SportTech UK: The summer of 2012 and beyond

While the UK’s “Summer of Sport” officially begins with Wimbledon in late June, earlier that month the nation’s OB production providers will be at the centre of an event that, from a UK production perspective, will eclipse the Olympics: The Queen’s Jubilee. Reaching its high point during the weekend of June 1, all of the nation’s broadcasters, most notably BBC, Sky, and ITV, will have different demands but they will all want to get the perfect shot.

“One part of the route along the Thames that normally has only four cameras on it during the Boat Race will have 18,” said Brian Clark, NEP Visions, commercial and technical projects director. “I think it will be amazing.”

Clark added that the Queen’s Jubilee will require more Visions trucks and cameras than the Olympics will, as many of the Olympic events will be handled by OB vehicles from Alfacam, EuroMedia, and other OB providers on the European continent.

SIS Live will also be heavily involved, especially on the wireless transmission of camera and audio signals. “One of our specialties is complex RF and we think the RF landscape will be very complicated,” said Aspden.

The biggest RF challenge will be coverage of the Diamond Jubilee River Pageant and the Royal Barge that will carry Queen Elizabeth down the Thames. Six fibre ingest points will serve as both ingest points and separate production hubs.

“While the Tower Bridge is the perfect camera location there will be hundreds of boats flying around the Thames causing major constraints,” explained Clark. “There will be 70-plus RF cameras and cabling London is normally an interesting experience, especially from one side of the Thames to the other.”

At first glance it would appear that the Olympics would be a boon for UK outside broadcast providers. But existing and long-term contracts have many of the UK OB units already committed to other events. Only 11 of the 35 OB units that will be in use during the Olympics will come from UK providers.

“We took the view that we would first and foremost support our regular clients,” added Johnstone. “NBC Olympics will use one truck but our regular clients come first.”

By the time the Olympic flame is extinguished in London, UK sports fans will have had the opportunity to see Wimbledon in 3D, the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics and the 100 Meter Final in 3D, as well as Super Hi-Vision broadcasts of the Olympics in 8k resolution courtesy of an experiment between NHK and the BBC.

Will those experiments eventually become a day-in, day-out reality in the UK?

“3D is an interesting experience that will be much better without the glasses,” said Oerlemans.

But even if 3D becomes a viable experience without glasses the BBC will be hard pressed to dive fully into 3D (or event Ultra HD productions) given that it is financed by public funds.

“It’s an emerging service but diverting huge resources for something that is extremely niche [is difficult],” said Ben Gallop, BBC, head of Interactive and F1.

That is one reason that 1080p may become the next step, providing enough bandwidth for a super-sharp 2D experience or a 3D viewing experience that offers full HD resolution.

NEP Visions will roll out an OB unit later this summer that will be the first end-to-end 1080p truck, including 1080p-capable cameras. So while there is much focus on 4k and even 8k at shows like NAB and IBC it may be 1080p that first has an impact in the home.

“There is a lot of talk about 4k and 8k but there need to be transmission paths so that someone in the house can actually watch,” said Clark.

Aspden said that one of the difficulties with 1080p/50 will be helping consumers understand the difference in quality from 720p/50. Larger HD screens, he added, may help consumers see the need for additional resolution.

It is also less likely that the BBC will divert a large amount of funds to 3D or Ultra HD when it is under so much pressure to keep the rights to major UK sport events. Productions in 1080p could be a solid interim step.

“The BBC is under scrutiny and they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t,” said Woods of a rights situation that saw the Grand National vanish from the public airwaves. “The public wants the events but they don’t want any money spent. They want it both ways.”

“The loss of horse racing is a real blow but we still have a strong range of rights,” said Gallop. “Despite the doom and gloom we are in good shape and we have an amazing summer of sport coming up.”


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