Vi[z]rt and EyeVision New Technologies Bring Unique Look To Super Bowl XXXV
By Gary Krakow
Imagine a new video technology described as ‘near-video game’ quality action combined with graphics that make you believe you’re seeing things that aren’t there and you’ll have an idea of what CBS has in store for you during Super Bowl XXXV.
CBS SPORTS will be unveiling its super-secret, multi-million dollar technology called EyeVision that, according to CBS Sports Graphics Manager Mike Bird, ‘approaches video games’ in complexity and sophistication.
CBS’s robotics replay system was developed with the help of companies such as Princeton Video Systems, Core Digital and Mitsubishi, along with scientists from Carnegie Mellon’s Robotic Institute.
EyeVision employs multiple robotic cameras to cover on-the-field action and produces rotating three-dimensional-like pictures. Viewers will be able to see video images from multiple angles in continuous motion during replays. Its backers claim it could be the most significant advancement in sports television coverage since CBS first employed instant replay in 1963.
‘We’ll have 32 robotic cameras covering the playing field in a circle all around the stadium,’ Bird told me from Tampa. ‘We’ll be able to show viewers plays and have it look sorta like ‘The Matrix’ shot from every angle.’
When I pressed him, Bird said I should tell my readers that the only way to fully grasp what it looks like is to watch what CBS does with instant replays during the game.
But that’s not all. CBS says Super Bowl XXXV will have a whole new look from top to bottom.
The graphics, Bird said, will be dazzling. ‘We’ll be able to show viewers plays and have it look sorta like ‘The Matrix’ – shot from every angle.’
It could be something as simple as a time clock in the corner of the screen. Or something as subtle as a billboard that shows up in a shot along the sidelines during the game. A few minutes later, the same ‘sign’ might promo something else or nothing at all. It depends on how CBS uses some very sophisticated software.
It’s this kind of software, a few months back, that provided CBS with a lot of press it didn’t want or need. After the first few days of CBS News’ ‘The Early Show,’ the owners of a few very famous New York City buildings and locations began noticing something very odd.
It seems that the Early Show producers were using special software allowing them to super-impose show logos and promotions onto the sides of buildings and locations that, in real life, didn’t exist. CBS was using a suite of sophisticated, real-time rendering and modeling software to produce a number of television illusions.
And it still is. As a matter of fact, they’ve been using it all throughout their NFL coverage this season to create, in their words, ‘the network’s signature graphic ‘eyebox’ clock and to produce statistical graphics and scoreboards in the upper third of the screen.’
The software comes from the people at vi[z]rt. With vi[z], vi[z] modeling and vi[z] content pilot software, CBS will create and control statistical graphic information and over-the-shoulder graphics for ‘The NFL Today’ pre-game show and control the statistical information from CBS Sports’ scoring systems during the Super Bowl as well as CBS’ HDTV broadcast of the game. CBS Sports also uses vi[z]rt programs on its NCAA Men’s Basketball championships, as well as its coverage of NASCAR events, the U.S. Open Tennis Championships and the PGA Championship.
CBS isn’t the only company using vi[z]rt’s software. The list of worldwide customers includes major broadcasters across the globe, from CNN in America to TBS (Tokyo Broadasting System) in Japan and even Microsoft and NBC.
(MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)
CBS has been using vi[z]rt’s software since 1998, and according to Bird, this year’s look will be slightly more complex than previous designs, featuring more shading and the rotation of different light sources. ‘The look for the Super Bowl broadcast will not be a radical departure from what we’ve done in the past, but it will be noticeably different and definitely catch the viewer’s eye,’ said Bird. In total, CBS Sports has nine vi[z] modeling packages. Seven of them are installed in separate CBS Sports mobile production trucks, traveling from game to game for live coverage. The remaining systems are located in the CBS Broadcast Center in New York. Last minute graphic effects are created in New York and transferred to all seven systems in the field via ISDN phone lines.
Vi[z]rt markets other 3D software as well. Titles such as Everest (live-to-air graphics and animation system), Sherpa (an Everest development tool), GeoNews (3D/2D world mapping program) plus Pilot (live-to-air graphics), Pilot LiveEvent and Pilot ticker control systems for Windows NT/2000 and SGI’s O2/Onyx2 can be used alone, or in combination, to create everything from animated logos and spiffy looking 3D pie charts to rotating weather maps and virtual television news sets.
What special effects can we expect to see on this year’s Super Bowl? A vi[z]rt spokesperson says she can’t let us in on anything specific that’s been cooked up for Sunday’s game.
We’ll just have to keep our eyes glued to the set to find out. One can only hope the actual football game lives up to the advance hype for the graphics, the technology and the commercials.