format. “That was quite exciting,” says Tellier, “and, since then, we’ve been producing other sports in 3D.”

The method HBS is using to go 3D continues a process it followed to introduce HD. The company had been looking into HD from the early part of this decade, leading up to the 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany, when all matches were available in HD and 5.1.

Still Room for HD Innovation
Although 3D might steal its thunder, 2D HD is not being treated as a potentially obsolete technology. This year, all aspects of the presentation will be distributed in hi-def, from the games to the non-match footage, including interviews and magazine packages. A major innovation Tellier is keen to promote is that the server at the International Broadcasting Centre is completely HD.

Another improved aspect of the operation is that HBS will have 40 ENG teams working across South Africa, 32 travelling with the football teams. The ENG teams will interview athletes and coaches, file profiles and feature stories, and more.

“We’re making as much content available to the broadcasters as possible to compensate for the logistical difficulties of getting around the venues in the country,” Tellier explains.

Tailored to Mobile
And then there is the need to deliver content to handheld devices. The production operation for mobile delivery has been expanded, providing what Tellier describes as a “breakfast-to-bedtime” service direct to fans’ cellphones. This is being tailored for mobiles, with better framing of the main action to suit smaller screens. All footage used by the mobile teams will be held on a single server.

HBS is continuing its long-standing relationship with EVS, which is supplying all production servers and support. Hardware for match coverage will include wire-flown cameras above the pitches and two high-speed cameras, able to produce 400 pictures a second, for each game. While other competitions have featured this equipment for some time, the use of high-speed cameras is another first for the World Cup.

On the Audio Side
Both stereo and 5.1 audio is being made available to broadcasters. Specialized microphones have been provided by Schoeps, including ORTF surround arrays and SuperCMIT DSP-based shotgun mics, which are camera-mounted. These will follow play and give what Senior Engineering Manager Christian Gobbel calls good “kick action” on the ball. They will also go some way toward providing quality sound above supporters’ blowing vuvuzelas, the trumpet-like noisemakers that are a key part of South African football.

For the first time at a World Cup, all audio equipment supplied at the stadia and the IBC is the same, from the microphones — specialised Schoeps units and Sennheiser MHK416 and MKH418S shotgun mics around the pitch and on all handheld cameras — to the Lawo mixing consoles, Genelec monitoring, Dolby encoders, and ancillary equipment.

Gobbel, who is working on his third World Cup and drew up sound arrangements for coverage in South Africa, explains that the aim is to give “as standardized a product as possible.”

Production facilities at the venues are housed in portable cabins built and equipped by systems integrator Gearhouse Broadcast (further details on these will appear in a later SVG report). The 3D feeds will be produced in two stereoscopic trucks: Telegenic’s T18 from the UK and the AMP vehicle from France.

Selected Matches in 3D
The 3D coverage is a common undertaking by FIFA, Sony and HBS, with 25 matches scheduled to be transmitted using the technology. Selected games will be covered using eight 3D camera rigs. A major part of the presentation will be stereoscopic zoom lenses, which Francis Tellier says are essential for football.

“From our tests, it was clear that 3D works very well in some sports, such as basketball and hockey, but is more difficult for others, like football and rugby,” he explains. “Football without zooms is a bit of a disappointing experience, but we have them now so it will be what viewers expect.”

Tellier says that Sony and FIFA believe in 3D and the budgets were made available. The impression is that there is still a lot to learn, but he and his HBS team see this as normal for new technologies, he says, adding, “Each day is important with 3D coverage.”

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