Hybrid matching market trends with automated Sport Track system

In a world of ever-expanding live sports content, producers are always looking to cut costs and reduce on-site manpower at remote productions, while maintaining the same high level of production value. With that in mind, France-based Hybrid has unveiled Sport Track, a technology that enables robotic cameras to automatically follow live game action by sending positional tracking data from a manned master camera to unmanned slave cameras so that they can follow the game’s movement.

“The problem you usually encounter when you try to automate cameras in the sports field is that the action is faster than the human controlling the robotic controller,” says Hybrid CEO Olivier Cohen. “So your problem is obvious: you don’t have the reaction time to follow the game with an operator behind it. The action is always moving, and you don’t know what is going to happen next — unlike with a talk show or news. This makes that problem a non-issue.”

Aimed squarely at sports like soccer and football, which require a large camera complement, Sport Track relies on a manned Cartoni motion-tracking pan/tilt/zoom/focus (PTZF) camera as the master. It is networked to a Hybrid Titanium robotic camera head. Based on the newly developed software and drivers from Hybrid, all the camera data (position, angle, distance, speed) is optically tracked, encoded and transmitted by the Cartoni camera to the Titanium robotic head. These coordinates ‘tell’ the slave camera head (Titanium) how and where to move to follow the game action precisely.

“You need to get a zone of action that can be a triangle with two cameramen, for example,” says Cohen. “You create a triangle, and that will be your zone. Once you know exactly the display of the field and calibrate it, then you can have a triangulation around the field that will allow you to know exactly where the zone of action is. That is coming from an encoded camera head.”

According to Cohen, there is no limit to the total number of slave cameras that can be used, opening up the potential for a single camera operator (or at least a handful) to be used for an entire production — with some limitations, of course. “You can have as many automated cameras as you wish; there is no limit on this,” he says. “You could actually produce an entire game with one operator. There would be some limitations. Your operator would have to look in the same direction all the time of where the game action is taking place. He cannot focus on one [isolated] player, but, besides that, yes, it would be possible.”

Sport Track came about as a result of Hybrid’s work with Host Broadcast Systems (HBS), which produces the world feed for the FIFA World Cup, as well as other major global sports events. HBS approached Hybrid, looking for an automated camera system that would allow more coverage cameras at a lesser cost. “HBS brought us the idea of doing it and did some tests,” says Cohen. “They wanted to offer more for a cheaper price. We came along with the idea of having triangulation with encoded camera heads from Cartoni. Then we built an interface in order to listen to their tracking data. They’ve been very happy with it.”

The Sport Track system is also capable of enhancing graphics using the same optical-tracking interface. Hybrid offers graphics engines and applications that would allow a producer to insert virtual graphics onto the field of play. “You can not only reduce camera operation but also easily enrich content with graphics. We could put our [graphics] engine behind it and create a complete, end-to-end solution, which will allow a sports-video producer to produce content at a small fraction of the cost, plus the integration of graphics onto the field.”

While Sport Track is initially targeting soccer and football coverage, Cohen sees the potential for networks to adopt it for a wide variety of sports in the future. “We have had [potential clients] that say this system would be perfect for colleges,” he says. “It would also be good for hockey games, where the [puck] is very small and the action is very quick so it is difficult to find where the puck is. This is not a small thing. I really think it can be a revolution within sports coverage.”

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