Like watching basketball? Wait till you see new video technology during NBA All-Star Game – cleveland.com

Science & Technology

Friday afternoon, workers in a production truck in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse use the Canon Free Viewpoint System, new technology that offers a range of vantages for viewers.
CLEVELAND, Ohio – If you turn on the television Sunday expecting to watch the NBA All-Star Game, don’t be surprised if you see what looks like a really cool new video game instead.
The astounding moves shown in TNT’s broadcast won’t be relegated to only the players on the court. The NBA and Canon are bringing a new digital dimension to viewers both watching on television and in the arena.
The NBA and Canon installed new cameras with lightning-quick, revolutionary video technology that allows fans to view action from unlimited – and in some cases, unseen – angles. Canon’s Free Viewpoint System will resemble a modern video game of sorts, except it’s all based on real action that took place moments earlier.
Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse is only the second sports venue to utilize the technology. In January, the system was implemented at Barclays Center for the Brooklyn Nets – the first team of any of the four major professional sports leagues to utilize it.
It requires more than 100 specialized data-capture cameras surrounding the court to take in the action, which then is fed into Canon’s high-speed computers. The result: Lifelike 3D renderings in seconds.
“We’re digitizing the game and appealing to that younger demographic, that younger audience who expect to see their games differently than maybe from that traditional viewer,” said Lee Estroff, director of technical operations for Turner Sports.
You want high tech? Doesn’t get higher than this.
Video goes from camera to server, “and the server abstracts the data necessary to create the image,” said Steve Hellmuth, executive vice president of media operations and technology for NBA Entertainment.
“It’s the same material that a video game character is built out of, but these guys do it in three seconds,” he said.
The ‘wow’ factor isn’t the only effect from the technology.
“We have the ability to create highlights quickly,” said Canon’s Tsuyoshi Wakazono, one of the soft-spoken leaders in the production truck nestled inside the depths of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
And “quickly” means almost instantaneously. So when LeBron James shoulder-fakes inside with a slick move, the technology will allow a cool recreation.
But it also offers different vantages to see controversial plays – was the player in, was the ball off the defensive player?
Canon Free Viewpoint System offers accurate video recreations of plays and moments on the court, showing viewers even more vantages.
That’s because while technicians are creating images of what happened, they also can take away other things to allow for a better view. Imagine looking at a player coming down the lane for a slam dunk and not having the stanchion under the basket blocking your sight. It can be removed virtually.
“This really gives us the opportunity to really peek in from the baseline and take a look at the play coming at you,” Canon’s Rich Eilers said. “Normally in any other traditional camera position you’d have to work around that.”
Or think about seeing the game from underneath — without the court. It would appear the players are floating, but it would give the viewer an accurate look at their footwork.
The angles can spin, zoom, rise and swoop all over the court to allow us to see: Was that shot truly contested? How is the defense handling pick and rolls?
“It’s a great coaching tool, absolutely,” Hellmuth said.
Canon’s Free Viewpoint System actually debuted with coverage of the Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019, said Ken Ito, senior director, Innovation, for Canon USA.
Hellmuth said it takes five engineers plus five or six virtual-drone operators taking in the multitude of data. Brent Valenti, Bally’s Sports senior producer, oversees the content. Hellmuth described the virtual drones – let’s be clear, physical flying drones are not used – as a “virtual skycam.” In the truck, joysticks are as common as keyboards lined under the screens.
The willingness on the Cavaliers’ part to embrace technology along with the fact the team is playoff-bound attracted Canon and the NBA to implement the technology in Cleveland. Hellmuth said the Cavaliers provided seven racks of servers inside the arena, as well as locations for cameras.
“(Cavs chief executive officer) Len Komoroski and the people who work here are so technology-friendly,” he said.
Valenti will be the beneficiary of another application from the technology, which will remain in place for Cavs games through the end of the season. If he hears analyst Austin Carr note something about a play, Valenti can tell him through his earpiece – we got that.
“I can call the play up and Austin can say, ‘This play starts here in the back court, and look how high he gets’” – and the specific point can be made visually.
“It really is going to put people in places on the court where they never really have ever been able to be with traditional camera angles,” Eilers said.
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I am on cleveland.com’s life and culture team and cover food, beer, wine and sports-related topics. If you want to see my stories, here’s a directory on cleveland.com. Bill Wills of WTAM-1100 and I talk food and drink usually at 8:20 a.m. Thursday morning. Twitter: @mbona30.
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