Nine Network, a premier broadcaster based near Sydney, Australia, is pioneering the use of the latest augmented reality (AR) technology with Viz Arena, a real-time virtual sports enhancements graphics platform from Vizrt. The network has partnered with Alston Elliot, an award-winning graphics systems and services provider, to operate Viz Arena systems at each of the network’s live televised National Rugby League games, including on their flagship program, “Friday Night Live.” Instead of using conventional full frame or overlay graphics, the Alston Elliot team is utilizing Viz Arena for 3D team logos, lineups and player statistics.
“(Viz Arena) has blown us away with its rock solid tracking and reliability no matter what time of day or whatever weather we encounter. It’s image-based optical tracking at its very best.”Alex Rolls
Executive Producer at Nine Network
The result has been significantly improved graphics production and increased viewer understanding of the matches as they unfold.
“After the huge success of our augmented reality graphics package run through Viz Arena and Spidercam [an overhead camera system] in our cricket coverage I was keen to get AR on every Rugby League broadcast – three games a week – and of course for State of Origin and the NRL Finals Series,” said Alex Rolls, Executive Producer at Nine Network.
“The use of Viz Arena to provide our AR solution when Spidercam is not in use has been very well received as we continue to innovate ways to best display the large amount of information we bring to our viewers,” Rolls added. “Without any additional hardware onsite the calibration and keying are extremely robust and the integration with Viz Artist gives us the creative freedom to display any graphic. It has blown us away with its rock solid tracking and reliability no matter what time of day or whatever weather we encounter. It’s image-based optical tracking at its very best.”
Nine Networks’ live sports broadcasts are now making heavy use of Viz Arena and it’s optical tracking capabilities, a cost effective alternative to mechanical tracking. Mechanical tracking has notoriously been a logistical nightmare, involving the need to transport bulky hardware to and from each venue. In addition, calibrating individual cameras is time consuming and requires technical expertise, leading to spiraling costs. Viz Arena is a software-based solution, resulting in minor transportation costs and reduced set up time. It’s also been designed to work with a multilateral feed from a remote destination, made possible because of its “Cut Detection” capabilities.
Viz Arena is used in the OB van onsite at each rugby match to place virtual 3D and AR graphics (including advertising and visual analysis tools) into the live video coverage of the matches and on the pitch. Currently all the graphics are coming from a single camera during each broadcast, but—thanks to new features within Viz Arena—Nine Networks’ Sports crews will soon use multiple camera angles and include more camera movements to add production value for viewers. There are also plans to use the Viz Arena systems for placing virtual ads on the pitch.
Helping to streamline the remote production workflow, the Viz Arena system is tightly integrated with EVS slow motion instant replay technology, leveraging all of the various camera feeds coming into the OB van onsite. Without any tracking devices on the cameras and working solely from the image, a Vizrt research and development team made sure that the camera tracking and keying technologies could stand up to the rigors of live television.
“One of the key features of the graphics systems was the desire to use augmented reality content across every match, including those where a Spidercam is not present,” said Nick Baily, CEO of Alston Elliot. “Viz Arena has proved to be an ideal solution and has more than lived up to our expectations. It’s a perfect fit insofar as we possess a wealth of Vizrt creative expertise in our design team whilst the quick setup and calibration process once in the outside broadcast environment is a major plus with a schedule as demanding and geographically diverse as National Rugby League in Australia.”