Live 3-D HD? It’s a slam-dunk for the NBA All-Star Game thanks to PACE, Sony

By Ken Kerschbaumer

When the NBA All-Star game and its weekend-long festivities take place in Las Vegas next weekend it will mark the first time the game will be held in a city without an NBA franchise. But it will also mark another first: the world’s first live 3D HD production for a live sporting event, offering viewers around Las Vegas at viewing parties a chance to experience an NBA telecast like never before.

With the help of PACE, the same developer of the 3D technology being used by James Cameron, a special production fly-pack, and a lot of faith in new technology the NBA is laying the groundwork for a technology that could give fans who can’t snag a ticket to an NBA Finals game a chance to catch the action at a digital cinema or arena.

“The NBA is always exploring new and innovative ways for fans to experience the excitement of our game,” says Steve Hellmuth, Senior Vice President of Operations and Technology for NBA Entertainment. “The spectacular view of our game from a courtside seat, the closest to the field of play in any sports, is replicated in this groundbreaking 3D HD experience we are unveiling for NBA All-Star.”

Hellmuth says the technology was discovered by the NBA last April at NAB when they visited with PACE in a hotel suite. Mike Rokosa, NBA Entertainment senior director, engineering, drove the technical work behind the scenes to make the production happen.

“We’ll be using full HD 1080i cameras,” says Rokosa. “It will be a five camera shoot with four cameras along the low court and a fifth up in a play-by-play position.”

The imaging system is comprised of two Sony HD cameras with one camera recording the left eye and the other the right eye. But both cameras will be operated as one, allowing the cameraperson to control the focus, zoom and other functions on both automatically.

“The thing that makes this spectacular, and why it wowed us, is the fact that the cameras can change the ocular point of convergence so it’s a natural experience that can bring you into the picture,” says Hellmuth.

In fact, that ocular convergence will require a second operator at the camera. While one controls the basic functions the ocular convergence operator will control the depth of field and where the subject is within that field. Rokosa says to think of that ocular convergence as two chopsticks crossed over and then held in front of one’s face and separated. The space between the two chopsticks will be the field of focus and the operator will dynamically expand it and shrink it to deliver the best-quality 3D experience.

“In the film world that convergence can be changed with camera position but in a live event, where the subject is changing, a second operator is required,” says Rokosa.

The five signals will then be passed to a special office trailer outfitted with a production control room. A regular production truck was not suitable because projectors are needed within the truck to allow the director to see the 3D HD images. Standard 2D camera monitors will surround two projectors in the truck and graphics gear includes the Hyper X system.

The NBA’s 3D HD All-Star viewing parties, taking place at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas and open to a special invite-only list of NBA partners and guests, will deliver the most captivating and immersive image available in video today, with a unique depth-of-field perspective never seen before in sports broadcasting.

Is 3D HD something that could eventually make its way to living rooms? Possibly, once some technical hurdles are overcome. The bandwidth of the 3D HD system requires twice the bandwidth of a regular HD channel. But with advances in compression technology and some work by set manufacturers looking to bring 3D HD sets a consumer-level product the day may come sooner rather than later.