Getting Up To (High) Speed On Super Slo Mo
CBS Sports chief tech Ken Aagaard didn’t get the nail-biting moment he was hoping for in last weekend’s AFC Championship game in which the Baltimore Ravens upset the New England Patriots — the moment when the play is too close to call on the field, the one that keeps millions of TV viewers on the edge of their seats.
Now, he's hoping the chance will come Feb. 3 during Super Bowl XLVII when the Ravens square off against the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans' Mercedes-Benz Superdome. “We need that controversial moment ... where we can help make the difference in the game," he says.
And if it comes, he promises, he and the rest of the CBS production team will be ready.
For the big game, CBS will take advantage of recent developments in high-speed and high-resolution videography to not only slow down action in replays without noticeable motion blur or pixilation, but also to zoom in closely to see if a player’s foot is out of bounds or if the football breaks the plane of the end zone.
CBS will use its Heyeper Zoom system — six For-A FT-One 4K cameras capable of shooting 500 fps operating in tandem with the Evertz DreamCatcher replay system and Evertz Mosaic multi-image viewer. Each camera costs $150,000. (Heyeper is pronounced "hyper," but written with a bow to CBS's famous logo.)
And to ensure it doesn’t miss any key moments of the game in slow motion, CBS will also deploy an additional five high-speed Ikegami/NAC Hi-Motion II 2K cameras in fixed and hand-held positions on the field.
“4K is allowing sports broadcasters to shoot at a longer distance and have the ability to zoom in because of the higher resolution,” says Jay Shinn, an account manager for For-A. “Of course, it will be down-converted to HD, but if you tried to do the same thing with a conventional HD camera, the picture would be very fuzzy.”
So if a wide receiver gets shoved out of bounds and a lineman is holding at the same time on another part of the field, Shinn says, CBS could use the same video to analyze both plays.
The Evertz’s DreamCatcher replay system is a perfect complement to the cameras, requiring fewer operators and providing better picture quality than its competitors, says Aagard. “It retains and plays back the video very efficiently."
Replays are typically broadcast one at a time. But this year, CBS will use another Evertz product — its multi-image display Mosaic system — to show up to four images simultaneously in either a quad-split, three-way split or a two-way split.
With the zoom capability of the high-res cameras, viewers could potentially watch replays side-by-side that came from the same camera, Aagaard says. It will likely be used, however, to show potential scoring plays from multiple angles.
“When you have a bunch of guys go down in a pile at the goal line, there are typically so many bodies around there that one camera can’t tell where the ball is,” said Aagaard. “This will let our viewers watch the play from multiple angles simultaneously and help confirm a play.”
CBS saw NBC's success with the Ikegami/NAC Hi-Motion II camera in last year’s Super Bowl. Capable of shooting at 1,000 frames per second, it confirmed that New York Giants’ receiver Mario Manningham had both feet inbounds on the catch that clinched the championship. But that specific video was shot between 300 and 400 frames per second, says Alan Keil, director of engineering for Ikegami USA.
“You wouldn’t typically shoot football at anything close to 1,000 fps,” Keil says, adding that any time you cut exposure time in half, you need twice as much light. That makes shooting in the dark Superdome a bit of a challenge. “I’ve heard it can be tough in that venue.”
That’s why CBS installed 300-foot candle lights throughout the dome in August. Aagaard says he’s not concerned about his 300-to-450 fps shots looking dark on Super Sunday. “We now have more than enough light to work with and should be able to shoot at any angle.”
Even though high-frame-rate replays create fascinating visuals, CBS may not be able to show them off as much as it would like.
Much depends on how often the coaches and refs in the booth demand replays. All scoring plays and turnovers are automatically reviewed.
The referee watches the same replay that’s broadcast, Aagaard says. “When replay and challenges really started, we never wanted to have the NFL looking at something different that we don’t see in our program monitor. To show it makes all the difference in the world.”
The frequency of replays also depends on the pace of the game. "The biggest problem in trying to show off high-speed replays is that it simply takes longer to playback,” says Aagaard. “For some teams, you only get a second or two, then you have to be back at the line of scrimmage. Certainly not having a hurry-up offense like New England in the Super Bowl helps to give us more time to show off the technology.”