NBC is taking advantage of cutting-edge graphics technology to provide
viewers with extraordinary shots of Olympic competition.
Two companies, Orad and Sportvision, are giving swimming, diving,
gymnastics and track and field coverage a remarkable visual push. In week one,
viewers could identify swimmers, analyze a dive and even see overlays of
gymnastic routines. New technologies in track and field will make it easier to
keep track of shot puts, javelin tosses and runners.
"It's all based on the same technology," says Kobi Shina, Orad director
of sales, North America. "We can measure distances, velocities and even mark
landing points with ripple effects. The graphics have to be subtle and toned
down, so it's more suitable for commentary or analysis," he says.
Sportvision's systems include Stromotion and Simulcam, which were both
used for diving shots. They are based on technology from Dartfish, a company
that also helps athletes analyze their performances. Sportvision, which is
known for the 1st & 10 line marker in the NFL, helped NBC use it for
Stromotion creates a video strobe-like effect. As a diver jumps off the
platform, snapshots can be taken of the diver and kept visible as the video
plays out. The result is a better understanding of the diver's strengths and
weaknesses. The other system is Simulcam, which superimposes one video over
another. With it, two gymnasts or divers can be overlaid; any differences in
performance are clearly apparent.
Hank Adams, Sportvision CEO, says he's hopeful his company can expand
its presence at the next Winter Olympics. (It's a safe bet that Simulcam will
make the cut. It's been used for skiing events.)
Sportvision, however, won't be alone in that push.
Orad makes good use of the company's own proprietary computer systems.
"Our machines have a real-time graphics application that is far beyond any
machine on the market," says Shina.
Cameras covering various events are outfitted with special sensors that
relay camera pan and tilt information, as well as camera-zoom information, back
to the computer. It then translates that data into real-time graphic
information. The result is instant distance information, right down to the
The Orad technology that identifies swimmers and what lanes they are in
made its second Summer Games appearance. There were some enhancements, as
swimmers' names were added alongside their flags.
Still, the swimming application ran into a wrinkle, since the pool has
no roof. The technology is based on chroma key, which requires consistent
lighting levels. But without the roof, the lighting changes during the course
of the day. That meant major tweaking of the system.
Yet Shina says the only limit to the technological applications is the
creative imagination. The technology can show viewers a marker that represents
the average pace to set a world record in a track or swimming event. If a
runner or swimmer is in front of it, they're on a world-record course.
The key to good coverage, he says, is not to detract from the event, but
enhance it. Then fans can revel in a state-of-the-art sports experience.