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Sports broadcasts could soon feature Matrix-style replays

By

June 5, 2013

NHK's demo setup, for its new bullet-time system

NHK's demo setup, for its new bullet-time system

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Along with its nihilistic cyberpunk style, the film The Matrix is famous for popularizing what’s known as “bullet time” photography. You know the shots where someone would run and jump, then they’d freeze and the camera would appear to track around them as they were frozen in mid-air? That’s bullet-time. Now, that same technology may be coming to live televised sporting events.

In traditional Matrix-style bullet-time, a series of still cameras are arranged side-by-side along a curved track, with the movie camera at one end of that track. When it’s time to freeze the action, all of the still cameras simultaneously take a shot. In post-production, the editor stays with the movie camera’s moving footage, up until the moment of the freeze. Then, they cut to a frame-by-frame sequence of the stills, as they were shot moving down the track from the movie camera. When all of those stills are run together at 24 frames-per-second, it looks like the actor has frozen, and us viewers are swinging around them.

In the current version of the new bullet time system, developed by Japanese broadcaster NHK, eight robotic sub-cameras are linked to one human-operated main video camera. As the main camera is panned, tilted and zoomed to follow the action, the sub-cameras all automatically do the same, each from its own unique viewpoint. When a freeze is required, the video source switches from the main camera to a sequence of freeze-frames captured by the sub-cameras.

The NHK system's robotic sub-cameras

As with the cinematic system, a computer is used to digitally smooth the transitions between each of the stills, making the move look more fluid. As a result, the NHK system presently isn’t able to provide bullet time shots instantaneously, but can do so within about a minute. This could make it ideal for replays.

One advantage that NHK’s system has over traditional technology is the fact that the main camera can be moving (panning, tilting or zooming) when the freeze occurs, since the sub-cameras move with it. In systems like those used in The Matrix, by contrast, all of the cameras must be locked down, requiring the action to take place in the exact area that they’re pointing at.

A demonstration of the new system can be seen in the DigInfo video below.

Source: DigInfo via Dvice

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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2 Comments

It is getting real hard to watch sports on TV and this is just going to make it worse.

Slowburn
5th June, 2013 @ 05:04 pm PDT

Yes, we all saw something rather similar at the London Olympics in 2012.

professore
6th June, 2013 @ 08:20 am PDT
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