ESPN Emerging Technologies Innovates for World Cup

ESPN’s commitment to the World Cup includes an on-site presence of its Emerging Technologies team within the IBC in Johannesburg. The Virtual Playbook system, based on Brainstorm software, is continuing to evolve in its capabilities at the event, allowing, for example, ESPN analysts to stand next to life-size graphical representations of up to 80 FIFA World Cup athletes. But the team in Johannesburg continues to innovate.

Larry Jones of the Emerging Technologies team says that one new feature being developed is a “depth monitor.” Before this development, virtual sets could include virtual TV monitors that could show an image of, for example, a stadium. But the graphics within that virtual TV monitor would remain static as the virtual camera panned around the studio. The new technology, however, changes that. With the depth monitor, if the virtual camera is shooting from stage right and the monitor displays a view of the stadium focused on the left-hand corner, by the time the virtual camera pans to stage left, the image in the monitor has shifted as well and now shows the right-hand corner of the stadium.

“The depth monitor makes the monitor look like it’s a hole in the wall of the studio, and, as the camera moves, the image within the monitor shifts, clouds move,” says Jones.

The Brainstorm software, and the ability for ESPN Emerging Technologies team members to enhance it by writing code, holds the key to other enhancements, such as cloth simulations for banners. That flexibility, coupled with encoders on the cameras that ensure the virtual-camera moves match the real-camera moves of a jib and zoom lens, make for a powerful package that can make a difference for ESPN viewers.

Says Jones, “The theory is that, as long as the shot looks good on the jib camera, it will look good [in the virtual world].”