NBA All-Star 3D HD test a slam-dunk winner

By Ken Kerschbaumer

This past weekend the National Basketball Association, with the help of Bexel, PaceHD, Sony, Canon, and Pesa, set a new benchmark in impressive debuts with a three-dimensional HD production of the weekend’s All-Star game festivities in Las Vegas that exceed expectations and wowed more than 2,000 viewers.

“After watching this if you offered me a courtside ticket or a ticket to the HD viewing I would take the latter,” says Ralph Receiver who attended the viewing during the slam-dunk contest and sighted the ability to see replays and truly get close to all the action as the main allure.

It also didn’t help that the production was shown on a massive 40×60 foot screen at Mandalay Bay complete with seating for 500 people and nine massive subwoofers that lent an extra sizzle to slam dunks and dribbling basketballs.

The production itself continued to be a learning experience for all involved with Friday’s Rookie game coverage leading to improvements in the Skills competition on Saturday night and the big game on Sunday. For example, Canon 21×7.8 lenses were used instead of 17x lenses, giving operators more flexibility in terms of widening the 3D experience and making it more natural. There was also a greater increase on courtside shots as the closer the action is the greater the effectiveness of 3D HD.

“We want to make this a human experience,” says Vincent Pace, PaceHD president and CEO. “We hear people say it is ‘unreal’ and my response is ‘No, no. This is very real.’ We aren’t about the gimmick side of 3D.”

The weekend was the end of a busy three weeks for Bexel that had an integral role in the production. The company was contacted by the NBA to see if it was interested in quickly assembling a flypack that would include all of the monitoring, camera control, audio, graphics, and routing gear to make it possible. Craig Schiller, Bexel director, broadcast services, said Bexel was intrigued with the project and said yes.

In near record time Bexel’s Burbank office worked with the equipment vendors and the NBA to pull together equipment that would reside in a production trailer unit.

“There were a little bit of tweaks because we needed to make sure it could include the projectors and leave enough room for the production team,” says Schiller.

Gear also needed to be tested out and tweaked as well. In order to move the 3D HD experience from being primarily a post-production process to one that is suitable for a live telecast the EVS servers needed to be able to record and playback the left and right eye recordings properly. “Tests proved that the system could be used in this application and be both field and frame accurate,” says Schiller. Sony SRW1 decks are used for archiving because they can record in dual mode.

The Pesa Cheetah routing switcher also needed to pass the test and ensure inputs could be operated in dual mode as well. The new Pesa DRS audio router handled distribution of AES audio signals for the 5.1 Surround Sound mix completed on a Calrec console. Lastly, the Sony MVS8000 switcher also met the dual-mode challenge.

“We had really great engineers who were able to pull this together quickly,” says Schiller. “And the great thing is this unit can go out and do normal HD production.”

The biggest difference between a typical sports production is the “convergence” operator. “They follow the action of a person to the basket, tracking them and making sure the cameras do what the human eye would do,” says Pace. “How we set up the camera is critical because 3D can go too flat or be too aggressive.”

What’s next? Given the success of the test the hope is to use the system during the NBA playoffs to let fans that can’t get to the arena a chance to hoop it up. But PaceHD is also looking to other sport.

“The time for the release of 3D right now is perfect for us because if someone came out of the gate three years ago they would have hurt the business,” says Pace. “And what we’re doing with the NBA is a nice stepping stone.”

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