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Live From MLB All-Star 2019: Fox Sports Debuts Virtual Eye Graphics and 4DReplay, Revives DirtCam for the Game

10/07/2019

Live From MLB All-Star 2019: Fox Sports Debuts Virtual Eye Graphics and 4DReplay, Revives DirtCam for the Game Also returning are Skycam, HelmetCam, and in-game miked-up players By Jason Dachman, Chief Editor

Tuesday, July 9, 2019 - 3:37 pm

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Coming off massive shows at the U.S. Open, FIFA Women's World Cup, MLB London Series, and Gold Cup, Fox Sports could just maintain the status quo at its MLB All-Star Game production in Cleveland this week. However, in true Fox form, the broadcaster has rolled out its largest and most technology-rich All-Star production ever, including transporting Virtual Eye Graphics from the golf course to the ballpark, deploying 4DReplay for the first time, and reviving the DirtCam after a three-year absence.

MLB All-Star is obviously one of our huge tent poles and one of our favorite events, says Mike Davies, SVP, technical and field operations, Fox Sports. We put all this technology into one event here, but the All-Star Game is, almost by definition, a short game without a lot of time to put all these cool elements in. So, as much as we like to get this technology on TV, the All-Star Game also functions as a very valuable testing ground for this technology in a real-world environment. Then we can have a better gauge whether to use the technology [for MLB Postseason] in October and on other events down the line.

Virtual Eye Shot-Tracking Goes From Tee Box to Diamond

Fox Sports worked with Animation Research Ltd (ARL) to bring the Virtual Eye graphics system that has become a staple of the network's U.S. Open coverage to baseball.

The Virtual Eye was provided with MLB ballpark data to create a 3D virtual representation of Progressive Field and the surrounding area in downtown Cleveland. For the All-Star Game, the system will leverage MLB Statcast tracking data to provide AR graphics that track and compare pitches (for example, fastball vs. curveball), home runs, and other key moments in the game.

We've been working with Virtual Eye for a while,' recounts Brad Cheney, VP, field operations and engineering, Fox Sports. Obviously, they make phenomenal 3D models of golf courses, so we asked them, Could you do this for baseball?' And they said, Sure. If we have the data, we could build the model. Then you can pretty much do anything you want.' The outputs have been pretty stunning so far.

These packages will be provided to the production team to integrate into the telecast as either full-screen or side-slab graphics.

It's a new view on what we can do, because we're no longer limited to a certain way to show a pitch or to show a ball being hit, adds Cheney. We can actually morph it and move with it to [illustrate] how a ball travels - either from the pitcher to the plate or off the bat. We think that there are a lot of opportunities out there to use it; this is really just the tip of the iceberg.

DirtCam: In-Ground System Returns for All-Star

Tonight's All-Star Game will see DirtCam again deployed, with three buried Inertia Unlimited camera systems at home plate, first base, and, for the first time, second base. Previously used at an All-Star Game in 2016, the system - in what Inertia Unlimited President Jeff Silverman refers to as version 1.5 - now features a new prism that dramatically improves the system's picture quality.

The DirtCam is nearly imperceptible with the naked eye.

It's a great shot. It has been something that we've always liked, and we've missed in the last couple of years, but, as imaging technology advanced, we felt that it didn't fit in [the broadcast], says Cheney. Jeff Silverman and the team at Inertia have done a great job rebuilding it and breathing some new life into it. And it looks great so far.

The systems at first and second have full pan-and tilt capability (home plate is a lock-off shot), allowing capture of a variety of angles along the base paths. The system is also entirely wireless, relying on unique underground RF transmitters that cannot be touched once the system is buried.

The only part of the system above ground is the 4-mm prism (with a -mm sapphire window to make it waterproof), which has been painted to perfectly match the color of the Progressive Field infield dirt and is almost imperceptible to the naked eye.

We started testing it in Minnesota with the Twins about four weeks ago, and it's worked great, says Francisco Contreras, director, technical field operations, Fox Sports. MLB has been really great in working with us on DirtCam. The casing is painted brown to match the dirt so you literally can't even see it. We think it will be especially cool to have at second base, and we're hoping to get a great shot of a close tag or a runner being thrown out at second. We have full pan-tilt control at first and second base, so we can get a lot of different shots. We think it's going to get a lot of use.

4DReplay Makes the Jump to the Main Event

After debuting on ESPN's coverage of Home Run Derby during last year's All-Star festivities, 4DReplay will appear tonight in the main-event telecast for the first time.

The 4DReplay system at Progressive Field relies on 60 4K cameras tied together.

The system relies on 60 4K cameras mounted on the concourse level behind home plate and stretching from first to third base. The cameras are tied together, and, for each play, the single operator selects the pivot point on which the camera axis turns. The operator can then manipulate the replay from side to side and can zoom in without losing resolution (thanks to 4K).

Since the 4DReplay system simply stitches together 60 camera feeds and does not have to virtually create filler frames, no rendering is required, allowing clips to be ready in under 10 seconds and sent on to the Fox Sports EVS
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2019/07/09/live-from-mlb-all-star-2019-fox...
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