Sky Turns to Dedicated 3D Truck for New Channel

Sky will launch its 3D channel on Saturday April 3 with the critical English Premier League title game between main contenders Manchester United and Chelsea. Facilities are being provided through Europe’s first stereoscopic outside-broadcast truck, which is operated by Telegenic and had a test outing on March 28, shadowing Sky’s 2D HD coverage of Liverpool’s league game against Sunderland at Anfield stadium.

The three-expanding-side vehicle, with 63 sq. m of space inside, is known by Telegenic as T18, in keeping with its in-house designation policy, but called T3D by Sky. It was coach-built at A Smith Great Bentley, and systems were integrated by Sony Professional Solutions’ OB unit. The scanner can also operate in 2D HD and house up to 24 Sony HDC-1500 HD cameras or 12 3ality Digital 3D rigs, each containing two HDC-1500s.

The broadcaster recognised early on that there couldn’t be one truck for both 3D and 2D, says Sky Sports Operations Manager Keith Lane. “We realised we were moving into 3D, not just for sports but also light entertainment, and, as there were no trucks out there, we needed our own truck, which would be adaptable.”

It Takes a Big Truck
Discussions began among Sky, Telegenic, and Sony to design a truck that could accommodate two camera channels for each stereoscopic rig, with inputs for at least eight rigs. “Existing trucks wouldn’t have been able to cover all the camera angles we need to have a variety of shots, as we do with 2D HD,” Lane points out. “That meant a big truck, at least a triple-expander.”

Facilities for Sky’s Premier League coverage are provided by NEP Visions. Telegenic works on other productions for the broadcaster, and, says Lane, an agreement was reached whereby it would operate the truck for the 3D channel while Visions carries on with the HD football service. By July, Visions will have two new scanners with 3G infrastructures for Premier League and Champions League broadcasts. These have the capacity to move to 3D in the future.

Audio From the 2D Truck Wouldn’t Do
Another reason a dedicated 3D truck was necessary, Lane explains, was the audio feed. “The perspective is different from the 2D pictures,” he says. “We couldn’t use the 5.1 from the 2D truck; it wouldn’t suit.” The source of the surround sound will be the existing Soundfield 5.1 microphones installed at grounds for 2D HD. Raw B-format signals separate from the 2D 5.1 feed will be sent to T3D for mixing; there will also be commentary specifically for the 3D service, since the action will be presented differently from that on Sky’s 2D channels.

T3D is fitted with a 48-fader Calrec Audio Apollo console for 5.1 mixing. Although Sky continues to use Dolby E, it is moving towards discrete audio embedded in the video signal. “We’ll deliver Dolby E to the site and move it around in discrete format within the broadcast complex, with transmission in Dolby Digital,” says Lane.

Other equipment in T3D includes an Evertz router, Sony MVS-8000 Series production switcher, SRW-5800 HDCAM-SR deck, and EVS player-recorders working in 3D mode.

3D Camera Rigs
Lane and his colleagues at Sky evaluated the 3D camera rigs on the market before deciding on 3ality Digital. “We’ll be working with them to develop more rigs to suit what we’re doing,” says Lane. “This is a voyage of discovery — we’re finding out new things every week — and there are still some hurdles to come.”

Both mirror and side-by-side systems are being used, and other types of systems to match 2D coverage, such as mini-rigs, are also being investigated. Lane observes that “the Holy Grail” in 3D is to capture images electronically, with two lenses on the front of a camera instead of two linked cameras.

Not everything that viewers are used to from 2D broadcasts is available in full 3D yet. Some replays, if required, will come from the 2D feed and be converted using either a SIP (stereo imaging processor) or the new JVC IF-2D3D1 left-right mixer/conversion box. “At this stage,” Lane says , “we’d be foolish not to offer a 2D replay if it was critical to editorially tell the story and it was something our viewers would expect.”

Accelerating Tech Growth
Being an early adopter is not easy, with vision engineers, convergence technicians, and stereographers working and learning together, he says, adding, “The trial at Anfield went extremely well, and we are in a good position for launch.”

Over the past decade, the development of broadcast technology has accelerated, with broadcasters having to consider upgrades sooner.

If HD was the new SD, then 3D is the new HD, Lane comments, describing the first HD trucks as advanced dinosaurs. “Ten years ago,” he says, “broadcasters and OB companies probably did not think they would be re-investing so quickly. But we’re moving on to pastures new quicker than before, and I, and Sky, am convinced that the market for 3D TV is there.”