3D OB - Sony is putting together a glass to glass 3D production chain but many elements, including a 3D Processor Box, remain under development. The first production ready truck built for Sky3D coverage contains some clues to the future, reports Adrian Pennington.
Last November BSkyB commissioned Telegenic, one of its regular OB partners, to build a new dedicated 3D truck in support of the launch of Sky 3D. The final vehicle is all set to hit the road next month to be used immediately on weekly coverage of Premier League football matches. A second truck has also been ordered and will be ready this summer.
The first vehicle (likely the second too) has been built with coachwork and systems integration by Sony’s Professional Services division to a design by Telegenic’s engineering team. Sky prescribed the use of 3ality 3D Digital rigs with the truck capable of accommodating up to 12 stereo positions. Sony’s HDC-1500R cameras with T-block option, which separates the optics from the body for side-by-side configuration, will be the primary acquisition tool.
Each camera position requires space for a ‘convergence puller’ able to view the image difference (foreground and background separations) from an individual stereo pair on monochromatic displays overlaid with a grid. The convergence puller work is supervised by a stereographer responsible for the overall 3D design and the depth balance across all cameras.
Much of the Sony technology is still in development so the plan is to launch the truck with a selection of existing kit from third parties and then swap new Sony equipment into the truck as it becomes available.
3D monitoring, for example, in critical areas will be via new Sony 24-inch and 42-inch displays based on existing LMD technology which feature two full resolution HD SDI inputs for left and right eye signals and a micro-polarised filter. These are set for release around Q3 this year. The truck will be 3Gbps-capable, future-proofing it as far possible and will include an EVS XT server fitted with a 3D software option suitable for live HD 3D replays.
Also on board will be an MVS-8000G vision mixer which, via a software update announced at NAB, will handle dual stream stereo signals as if they were a single source, to deliver operational control similar to 2D productions. In development and due later in the year is a new and more powerful generation of the MVS, based on the Cell processing engine that drives the Playstation.
Calrec Audio’s Apollo digital console has been chosen to outfit the truck. The 48 fader Apollo has over 1000 freely assignable channel processing paths, which will give Sky the opportunity to enhance its 5.1 coverage alongside the 3D image capabilities. Sky Sports’ Operations Manager Keith Lane said, “we specified the Apollo not only because we needed cutting edge technology, but operationally it is a natural progression from the Alpha console. This is important as it is an easy transition for operators to move from the Alpha platform.”
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the design, or at least Sony’s path to full 3D production workflow, is the 3D Processor box. Announced last November as a prototype and also based on multiple Cell processors, the box is designed to take much of the lens alignment of the cameras currently performed by the motorized rigs, into electronics. This could radically reduce 3D production costs since fewer convergence pullers would be needed, the complexity of monitoring and correcting live signals in the truck would be largely automated, and there would be less need to hire top of the range rigs.
Change in interaxial
According to Phil Streather, a 3D producer and leading S3D educator, “Sony is developing the Box for rigs that can shoot parallel and then Horizontal Image Translation. What the box will not be able to do is simulate the change in interaxial, which defines the 3D volume. This will still need motorisation to physically move the cameras closer together or further apart as the shot dictates.”
It is unlikely then that 3ality rigs and the Sony box will operate in tandem. “We’ve designed the truck so that it is capable of taking the 3D processor box or working with 3ality rigs,” agrees Ian Davis, Sony project manager, OB Unit. “The two offer separate workflows and therefore the flexibility for a producer to decide.
“The 3D Processor Box doesn’t just correct incoming camera feeds but is also a very useful tool for correcting and managing 3D wherever you are in the programme chain. By putting it around a router, it could be assigned around graphics machines to manipulate the 3D effect, assigned around the vision mixer to fine-tune DME or other 3D effects, or on the output of the truck as a final 3D legaliser/corrector. It could play a role in monitoring the output from the truck for transmission.”
In the current release Sony anticipates one box per camera pair but the box is said to have enough power to handle two camera positions at a future date. An additional box with selectable monitoring outputs, viewable by the stereographer, might also handle all GUIs, waveform monitors, vectorscopes and other tools that currently individual operators see. ”It’s about making the whole workflow more efficient in terms of space,” adds Davis.
Telegenic first got involved in 3D production when its facilities were used by producer Nineteenfifteen to produce Keane in concert in April 2009. It further supported a 3D shoot of a Usain Bolt sprint, an All Blacks rugby match at Twickenham, game show <I>Are You Smarter Than a Ten Year Old<P> and the ATP Tennis Masters finals at the O2. It was also behind Sky’s first live 3D to pubs transmission of Arsenal Vs Manchester Utd in January.
“For every stereo position you need two new cameras while the specialist rigs, no matter which manufacturer you choose, are expensive,” says Telegenic’s Eamonn Curtin. “If you take the overall cost of a new OB truck including the rigs, I’d say it’s about 40% more than for today’s HD vehicles.”
A conventional HD truck’s coachwork alone can cost £1m with £3m for a fully-fitted scanner not uncommon. Nonetheless Curtin reckons that if an outside broadcast company – particularly one holding existing Sky Sports contracts - has a new HD truck planned, it should be 3D-capable.
Curtin also revealed that Telegenic are trialing a radio linked steadicam stereo rig using a bespoke set of twin cameras fitted into a single body -- although its use on day to day production is some way off.