Replay Technologies ‘FreeD’ Gives YES Network a New Perspective for Yankee Games

The YES Network is breaking new technology ground at Yankee Stadium, courtesy of Replay Technologies and its FreeD video-production tool. The system, which has previously been used at the 2012 PGA Players Championship and during gymnastics at the London Olympics last summer, is making the leap to regular-season baseball and quickly establishing itself as more than an occasional gimmick conjuring up memories of the film The Matrix.

To see the system in action, click here.

After a trial run in March, the system has been in use by the YES Network on all home games since May 4. The Replay Technologies team, which is housed in the TV compound, has assembled a system that dedicates a server to four-megapixel cameras located around the first-base side of the stadium. A proprietary algorithm converts the two-dimensional feeds into three-dimensional data, giving the operator a virtual-3D environment in which to move the camera.

“It can only grow from here, and it has already improved leaps and bounds in two months,” says YES Network Senior Producer Bill Boland. “It’s very unique, and what I love is, it puts viewers on the field of play like never before with sweeping moves. It’s very exciting.”

The system currently has all the cameras shooting the action at home plate. When a close play at the plate or a home run is hit, the operator can move a virtual camera around the play.

“We’re waiting for the big play at home plate, but, for swings, we can show the point of contact and the position of the batter’s hips and arms at that moment,” says Boland. “It’s an angle never seen before.”

According Aviv Shapira, founder/COO of Replay Technologies, the system can work with any existing camera in the marketplace, and the eventual goal is to allow the operator to move the camera within a virtual-3D moving-video environment rather than having to freeze the image. And cameras with more resolution would give additional freedom of movement.

“If we use up-and-coming 4K devices, we would essentially double our quality,” adds Shapira. “And that would give us the ability to ‘go in closer’ while retaining HD quality.”

Use of the system continues to evolve, Boland says, noting that the production has gone from wider shots to tighter shots of home plate.

Ed Delaney, SVP, broadcast operations and engineering, YES Network, would like to see the technology get to the point where the cameras can pan and zoom. That would obviate the need for additional cameras to be installed if, for example, the YES Network wanted to offer a YES View of first base. The cameras are currently located on the ceiling above fans in the 200 level; the small cameras, which look like modified speed guns, are daisy-chained via fiber to the compound.

“The Yankees have been unbelievably cooperative throughout this process,” adds Delaney. “They’ve just been tremendous.”

For now, the focus is on working with Replay Technologies to continue to improve the rendering time, which has been cut from about four minutes to less than two minutes in just the past two months.

Delaney and Boland also see applications well beyond baseball.

“I can see using this for football and putting the cameras from the 20-yard line and around both end zones,” says Delaney.

At this point, the use of FreeD is subject to technology limitations. But the team at Replay Technologies seems determined to get to the point where a virtual camera operating within a 3D space is in the hands not only of professionals but of viewers as well. At that point, the only limitation on how the system can be used will be one’s own imagination.