Turner Debuts 3D NASCAR Race Companion

This weekend, auto racing will join the growing list of sports to be produced live in 3D. NASCAR Media Group and Turner Sports are producing two 3D feeds from Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, one focused on the track and one on pit row. The feeds will be available online, through TNT RaceBuddy on NASCAR.com, and on air, through DIRECTV, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House Networks.

“The whole idea behind this follows the RaceBuddy philosophy that we have with our regular 2D coverage,” explains Tom Sahara, senior director of IT and remote operations for Turner Sports. “It’s a TV companion. RaceBuddy 3D follows in that philosophy, providing camera angles that allow viewers to see aspects of the race that they would not normally see on the broadcast. This allows them to tune into specific areas as a side-by-side companion with the TV broadcast.”

Turner will produce two feeds for the 3D coverage, utilizing a combination of six TS-2 beamsplitter rigs and TS-4 side-by-side rigs from 3ality Digital. The cameras will be split between the front and back stretch of the track and pit row.

“We are looking at getting these cameras into positions that we feel will bring across the speed and excitement of the race,” Sahara explains. “The idea is to give the viewer a nice feel of what it’s like at the track. When we went to HD, the clarity of the picture really was a big step closer to being there and now 3D continues that process of bringing the venue to the viewer.”

Bexel has rebuilt its BDS1 mobile unit to make it 3D-friendly, and Turner will base all of its 3D operations from that unit.

“Convergence, graphics, and switching will all take place from BDS1,” Sahara explains.

For graphics, Turner will be utilizing a pre-release version of Chyron’s Lyric 8.0 software, which is 3D enabled, working off of a Duet HyperX 3. All of the content will be recorded to hard disk using an 8-channel Abekas Mira production server.

“We did a whole transmission and test of the cameras, converters, and other hardware from our Sonoma race, and there were no surprises there,” Sahara says. “I think it was just a confirmation of what we expected. The result that we saw from each camera is very good, so we were pleased with the performance.”

To get the 3D views out to fans, both feeds will be multiplexed into a single MPEG4 stream that will be sent up via satellite. Distributors DIRECTV, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House Networks will then take that feed and put it onto their distribution networks.

“It’s relatively straightforward,” Sahara says. “It goes up as a 1080 side-by-side and the distributors take that and push it out onto their cable or satellite systems.”

One of the biggest challenges with today’s live 3D productions is that 3D-specific equipment is still being developed, so 2D equipment must be utilized in ways it was not necessarily intended to be used. For this production, Turner is utilizing less than top-level equipment.

“This is a small production so we don’t have the big Grass Valley Kalypso or Sony 8000 switchers, or any of the heavy hardware,” Sahara says. “We’ve got a Broadcast Pix Granite that’s in a custom configuration to switch the 3D. One challenge is bridging the gap between getting the signal from the cameras into the switcher, from the switcher into transmission, and where all the conversion takes place.”

The biggest challenge, Sahara says, is monitoring. With a number of different displays and display technologies available, including both passive and active, production teams have many questions to answer before their show goes on the air.

“We need to work out all of the issues of where people need to see 3D, how they need to see 3D, and how to create that format,” Sahara says. “Monitoring, we’re finding, is bigger than all of the other challenges.”

Fans can go to www.nascar.com/racebuddy3D to get more information about the hardware and software used to view the 3D production online.

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