Plug-and-Play X-Mo Debuts at MLB Playoffs

Inertia Unlimited’s X-Mo camera has built a name for itself by producing stunning slow-motion replays at sports events. Initially, a trained engineer had to be on-site to set up and calibrate the camera before it could be used. This year, however, in time for Turner’s and Fox Sports’ productions of the MLB playoffs, Inertia Unlimited released a new version of the X-Mo that features a highly simplified setup, enabling any member of the production crew to get the camera up and running.

“The main improvement is that we’ve simplified greatly the hookup between the camera and the truck,” explains Jeff Silverman, owner of Inertia Unlimited. “The connectivity between the camera and the truck will now be one SMPTE cable, and all connections necessary for its use will go through that cable. Everything on the camera is built in, and everything at the truck has been designed so that no experience of any sort is required to set it up.”

With a simplified SMPTE connection and clear labeling, the difficulties involved in configuring the camera have disappeared, to the point that anybody on the production crew can get the X-Mo up and running.

“Both because it’s a lot more intuitive to set up and because there’s been a familiarity bred with the X-Mo, the camera is now a lot more plug-and-play,” says Michael Davies, VP of field operations for Fox Sports.

In addition to being used by Turner Sports and Fox Sports for ALCS and NLCS coverage, respectively, the updated X-Mo system will be deployed by Fox during the World Series and is being used by the network on selected NFL games as well.

“On football, we’ve got what amounts to a two-headed sideline cart,” Davies explains. “One camera on the cart shoots what [it] normally does, and the other camera is a tight shot, and that’s what the X-Mo is. We feel that it brings NFL Films-quality replays to the viewer instantly. For baseball, you can really see all the details that you miss in standard slow motion, like the rotation of the ball, the expression of the players, things like that.”

The camera was first used on the MLB Network and has also been used by SIS LIVE for coverage of the recent Commonwealth Games in India. The new system integrates directly with EVS servers for replays, and Silverman expects to release an entirely new camera body in the near future, featuring less noise and increased light sensitivity.

“The new camera will also be smaller and lighter,” he notes, “so it will be much more manageable for handheld applications.”

The biggest change in this camera, however, is the SMPTE cable. That single cable will power the camera from the truck and offer all of the other connections — such as communications — over the same line.

“We’ve been working with the equipment supplier for some time,” Silverman says. “We used to build boxes for each end. Each was individually plugged into a box, and that was sent over fiber and copper to get to the truck, so there were a bunch of different connections. Now, instead, we can just clip a small box into the back of the camera, and everything plugs into that. Nothing has to be extended off of the camera.”

Eliminating some components also means fewer chances for failure, which is good news for everyone using the new camera.

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