MSG Media, Cablevision Find Success With 3D Hockey

The 3D production of an NHL game between the New York Rangers and New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden on March 23 underscored the advances that have been made in 3D production and the challenges that still remain.

The six-camera shoot, produced by MSG Media out of Game Creek Video’s Yankee Clipper production unit with the help of Harris Broadcast, 3ality Digital, and Cablevision, was deemed an overall success by attendees, despite less-than ideal lighting conditions within the Garden (due in part to the removal of lights for the circus) and the challenge of shooting hockey through glass and the posts that hold the glass in place.

“Shooting through glass is always a problem because it defines the screen plane,” says 3ality Digital CEO Steve Schklair. “And if you pan into the post that holds the glass, the post will end up being right in the viewer’s face.”

Schklair says the most important result of the production was that the success moves discussions beyond technical challenges to creative challenges. “We proved it’s technically possible to shoot the fastest sport in the world and create a satisfying 3D experience at home,” he says.

How Did It Look?
The big question from those who were not among the thousands in the theater is, how did the production look? The good news is that the production proved that six cameras are suitable for telling the story of a hockey game. The center-ice camera position seemed a little flat to most viewers, but action captured by cameras in the corners (directly behind the glass) and the slash positions made viewers feel as if they were in the Garden. Face-offs were especially effective in 3D, and it was easier than ever to get a sense of which direction a bouncing puck was coming off a glove or stick was headed.

“Not every shot needs to be a wow 3D shot,” says Schklair of the center ice shot. “It’s more important to tell the story of the game and without the center ice camera the story would be more difficult to tell.”

The downside of the production had little to do with camera work and more to do with the limitations of hockey and the theater itself. The posts holding the glass around the rink will remain a challenge, and occasional reflections on the glass made for some odd images. Also, the theater, which remained packed throughout the evening, could have used a brighter projector and larger screen to create a truly immersive experience. And graphics, which were in 2D, seemed to float a bit too far in front of the action.

Schklair says the graphics were actually only 1% in front of the edge of the screen but that the depth of the screen made it appear as if it was actually further in front. “We are working on a graphics tool that will put the graphic over the picture in a comfortable way,” he adds.

But MSG Media, with the help of ex-players and celebrities, made the evening a special one for attendees.

“The 3D presentation was well-done, and the integration of live guests helped make it a fan-friendly event,” says Steve Hellmuth, NBA Entertainment EVP of Operations and Technology. “It’s not just about watching 3D: it’s a special experience that has live elements as well.”

Compelling Proof
While the production in the Garden was proving that 3D hockey can be produced in a compelling way, outside in the parking area, Game Creek Video and 3ality Digital proved that it could be done out of a 2D truck.

“It’s not particularly elegant,” says Game Creek Video President Pat Sullivan, “but it can be done.”

The 3D production on March 24 required two production trucks from Game Creek. The production team and replay personnel were located in the Yankee Clipper A unit (image-processing equipment was located outside the truck in a small equipment rack). The A unit was connected to a B unit, where the six convergence operators handled the job of keeping the stereo images in proper focus and convergence.

“The convergence operators are still necessary today,” says Schklair, “but we’re working hard on automating those systems.”

As for format, the hockey game was shot in 1080i/60 but projected in 720p/60 in the Theater at MSG .

“You sacrifice either actual resolution or temporal resolution, and, for this event, we sacrificed actual because, while bad actual resolution isn’t great, bad temporal resolution is painful to look at,” says Schklair. “Eventually, we will get to a 3-Gigabit future with 1080p/60.”

Harris Gear
Beyond the trucks, it was up to Harris Broadcast to play a role. Its NetVX encoders and signal-processing gear helped with transmission to the theater and to Cablevision subscribers.

Harris became involved as a result of its involvement with MSG Media’s new transmission facility, opening in September at 11 Penn Plaza, according to Harris Broadcast Communications VP of Sales Russell Johnson.

“As much as anything, this is a learning experience,” he says. “We have about 10 engineers observing the process and giving us a better ability to understand how we can hone a solution for 3D. When you get into the mix early, you get a much clearer understanding of issues.”

Educating Industry Pros
In the near term, 3D experts like Schklair and PACE CEO Vince Pace, along with their crews, are at the center of the 3D operations for upcoming productions for The Masters, NCAA Final Four, and MLB All-Star Game. But Schklair is hopeful that each production will help educate industry professionals so that, eventually, companies like Game Creek Video can produce the events themselves.

“Our philosophy at 3ality is to sell equipment that empowers others to do the production, because 3D cannot become an industry if it’s just us and Vince doing the work,” he says. “We are in the technology-development business and see companies like Bexel and VER renting our rigs to clients.”

The approach taken by BSkyB in the UK exemplifies Schklair’s eventual hope for 3D productions. BSkyB 3D production crews were recently trained for two weeks on the equipment so they could understand how to get the rigs assembled, engineer the 3D-image processors, and set the stereo-imaging settings. A stereographer is on hand for events to support the crew, but, eventually, that crew will shoot three events per week in 3D.

“I’m surprised at how much better 3D is than it was just two years ago,” says Sullivan. “It’s advanced a lot, and, in the next 18 months, it will take a quantum leap, as many big manufacturers are making 3D products.”

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