From Broadcasting & Cable
YES Gears Up For 3D MLB
Will use six 3D cameras, expanded crew
By Glen Dickson
YES Network executives are approaching this weekend's games between the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners without a scouting report---not on the teams themselves, but on the stereoscopic 3D technology YES will use to produce the first Major League Baseball games in 3D.
Consistent with its everyday production standards, YES isn't cutting corners on the 3D broadcasts this Saturday and Sunday, which are being co-sponsored by DirecTV and Panasonic and will be carried by DirecTV and a bevy of cable operators. The network has hired 3D specialist PACE and NEP's SS31 (formerly SS3D) 3D mobile truck, the same setup used by ESPN to produce coverage of The Masters this spring, and PACE CEO Vince Pace will be in the truck serving as 3D stereographer.
But YES executives freely admit that they haven't yet seen any baseball in 3D, and view this weekend's production as a grand experiment.
"I've never seen one piece of footage on baseball, so I don't know how great baseball [is] in 3D," says YES CEO Tracy Dolgin. "I have no idea. It's certainly worth a shot. If it does turn out to be good, I think it will soon be the best minds figuring out how to do [it] right, and we'll be in the forefront of doing it."
In the near term, Dolgin expects that what YES learns from this weekend's games should help inform Fox Sports' production of the MLB All-Star Game in Anaheim, Calif. on July 13 (Fox did shoot some 3D test footage using high-school players earlier this spring).
YES VP of operations Ed Delaney has been closely following 3D developments in sports production, but he also hasn't yet experienced baseball in 3D. On Thursday, he was overseeing the setup of PACE's 3D cameras at Safeco Field in Seattle, which he called a "very complicated process" compared to normal HD.
"I'm really excited about it, I have no idea what to expect," says Delaney. "It's always great learning something new. That's how we're approaching this."
Since the PACE/NEP configuration uses a "convergence operator" to adjust the depth of field for each camera, in addition to a stereographer and other support personnel, the number of people dedicated to the 3D production will be significantly higher than YES' team for a typical HD game. YES will use 46 people for the 3D broadcasts compared to 30 for the HD broadcasts, which will be separate productions.
"It's mind-boggling, the technology and how sophisticated it is," says Delaney. "Normally, you just have a regular camera guy, and he's worried about the zoom focus, and the composition of the shot. But now you have a convergence guy for each camera, who's looking at the depth info, and the z-axis. Then there's the stereographer. It's an incredibly sophisticated and very impressive setup PACE and NEP have."
YES will rely on six PACE cameras, five side-by-side "hard camera" units and a handheld "beamsplitter" unit for up-close shots. YES also plans to use 2D-to-3D conversion technology from HDLogix to incorporate some traditional camera feeds from the HD broadcast into the 3D production, such as overhead shots down the foul lines.
The 3D hard cameras will be placed in traditional baseball camera positions: "low-first" base, low-third, high-home and center-field; in addition to low-home, a position that isn't available in that many stadiums. Delaney is excited about the possibilities of the low-home position, which he says could be particularly dramatic for plays at the plate and may also be used to show pitches firing into the batter.
"That's what we're hoping is the money shot," he says.
High camera positions have generally been less effective for 3D coverage, and Delaney admits to being unsure how the center field camera position will work.
"It will be interesting to see," he says. "It all depends on how the depth of the backstop net shows up against the actual diamond. We may look at alternative positions during the show day, and avoid the net altogether."
Delaney says he was surprised that the transmission of the 3D signal is relatively simple. YES will take the left-and-right-eye camera feeds and feed them into a RealD encoder to assemble the side-by-side frame-compatible 3D format. Then it will pass the signal through a conventional MPEG-2 encoder to transmit it to DirecTV and other pay-TV operators.
"I thought that part would be more complicated," he says.