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Sun 6 Jun 2010 04:00 AM

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The greatest show on earth

Adrian Pennington looks at the technology that will bring World Cup coverage into million of homes around the world.

The greatest show on earth
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The greatest show on earth
Francis Tellier (HBS) & Dany Jordaan (CEO of the Organising Committee) watch a 3D demo compiled by HBS.
The greatest show on earth
Epsio is EVS’s graphical analysis tool for live sports events.
The greatest show on earth
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The greatest show on earth
Sony’s new 3D processor, the MPE-200, which can automatically correct lens misalignment.
The greatest show on earth
ARRI Media’s digital high-speed camera, the Hi-Motion, returns after its success at the 2006 World Cup.

Adrian Pennington looks at the technology that will bring World Cup coverage into million of homes around the world.

World Cup fever will reach its crescendo in July when an accumulated audience of over 26 billion is expected to tune in to the tournament's 64 matches. That's no small degree of pressure for the production team tasked with delivering the broadcast.

HBS, the Swiss-based subsidiary of Infront Sports & Media, is the exclusive producer and distributor of images for the competition. It has a history of innovating host broadcast production, from the first ‘multi-feed' services to the transition to tapeless recording and archiving in HD.

The most significant developments this time will be dedicated near-live streaming of every game to mobile handsets and select 3D stereo transmission.

"The overall philosophy is the same as it's been for every World Cup," explains HBS CEO Francis Tellier. "We base a team in the host country, complete a detailed analysis of the country, its communications infrastructure and the requirements of FIFA TV, identify and work with local suppliers and appoint a dream team of directors.

"We don't build anything but design and manage everything from OB contracts to cabling and signage at the international broadcast centre [IBC, in Johannesburg]. We are prepared down to the minutest of details. Of course there are nearly always surprises - but we are prepared for that."

As for Japan/Korea 2002 and Germany 2006, EVS hardware and software has been configured into a comprehensive workflow spanning outside broadcast production of all the multilateral feeds and the logging, storage and management of all official audiovisual content. "This is the largest event in terms of equipment supplied and hours of content managed that we have undertaken," claims Luc Doneux, EVS general manager, Asia & Pacific and head of big events projects.

"The underlying workflow is, however, a tried and tested one similar to previous World Cups. The main innovations are the ability for HBS production teams to remotely browse content produced at the venues from within the IBC; the first integration of a virtual offside detector within the international feed and the full integration of super high speed cameras with EVS LSM [Live Slow Motion]," he adds.

Housed in the IBC, the central FIFA Max media server is an integrated cluster of 15 EVS XT[2]+ production servers which will manage the ingest and exchange of all content. More than 3500 hours of HD material will end up stored on the FIFA Max and 18 additional XStore[2] storage units. That's more than 1500 hours greater than the total volume produced in Germany."The main difference is the amount of ENG [electronic news gathering] footage which FIFA wants to generate," explains Doneux. FIFA has invested in a dedicated ENG production crew equipped with Panasonic P2 camcorders and Final Cut Pro editing to follow each of the 32 teams, plus a further 10 crews to create feature material.

"They will they will each input 20-25 minutes of DVCPROHD rushes per day onto the server," says. Doneux. Connected to an EVS Xedio Dispatcher, the ENG teams will be able to instantly display footage, enabling immediate media browsing for clip selection, indexing and logging. Those clips are then transferred from the venues to the IBC using SmartJog file transfer.

HBS tasked Grass Valley, the main technical supplier in 2006, with organising the technical infrastructure according to HBS's plans. In turn, Grass Valley contracted a series of outside broadcast companies to build and crew an OB hub at each of the ten stadia venues.

Built from flyaway packs, they will remain in-situ at the venues (only expensive kit like lenses travels between venues) and have been designed so that equipment, and indeed production personnel, are interchangeable. There's one camera set-up plan, one monitor layout and one cabling system across all the OBs, which will save production and engineering staff time adjusting to new routines.

"There's a certain level of customisation - we don't impose a single way of working for directors, especially with the way monitoring is organised," explains Tellier. "Engineering shouldn't get in the way of the director's work."

Each OB is outfitted with Reidel intercom systems and Lawo audio consoles. Six of these OBs are built with a combined total of 400 Axon Synapse signal processing panels which will create 1500 multiviewer outputs for monitoring. Each OB will house at least 13 EVS XT[2] servers.

Signals are fed by fibre to a neighbouring technical operation centre (TOC). One of these is being built at each of the ten venues by the UK's Gearhouse Broadcast.

The TOCs aggregate the host feeds and distribute them to unilateral rights holders with their own on-site flyaway OB facility. After customisation of commentary and captioning by the unilaterals, the signal is routed back through the TOC and onto the IBC. There, broadcasters can add further studio elements or integrate their own ENG packages before distribution to domestic audiences via satellite.

For the first time, a virtual offside line graphic is being introduced to the main international feed. This graphic overlay will be managed using Epsio, a new EVS tool, which allows LSM operators to manually trigger the offside line with the jog wheel of the LSM remote.In addition, the host feed will be integrated with Deltratre's new statistical analytics software Magma Pro (Match Analysis Graphics Machine). HBS production teams will be able to replay pictures integrated with Magma Pro data from the FIFA Max server to create analysis of key moments such as goals and the position of every player on the pitch.

The tournament will be covered by more cameras than ever before (excluding the camera pairs devoted to the stereo 3D element). An average 23 Grass Valley LDK6000/8000 Worldcams and six LDK 8300 Super Slo-Mos will be positioned per match in-stadia alongside a selection of specialist cameras such as ultra-hi-speeds (from ARRI Media, Live Motion Concept and Digital Video Sud), aerial spidercams, Camera Corps' Q-Ball robotic camera systems (10 per venue), Hitachi DK-H32 and Toshiba HD mini cams.

These will provide point-of-view cutaways from the manually-operated cameras used to follow the routine cut-and-thrust of each game. The biggest challenge from a conceptual point of view, according to Grass Valley, is to manage the increasingly complex production requirements for this World Cup with the integration of feeds from more specialty cameras.

"This goes hand in hand with the new technical concept of a container infrastructure replacing the traditional OB vans, providing separate production areas with improved working environments for the international production teams," the firm says.

Inevitably, the World Cup's 3D broadcast grabs the headlines but arguably the greater innovation will be vastly improved coverage for mobile viewers. Mobile TV has yet to take off in most territories, including Europe and the US, but events like this could provide a catalyst for it.

"Mobile for the World Cup 2002 was symbolic and in 2006 it was not big business," says Tellier. "In 2010, all matches will be streamed live to mobiles (from select operators) with a special feed tailored to make the pictures more mobile-screen friendly (i.e with more close-ups)." During the tournament itself, Tellier will be in trouble-shooting mode. "If we've little to do during the event it means we've done our job well."

Meanwhile, attention is already turning to the World Cup 2014 in Brazil. "We've begun discussions with stadiums to tell them what we need as they begin construction," he says. "The basic technical concept organised in South Africa (identical flyaway OBs remaining in situ at venues) will probably be the model for 2014." Perhaps by then, live to mobile and 3D stereo coverage will be on a level footing with the main TV broadcast.