Wimbledon ready for debut in 3D

The 3D efforts undertaken at Wimbledon get their first public viewing today, ending a week of technical tests and trials that Mervyn Hall, director of broadcast operations for the All England Lawn Tennis Club says have gone well.

“Everyone seems very pleased,” says Hall of an effort that involves the BBC, CAN Communications, Sony, Visions, Globecast, and others.

BBC viewers domestically will have the chance to watch two men’s semifinals in 3D today followed by the women’s final tomorrow and the men’s final on Sunday. Highlights packages of previous matches will also be shown.

“The team has been shooting one match a day and then analyzing it and building seven or eight-minute highlight packages,” says Hall. “Those will also be kept for our archives as they are good, quality stuff and something we can build around the programme.”

Given that this is year one of a three-year commitment to 3D at Wimbledon, modest goals were the key.

“From our perspective we wanted to get on air and make sure that at least some broadcasters have the rights to show it live or recorded,” he says. “We are being modest to make sure we do things right.”

ESPN in the U.S., for example, can show the 3D coverage three hours after the live HD broadcast by NBC Sports. Other broadcasters that have taken on the 3D rights include Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland and the matches will also be broadcast live to theaters across Europe in three languages: English, Spanish, and Portugese.

The two massive Visions Gemini OB units arrived on site last week with camera mounts and heads in position by Monday. Unable to fit in the broadcast yard the trucks instead are in a parking lot adjacent to court 18 and the broadcast centre.

The biggest challenge was finding suitable camera positions within Centre Court without killing seats, something that Hall says was accomplished by losing a couple of still photographer positions.

“Finding places for the 3D cameras was a bit on a black art and took some time and effort,” says Hall. “They probably aren’t the perfect positions and we probably don’t have enough cameras but as part of the reprise process and analysis we will enhance the [camera positions] more.”

For example, he says, the introduction of Sony’s ENG 3D camera later this year could help out next year.

“They could bring greater flexibility and make it easier for the coverage cameras,” adds Hall.

The production will use six Sony 3D rigs, including a small robotic rig in the corner of the court that provides beauty shots. Two 3D rigs are located on the same baseline in front of the Royal Box, another rig and the robotic are behind the opposite baseline, and then there are two rigs in the photographer’s pit along the side of the court.

Hall says he has been impressed with the images captured in the trials.

“It’s a startling image and Wimbledon is such an iconic and unique identifiable image with the green and white and shape of the stadium,” he says. “The shots from the photographer’s pit with the crowd in the background and the ball boys have been quite stunning.”

Looking to next year viewers should expect some adjustments in camera angles and maybe even an additional camera or two. And even fans at Wimbledon itself may be in for an added treat if the right technological advances occur.

“We will investigate whether we can add 3D screens on court two when we get to the finals as we use it as an overflow for people on the hill,” says Hall. Whether suitable (and affordable) screens are available remains to be seen.

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