YES Network executives are approaching
this weekend's games between the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners without
a scouting report---not on the teams themselves, but on the stereoscopic 3D
technology YES will use to produce the first Major League Baseball games in 3D.
Consistent with its everyday production
standards, YES isn't cutting corners on the 3D broadcasts this Saturday and
Sunday, which are being co-sponsored by DirecTV and Panasonic and will be
carried by DirecTV and a bevy of cable operators. The network has hired 3D
specialist PACE and NEP's SS31 (formerly SS3D) 3D mobile truck, the same setup
used by ESPN to produce coverage of The Masters this spring, and PACE CEO Vince
Pace will be in the truck serving as 3D stereographer.
But YES executives freely admit that
they haven't yet seen any baseball in 3D, and view this weekend's production as
a grand experiment.
"I've never seen one piece of footage
on baseball, so I don't know how great baseball [is] in 3D," says YES CEO Tracy
Dolgin. "I have no idea. It's certainly worth a shot. If it does turn out to be
good, I think it will soon be the best minds figuring out how to do [it] right,
and we'll be in the forefront of doing it."
In the near term, Dolgin expects that
what YES learns from this weekend's games should help inform Fox Sports'
production of the MLB All-Star Game in Anaheim, Calif. on July 13 (Fox did
shoot some 3D test footage using high-school players earlier this spring).
YES VP of operations Ed Delaney has
been closely following 3D developments in sports production, but he also hasn't
yet experienced baseball in 3D. On Thursday, he was overseeing the setup of
PACE's 3D cameras at Safeco Field in Seattle, which he called a "very
complicated process" compared to normal HD.
"I'm really excited about it, I have no
idea what to expect," says Delaney. "It's always great learning something new.
That's how we're approaching this."
Since the PACE/NEP configuration uses a
"convergence operator" to adjust the depth of field for each camera, in
addition to a stereographer and other support personnel, the number of people
dedicated to the 3D production will be significantly higher than YES' team for
a typical HD game. YES will use 46 people for the 3D broadcasts compared to 30
for the HD broadcasts, which will be separate productions.
"It's mind-boggling, the technology and
how sophisticated it is," says Delaney. "Normally, you just have a regular
camera guy, and he's worried about the zoom focus, and the composition of the
shot. But now you have a convergence guy for each camera, who's looking at the
depth info, and the z-axis. Then there's the stereographer. It's an incredibly
sophisticated and very impressive setup PACE and NEP have."
YES will rely on six PACE cameras, five
side-by-side "hard camera" units and a handheld "beamsplitter" unit for
up-close shots. YES also plans to use 2D-to-3D conversion technology from
HDLogix to incorporate some traditional camera feeds from the HD broadcast into
the 3D production, such as overhead shots down the foul lines.
The 3D hard cameras will be placed in
traditional baseball camera positions: "low-first" base, low-third, high-home
and center-field; in addition to low-home, a position that isn't available in
that many stadiums. Delaney is excited about the possibilities of the low-home
position, which he says could be particularly dramatic for plays at the plate
and may also be used to show pitches firing into the batter.
"That's what we're hoping is the money
shot," he says.
High camera positions have generally
been less effective for 3D coverage, and Delaney admits to being unsure how the
center field camera position will work.
"It will be interesting to see," he
says. "It all depends on how the depth of the backstop net shows up against the
actual diamond. We may look at alternative positions during the show day, and
avoid the net altogether."
Delaney says he was surprised that the
transmission of the 3D signal is relatively simple. YES will take the
left-and-right-eye camera feeds and feed them into a RealD encoder to assemble
the side-by-side frame-compatible 3D format. Then it will pass the signal
through a conventional MPEG-2 encoder to transmit it to DirecTV and other
"I thought that part would be more
complicated," he says.