BBC Northern Ireland enhances 2022 election coverage with AR graphics driven by Vizrt and Ncam

The integration blended sophisticated augmented reality (AR) graphics by seamlessly tracking the physical studio to better engage audiences at home

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Bergen, Norway — 22nd August 2022 — Vizrt the leader of software-defined visual storytelling (#SDVS), real-time graphics, and augmented reality, and Ncam — creators of the world’s most advanced real-time camera tracking technology – recently partnered to bring enhanced coverage with AR graphics to audiences tuning into the 2022 Elections on BBC Northern Ireland.

Held every five years, the elections cover the results for all 90 members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which is the devolved legislature of Northern Ireland. This year’s elections, which were held on May 5th, 2022, were much anticipated by citizens of Northern Ireland (NI), as well as the wider U.K.

To deliver for audiences throughout the election coverage, BBC NI used the Ncam Mk2 tracking system alongside Viz Engine. The goal was to create AR content within the BBC studio space to increase production value and produce more engaging content for viewers. The integration between Ncam and Vizrt relies on real-time tracking data being sent from one machine to the other accurately and seamlessly.

The content ranged from small AR pop-up statistics on each Member of Parliament running in the election to huge picture board walls detailing party members and critical information. Because the graphics were AR but represented on screen, the newscasters were able to move freely and seamlessly within the studio space to discuss and offer insight into what viewers were seeing. Many of these graphics had live animations too, which meant ensuring the position of the graphics through real-time tracking was a key necessity.

The Ncam camera bar (CB) and connection box were simply mounted to the BBC’s broadcast camera, and the CB was articulated up towards the studio ceiling. BBC used the Ncam ‘natural core’ which solely relies on natural features to track from, i.e.; Lighting rigs, scaffolding, and any natural geometry. The Mk2 server was then racked in a separate room on a floor above the studio alongside the Viz Engines. This is where the operator would manage the Ncam system and make any adjustments.

“Within Ncam we can set datum points manually anywhere we need to and then save these datum points and reload them at the click of a button. Once the data has been set within Ncam and then further tweaked within Vizrt, we can consistently reload the exact same zero-point time after time with no need for daily readjustments saving time, effort, and ultimately money” states Tom Evans,
Head of Product Management at Ncam.

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Having the ability to zoom and focus on these graphics whilst maintaining their realism was crucial to BBC NI, especially as the host was often in shot or introduced to the shot whilst the graphics were live.

Using the bespoke Ncam lens calibration BBC NI was able to accurately build a map on the lens being used, meaning any distortions of the lens were mapped out enabling users to freely zoom and focus on the host or the AR elements without the illusion being compromised. This lens profile was then exported directly from Ncam into a format that Viz Engine can process.

“Our goal with Viz Engine is to deliver a platform that allows our customers to consistently achieve more by telling stories through graphics and ecosystem with partners. We see this achieved in the latest election coverage from BBC Northern Ireland as a result of our partnership with Ncam. BBC was able to offer viewers interactive, informative, and imaginative coverage of some of the most important elections in the U.K., TJ Akhtar, Vice President of Product Management, Vizrt.