French Open got Sony 3D treatment
Among the high profile events to get the 3D treatment was the 2010 French Open Tennis Championship, 25th May - 8th June, which was the first multi-day sporting tournament held in Europe to be broadcast live in 3D.
Significantly, the event was also used as a dry-run for bedding in the technology and workflow ahead of the stereoscopic broadcast of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa which kicked-off a few days later.
Working with French OB production company AMP UK 3D specialist CAN Communicate was the technical consultant to both 3D projects working with an identical core suite of equipment including Sony cameras, Sony vision mixer and the Sony MPE-200 Image Processor with MPES-3D01 software
The MPE-200 – A “game-changer”
“I always believed eventually that 3D correction would be done digitally rather than mechanically and what Sony achieved in such a short period of time is unbelievable,” says Duncan Humphreys, creative director, CAN Communicate. “In fact it’s a game-changer - producing quality live 3D with standard broadcast lenses and cameras. It’s become a bit of a maxim that what will kill off 3D is bad 3D and this is right, but what will also kill off 3D is expensive 3D, because broadcasters are not going to pay the kind of premiums that are being required at the very top end. Sony’s 3D kit is beneficial for broadcasters since once they’ve made the initial investment it isn’t an expensive build per rig.”
That said it’s not like you can show up with a 3D box, turn it on and produce great 3D he warns. “The crew stills needs a solid knowledge about lenses, cameras, rigs, boxes, how it all works together and what’s coming out the other end. The crew who worked in Paris and South Africa developed a unique skillset in that they now know how to set rigs quickly and make all the necessary tweaks with confidence.”
The Roland Garros tennis tournament was also the start of Orange’s foray into 3D. The telecom company is investing 2 billion Euros before 2015 on deployment of 100Mbps fibre optics to subscriber homes and associate 3D with a superior consumer experience.
“We are an innovating group and in 3D we have been pioneers,” said Ghislaine Le Rhun Gautier Orange 3D project director. Orange owns rights to French Ligue 1 and delivered a live broadcast in 3D of the Ligue 1 match between OL and PSG in 2009, beating BSkyB’s live 3D football premiere by a year. The group experimented with 3D at Roland Garros in 2008 and also last year with the backing of the French Tennis Federation and France Télévisions when it aired the men’s final live in 3D to cinemas in France and Spain with the support of France Telecom-owned GlobeCast. Movies, operas, ballets and other live 3D events similar to the concerts of “Die Fantastischen Vier” in Germany or “Klepht” in Portugal are planned.
“3DTV is at least five years from becoming mainstream,” added Raoul Roverato, executive vice president of New Growth Businesses at Orange. “The new channel is more of a marketing initiative to show the platform’s potential and accustom consumers to the idea of watching content in 3D.”
Working with French OB outfit AMP to deliver the project for France Telecom subsidiary Orange, CAN Communicate was appointed to facilitate the live 3D requirements from Court Philippe Chatrier (centre court). Using four active 3D rigs throughout the tournament, this mammoth task included the setup of the Element Technica Quasar 3D rigs and converting them to the configuration best suited to the 3D camera positions available, plus making the necessary complex mechanical and optical alignments.
When choosing the Quasar rig for the production, 3D Creative Supervisor Duncan Humphreys said that in addition to the rig’s robustness and precision, the flexibility of configuration was also a major factor. “The ability to use the Quasar rig in Broadcast configuration provides full-featured OB camera capability of monitoring, intercom and so forth, but takes up no more space than a normal 2D broadcast camera.” The low vertical profile of the Quasar in broadcast configuration is especially important at Roland-Garros, so that the views of spectators in premium seats are not obstructed.
The court was covered with five 3D camera positions, four of them featuring Sony HDC-1500 multi-format camera pairs and Canon HJ22ex7.6B lenses mounted on Quasars.
“We have three rigs shooting the action through a beam-splitting mirror with a full body HDC-1500 and another in a T-block configuration mounted under the larger camera, facing up and shooting a reflected image off the beam-splitting mirror,” explains CAN Communicate lead stereographer, Richard Hindley. “This configuration is really quite compact and robust. Another Quasar with twin full-sized HDC-1500s are arrayed side by side in the higher position overlooking the court where there is more room (much as it would be positioned for a 2D broadcast). The mass of both cameras and the rig is not much more than a normal 2D camera with box-style lens and was easily handled by Vinten 950 pan and tilt heads.”
Interoperability between the rigs and the MPE-200 provides 3D parameter metadata such as convergence and interocular distance information which was accessed in AMP’s Car8 3D remote production van, as well as the control of those settings in the van.
“The Quasar is engineered to an incredibly high standard that allows you to do minute adjustments mechanically,” he said. “The more adjustments I can do minutely mechanically, the less I have to do digitally, and so therefore there is less degradation in the picture.” He praised Element Technica’s close relationship with the production industry, and its willingness to listen to customers. “There is a real correlation to its being a product made for the industry by the industry, rather than being made for the industry by people who make bits of equipment. It really is a well thought-out piece of equipment.”
Each rig position was manned by a dedicated CAN convergence puller who fine-tuned the appropriate convergence for optimum 3D. Pairs of discrete feeds from each 3D rig were then fed into the AMP OB truck via four 3D Processors, where CAN’s stereographers and AMP’s technicians monitored precise aspects of all the rigs for immediate corrections. They also kept in constant communication with the directors, vision mixers and convergence pullers, to make them aware of any issues that arose and any required maintenance to the rigs.
“We’re working within a 2.5 per cent depth budget for shots pulled behind the screen plane and about 0.5 per cent for shots in front of the screen plane,” explains Hindley. “We have to be a little conservative because we are conscious of consistency for both small and large screens” – the 3D feed of the men’s final was also sent to 150 cinemas in France and Spain.
All that technology was the same as it was applied to the World Cup 3D coverage. The one significant difference was the use of a Panasonic AG-3DA1 twin-lens integrated 3D camcorder. Orange Labs’ R&D division had been playing with prototypes for a month and originally intended to test on ENG material at Roland Garros but ended up placing it as one of the five main courtside positions.
“We worked with Panasonic to develop new functions for the camera,” explains Orange TV’s Jerome Fournier. “These include an in-camera notification to the camera-operator of the limits within which they could pull focus on foreground and background objects without creating eye discomfort.”
A tracking shot using the lightweight camcorder suspended from an aerial cable tracking 28m above the court was also trialed. “We were surprised by how good these were considering the movement on the cable,”says Roverato. “We were impressed by the stability and clarity of the images which is why we used them for some of the live action.” Nonetheless aerial shots during the tournament were converted from 2D from a conventional HD aerialcam using JVC’s IF-2D3D1 box.
The on-court AG-3DA1 was positioned facing a VIP section of the crowd, capturing cut-away reaction, because it was not initially deemed suitable for coverage of the match in action. However during the second week of the tournament the crew did experiment with shots of the on-court action using the AG-3DA1 and some of these were transmitted. “We had some problems matching the colorimetry on the Panasonic with that of the other four Sony camera pairs, but other than that it worked really well,” Hindley says.
A pair of EVS machines provided 3D replays including post correction by the stereographers.
Transmission was made in frame compatible (side by side) mode at 1080i via DSL and fibre, and received free of charge by the telco’s 8.9 million customers in France provided they had a 3DTV and at least 8Mbps broadband speeds. Japanese broadcaster Wowow and Al Jazeera as well as Eurosport took the 3D feed from Orange.
Panasonic beamed the matches, produced in association with the Fédération Française de Tennis (FFT), to 3,000 retail outlets across 58 European territories via Hotbird and Astra. Special viewing booths equipped with the brand’s TX-P50VT20 3D plasma had been set up to attract potential customers. To demonstrate the broadcasts, Panasonic used its active shutter plasmas. Interestingly, the behind the scenes OB truck was equipped with passive screens, with the crew wearing lightweight passive polarizing glasses.
Eurosport’s Chairman and CEO Laurent-Eric Le Lay was in bullish mood at the opening ceremony for the 3D transmission. “It was important to put 3D technology on the high street, making it available to all. For us it’s all part of the learning process, but I believe 3D will take off faster than Full HD.”
Analyst Tom Morrod from Screen Digest added that the 3D revolution is unstoppable, and that content would not prove a long-term obstacle. “We predict that by 2014, a quarter of all TVs sold worldwide will be 3D-ready. Hollywood already makes 25 per cent extra revenue on its 3D releases.”
CAN’s Head of Production, John Norman said, “The Roland Garros tournament was perhaps our most testing 3D project to date, shooting up to ten hours of live action every day for two weeks. The use of the fully active rigs played a huge part in our ability to deliver a great 3D feed without having to set and re-set each shot for 3D - which for a live and ongoing transmission is really essential. Our collaboration with AMP, with whom we have worked on other sporting and cultural events, was another great success.”
Michel Grach , Media Director of Roland Garros added : "From the early days of sport on television, the Roland Garros tournament has always been at the forefront of innovation, and we are particularly proud that the French Open was the first tennis event to be showcased so extensively in 3D. Our mobile clay surface makes 3D images all the more impressive, and tennis fans throughout the world have experienced our sport as they never had before. Bringing together such diverse fields of expertise within the family of tournament partner like Panasonic - with such an exciting common goal - has set new benchmarks in technological cooperation for sport, and shows great promise for future developments and further ground-breaking innovation."