Sony stitches up Wimbledon

One of the benefits of Sony’s three-year deal with the All England Club is that it gets to use it as a bit of a test lab for the latest gizmos knocked up by the boffins in the R&D labs in Basingstoke. Grabbing a cup of coffee outside the 3D truck during the first men’s semi, Mark Grinyer, Head of Business Development – 3D & Sports at Sony Professional, talked about Picture Stitch.

Picture Stitch does exactly what it says on the tin and essentially allows Sony to take three HD fixed sources and stitch them together to produce a 6k by 1k image in which various interesting things can occur, such as flying virtual cameras round the space. On the production side it allows broadcasters to show things that might have been missed by the main cameras, on the coaching side it allows coaches to get a proper grasp of team shapes and formations, and is all in all a bit on the clever side.

It’s also not exactly new, but it is being reinvented. Sony started developing and testing it on Sky Sports Super Sunday football coverage in the 2008/2009 season, but decided that not only was it was in danger of becoming too proprietary, but that some of the effort being spent on developing their own tracking and telestration systems could be better directed elsewhere.

“We broke it all down last summer and started working with the Stats tracking platform, which provides tracking data a few frames behind realtime, and we rebuilt the telestration platform to be high speed and good enough for presenter graphics,” explains Grinyer.

As far as the football model goes, Sony is now just waiting for the 2011/2012 season to start to take the redeveloped system out on the road again with Sky. As far as the tennis model goes, the purchase of the Hawkeye tracking system earlier this year has led the R&D team down some interesting new paths.

“We can now lock the data and the pictures and their origin points very easily in Stitch, then we can start looking at the presentation of data on real video rather than rendered video as at the moment,” says Grinyer.

It also has potential to augment the 3D shoot that everyone’s concentrated on to such an extent at the Championships. “It is very easy for us to create a 3D version of the Picture Stitch image. Well, it’s not easy technically because you have to do tricks like stand up the nets if it’s tennis or stand up the players if it’s football. But, we have the technology to do that, so we can use it to augment our 3D cameras or use it for shots where you can’t have 3D cameras or cameramen.”

The result is that three years after it was first trialled, Sony finally has a system that can be used on a multiplicity of different sports and that it’s teetering on the verge of productising.

“We now have a modular system that we can present to the world,” says Grinyer. “If you’re Stats and you want to plug in your system, you can; if you’re a deltatre and you want to take that data plus Stitch into your graphics platforms, then we have an interface for that as well. It’s almost a sellable proposition, but it’s going to be built per sport because the featureset will always be different.”

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