ACS remote camera and Vizrt graphics enhance BBC Sport Paris Fanzone coverage

SVG Europe looks at the collaboration between BBC Sport, ACS and Vizrt surrounding the Champ de Mars Fanzone studios in Paris.

Originally published by SVG Europe

In the latest of SVG Europe’s series of ‘reflections’ articles on the production and technological innovations that characterised the recent UEFA EURO 2016 tournament, we look at the collaboration between BBC Sport, ACS and Vizrt surrounding the Champ de Mars Fanzone studios in Paris – and, in particular, at the ACS specialist remote camera that formed an important part of the augmented reality (AR) set-up.

Speaking to Fergal Ringrose in July, BBC Sport technical executive Charlie Cope observed that “our studio here is an 11 x 9 box, with an LED-driven set design. It’s a standard four-camera set up, but we’ve got a Stype AR rig on the jib camera, which we’ve used extensively for player profiles and analysis in the presentation. We’ve also got a fifth camera on the roof, which is an ACS remote camera.

“They’ve just done some development work for us as well, taking all the camera data off the ACS camera head and allowing us to put AR on that too – so we’ve actually got a dual AR that allows us to extend our graphics offering onto the Eiffel Tower and FanZone. That has worked very well.”

Reflecting on the project after EURO 2016 had come to an end, ACS (Aerial Camera Systems) sales director Matt Coyde recalls that the involvement in the Paris Fanzone “came about through a meeting with [BBC Sport executive producer] Phil Bigwood, during which we explained to him about our areas of expertise and the services we provide. [Over subsequent discussions] it became clear that they wanted a camera system for the top of their studio in the Paris fanzone that could be [provided] by a new version of our SMARThead compact remote head. They also wanted to integrate the camera with the studio-based AR system, which required distributed data from the camera head to be able to function correctly.”

Over the course of about six weeks, the ACS team worked on a customised SMARThead that allowed it to be recognised by the Vizrt graphics system. “The period from the initial consultation to the final product was not that long,” says Coyde, “but it was apparent from early on that this was a very interesting development for us as we are aware of an increasing demand for the use of AR-basic graphics in studios and for sports. The capability to offer that for temporary venues [such as the Paris Fanzone] could open up a new area of activity for us.”

During the development phase, “a lot of work was done with Vizrt to understand what was needed on a day-to-day basis, and in which format it was required to be able to integrate with their system and provide the right positional data and so on. From our side that involved both hardware and software development, as well as the necessary coding and the building of a special interface. Ultimately, we did two rounds of testing; the first went very well, but we realised that we needed a higher refresh rate on the data going into the system, so we had to do some further work to make sure that the data was transmitted at the right rate into the Vizrt system. This ensured that when we moved the head around, or the lens, it was all completely smooth.”

The final tests proceeded as hoped and the customised SMARThead was soon ensconced in Paris, where it contributed “to all of the BBC’s footage from the Fanzone. The response was very good, and looking ahead I am sure that we will be able to apply the R&D to other projects involving AR graphics. The amount of interest in AR is increasing all the time.”

Vizrt BBC account manager Mark Pizzey confirms that it was a successful collaboration, adding that the Vizrt UK support team is “always keen to get involved with innovative ideas, especially studio presentation and event coverage, with BBC Sport – that’s why we offer additional effort to integrate with third party technology in order to achieve specific on-screen augmented reality effects.”