Inertia Unlimited’s Rugby Cam Takes NBC Viewers Inside the Pitch

Viewers of NBC Sports Group’s USA Sevens Vegas rugby coverage last weekend were privy to the debut of a clever new ref-mounted camera, dubbed the Rugby Cam, that offered up-close-and-personal views of the action on the pitch.

“With rugby sevens, the American audience is still growing and learning the sport, so we really want to take the viewer closer to the action of the sport, and this camera allowed us to do that,” says David Gibson, coordinating producer, NBC Sports Group. “By mounting it on the ref, we are able to really show some of the physical contact and how much ground these players are covering. When you can see and listen to a scrum from the ref’s perspective, it feels like you’re right there inside the scrum.”

Oh, That’s All?
Developed by Inertia Unlimited, the Rugby Cam system weighs less than 1.2 lbs. and consists of a custom-built 1080i/720p-switchable Sony POV camera, a low-power 5.8-GHz RF transmitter, and a rechargeable lithium polymer battery. The camera/lens component is mounted on a vest inside the ref’s shirt and shoots through a buttonhole; the transmitter and battery are located on a lightweight back belt.

“When the refs looked at the system,” says Inertia Unlimited President Jeff Silverman, “their reaction was, Oh, that’s all? They assumed it would be a lot bulkier. So that’s obviously a great response to have.”

Picture-in-Picture Paints Perfect Portrait
NBC elected not to use the Rugby Cam as the primary live game feed but rather to break it out in a picture-in-picture format in the lower right of the frame to go along with the main (mid-50 wide) game angle. However, NBC did take the camera full-screen during replays.

“That way, you never lost sight of what was happening on the pitch, but you are still able to capture the speed and first-hand look in the lower box,” says Gibson. “Our director, Doug Grabert, found that proper balance in using it. He was able to work it into the game coverage without overusing it, while still using it as a fun new element in the show.”

Using an RF camera feed in a picture-in-picture formation brings up the obvious question of latency issues, but Gibson says there was nothing of the sort in Las Vegas. “We had no [latency problems] whatsoever. Our techs did a tremendous job in making sure it was all up to speed with Jeff’s people.”

Sounds of the Scrum
In terms of audio, the Inertia Unlimited system is capable of delivering two channels of live audio with the addition of a condenser mic. However, in this case, the refs are already miked for NBC’s coverage, so the network simply took that audio when switching to the Rugby Cam.

“The scrums and the line-outs are the best points where you have a quick stoppage where you get the actual audio from the ref to go with the visual from the ref,” says Gibson. “It’s also great in the open field to see how much ground the athletes and refs are covering.”

Beyond Borders for Rugby Cam
Gibson says the Rugby Cam will likely become a staple of NBC’s rugby coverage from here on out, but the unique perspective won’t be limited to stateside viewers. In addition to featuring it in the domestic telecast, NBC offered the Rugby Cam to the world feed, which is produced independently but shares cameras, to glowing reviews.

“The world feed used [Rugby Cam] a lot,” says Gibson. “Reviews from around the rest of the world have been very favorable. The world director has already reached out to us about using it more in their coverage throughout the rest of the season.”

Beyond the Pitch and Ring
The Rugby Cam is a derivative of Inertia Unlimited’s Ref Cam, which has been used for HBO Sports’ boxing coverage in the past. According to Silverman, this system will continue to evolve and could very easily be used in a variety of sports productions beyond boxing and rugby.

“Our goal is to make this a universal human-mount camera, and I think we’re in pretty good shape to do that,” he says. “It’s been a year-long project, and we continue to refine the system. We will actually bring some of the refinements made here back to boxing when we do the next bout.

“We’re getting lots of interest from all kinds of sports, including basketball,” he continues. “We are trying to perfect a system that is small and reliable and easy to put on someone. Hopefully, it becomes something widespread that truly enhances the broadcast in a relatively inexpensive way.”