Aside from crowning a baseball champion, the World Series — which begins Wednesday night on Fox — will also be a sports techie’s dream. Fox’s production team continues to roll out sharp new technologies, including sleek redesigned graphics and high-speed cameras that produce staggering slow-motion images.
“The nice thing about the World Series, and the Playoffs in general, is that it serves as a development platform for us as well,” says Mike Davies, VP of technical operations, Fox Sports. “There’s certain things that we’re able to roll out and to be able to use, like the slo-mo cams and the other things that grow in a very experimental stage that you see grow game after game, like graphical enhancements like the Player Pointer.”
X-Mo Goes to the Extreme
Throughout Fox’s coverage of the National League Championship Series between the Giants and the Cardinals, the network used its popular X-Mo camera, a Vision Research Phantom v642 supplied by Inertia Unlimited that captures images at 3,000 frames per second (fps).
X-Mos are set in four positions: mid first baseline, mid third baseline, tight centerfield, and low first baseline, where a special “ultra-motion” camera can capture between 3,000 fps and 5,000 fps. It is a Phantom v642 fitted with a Canon 200mm prime lens. For those who saw Game 7 of the NLCS, it provided a spectacular image of Hunter Pence’s critical broken-bat bases-clearing double during the third inning.
For the World Series, Fox will use an even more souped-up high-speed camera: a Phantom v1610 that can capture images at a stunning 20,000 fps. Tested toward the end of the NLCS, this Super X-Mo allows viewers to see such detail as the bend of the bat and the compression of the ball as it makes contact.
The camera is the first of its kind in MLB coverage and is positioned low down the first baseline.
Smarter Graphics Equals Better Viewing
Keen baseball viewers may have noticed some changes in graphics when Fox’s postseason coverage picked up with Game 1 of the NLCS. A new scoreboard and shinier lower thirds are all cosmetic changes but not hardware ones, with Fox’s graphics continuing to run off a Chyron Duet.
Where viewers will really see a step up is in data-enhanced graphics, such as Home Run Tracker and the new Player Pointer, both technologies developed in partnership with technology company Hego US.
Home Run Tracker should be a rather familiar concept to baseball fans, representing both the distance and the trajectory that a home-run ball travels.
As for Player Pointer, the graphics system uses tagging to identify players in the field and on the base paths. According to Davies, 16 small cameras are used to create a panorama of the field, allowing detection of all players. Then, combining the panorama with the high-home camera, the director can call on the shot, which includes graphics that follow the respective player’s movements. Those graphics can include everything from simply his name to stats and other additional information.
“As soon as somebody gets on base, we tag them and keep that on them until they score or the inning is over,” says Davies. “Whenever production wants, we can take that high-home camera, and it will have the base runners tagged on it. We’re starting to get into defensive tagging, too.”
With the NLCS going the distance to Game 7 last night, that a meant tighter planning windows for the Fox production team.
During the NLCS, Game Creek Dynasty (A and B) plus Fox’s NASCAR support unit were stationed in St. Louis. In the meantime, NCP 10 (A and B) and NCP D1 called San Francisco home. Each setup was established with the understanding that the compound in the home of the losing city would move on to Detroit’s Comerica Park to prep for the World Series.
There will be few changes in the camera complement for game coverage between the NLCS and the World Series. Besides the five Vision Research cameras, Fox will deploy 23 Sony 1500 cameras in standard positions, one Sony Super-Mo 3300, six Fletcher robotic cameras, and two Bradley Engineering Cam-Balls positioned in the dugouts.
Fox will also have its studio show in the outfield of each host ballpark. That means an additional six cameras on-site for pre- and post-game coverage. During the NLCS, Fox ran its studio segments out of MLB Network’s Secaucus, NJ, studios.
The World Series on Fox is produced by Pete Macheska and directed by Bill Webb. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver will call their 13th straight World Series together, their 15th overall.