FedEx Bowl BCS National Championship Game to go out via Satellite to 80 Digital Theaters

Next month's FedEx Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game between the University of Florida and University of Oklahoma football teams will be broadcast live in 3D, going out to an audience of 1200 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and nationally to Cinedigm Digital Cinema's CineLive network of some 82 additional movie theaters that are equipped to receive and display the live stream.
A motivating factor for Sony is the timing of the game, which falls on the opening day of CES. Sony will be displaying four prototype 3D-ready flat-panel screens at the show for estimated 2010 availability, Sony Senior Vice President of Broadcast & Production Alec Shapiro told reporters.

The announcement was made earlier today at the Sports Video Group’s technology conference at the New York Hilton in Manhattan. More details were offered at a press briefing following the announcement.

The January 8 game will be shot using Sony HD cameras modified for stereo by 3ality Digital, including special self-correcting software to manage the stereoscopic-imaging process as camera operators pan, tilt and zoom their way through game coverage. Gamecreek Video will handle HD mobile video production on-site in Miami, working with the 3ality camera rigs. The 3D image will be transmitted through existing satellite systems, and then transferred to the Cinedigm [formerly AccessIT] satellite network. The game will be shown live using the RealD 3D exhibition system at a special event at the Paris Hotel and Casino's Theatre des Arts in Las Vegas with Sony's SXRD 4K projector and at the CineLive-equipped theaters. (It will also be broadcast in old-fashioned 2D HD by Fox.)
While 3ality founder and CEO  Steve Schklair said the 3D version of a December 4 NFL game was transmitted in 720p, he suggested that quality could be improved if the resolution were bumped up to 1080 lines of resolution. For its part, Fox has some reservations. “We’re not sure if we’e going to push 1080 through the truck,” noted Jerry Steinberg, Fox senior VP of field operations and engineering. “Fox is a 720p network, and with Fox’s presentation we want to keep the 720p standard.”

Schklair says 3ality has chosen to shoot sporting events with stereo dual rigs of Sony HDC-1500 cameras, using a Telecast Fiber Systems solution to break out the optical blocks and connect them to the bodies via fiber, cutting the cameras’ size and weight by more than half. The recent NFL 3D broadcast used eight separate 3D camera systems, and for this game, Schklair said, he’d like to have more. The 3D production does not share cameras with the 2D broadcast, although Schklair said that could change if the production decided to use a 3D skycam, since only one of those can be rigged to cover a single game.

The “special sauce” for a live 3D broadcast is 3ality’s control software, which Schklair said allows cutting freely between cameras without hurting viewers’ eyes. The mobile truck holds a rack-mounted SIP-2900 processor that handles a number of real-time image-control functions, such as color- and lens-matching, as well as automatic depth-balancing. That means that each of the production’s 3D cameras is slaved to a single master or “preview” camera so edits from camera to camera won’t create a jarring effect as the depth effects shift.

Not only does that allow a more compelling presentation, but it also shaves costs since a separate “convergence puller” doesn’t need to be employed on each camera system. “The more we do, the less expensive it becomes, and the less expensive it becomes, the more we can do,” Steinberg said.

The announcement comes on the heels of similar news earlier this month that the CineLive network would also be showing TNT’s coverage of NBA All-Star Saturday Night in live 3D on February 14. The CineLive network is slated to expand to 150 locations in 2009. Currently, the CineLive network isn’t really a major-market attraction – a search at the company’s web site reveals that the network has just one location in New York City (in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood) and none in Los Angeles proper. But there are CineLive screens in such locations as Apple Valley, CA; Fort Collins, CO; and Toms River, NJ. Cinedigm says it has installed more than 3700 digital cinema systems across the U.S. in the last two years, and recently secured another $8.9 million in credit to fund another 137 digital-cinema conversions.