Vizrt, STATS Bring the CNN Hologram to NAB Floor

By Carolyn Braff

On Election Night 2008, CNN used technology provided by STATS and Vizrt to create a holographic effect that created instant buzz throughout the news and sports world. The VirtualVU technology, which captured a three-dimensional virtual image of a field correspondent and placed her face-to-face with CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer in the network’s New York City studio, was replicated on Tuesday at the NAB Show.

On either side of an aisle in the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, representatives from STATS and Vizrt became holographic images placed together in a virtual studio that appeared to have the two individuals standing face to face. STATS’ video-processing and tracking technology, combined with Vizrt’s real-time tracking and rendering software, creates the effect. The two companies spent three months perfecting the partnership prior to the CNN Election Night broadcast last November.

The holographic-effect technology was on display in both companies’ exhibit areas at the NAB Show.

“There is a tracking device on the main camera in the studio,” explains Shimon Katzubes, managing director of SportVU. “It sends STATS the coordinates of the camera where it’s zooming at that point.”

Viz IO, a studio configuration and collaboration tool, collects data and converts the camera position and focus into 3D coordinates, so the tracking and camera positions can be transmitted to the other studio across the hall.

“We take those coordinates, and we decide which camera we are using for the current view of the main studio,” Katzubes continues. “When the main camera in the main studio is moving, we are getting the coordinates, and we move accordingly on the rig [a circular greenroom in which several cameras are rigged up]. That’s how we are able to shift a unified view of the two figures and create a hologram effect in the 3D world.”

Multiple HD cameras in both studios interface with one another to ensure that the two images line up, that the individuals appear to be speaking directly to one another, and that they appear in the correct proportions and colors. The Viz Engine renders and textures the 3D model with the video signal and sends it back to the studio as a full HD video signal. Although there was some audio delay in the LVCC, it was clear that the entire process does indeed take fractions of a second to complete.

However, instead of seeing a 3D representation of the interview partner, each individual involved in the hologram sees the other on a large LCD monitor.

“It’s a holographic effect, not a hologram, because it’s not a 3D representation of the person; it’s a 2D image of a 3D representation,” explains Vizrt’s Francois Laborie. “The day the monitors can create that full 3D image in the studio, we can bring it into the broadcast.”

The sports applications of the holographic effect are endless; clients can effectively transport players or coaches from remote locations to anywhere” a physical studio or virtual studio. Vizrt’s virtual-studio system, which was used as part of the demonstration, has been in use for more than a decade and allows creation of virtual environments in a studio space as small as that permitted in a single booth at the NAB Show.