NEP Sweetwater implements GhostFrame for the NFL Fox Sunday set
Extended Reality technologies and a massive LED volume will offer a virtual portal around the league so viewers feel like they are in different NFL venues
What Fox Sports has planned for this NFL season is unlike anything the broadcaster has ever done for football coverage. Relying on a massive ROE Visual BP2V2 LED volume, a combined three dozen Unreal and Viz Engines, multiple new cameras, precise camera tracking and state-of-the-art GhostFrame technology, the broadcaster will debut a combination of Extended Reality (XR) and Augmented Reality (AR) during “Fox NFL Sunday.” The studio will enable Fox Sports to transport viewers one moment onto the middle of Lambeau Field during a Packers update and the next take them outside Sofi Stadium—all while giving hosts a better way to tell the stories of games.
“AR and XR technology enhances the storytelling ability of our hosts,” says Zac Fields, senior vice president of graphic technology and integration at Fox Sports. For a segment called “On the Field,” for example, the technology will help hosts better break down plays. “In the past, you were somewhat limited. You have a handful of guys on the field trying to tell a story,” says Fields. “If you can add items and manipulate things within AR, you’re not quite as limited. Now you can add in players, objects and routes that someone runs and the viewer can see that virtually in the XR space. That’s exciting,” he says.
“GhostFrame is sort of like the secret sauce to making this work in a live broadcast environment,” says Fields.
Work began on the new 5,000-square foot studio in Los Angeles at the end of last season. The centerpiece of the two-story structure is the LED volume, which measures 19 feet, 8 inches (H) by 46 feet (W) by 24 feet, 7 inches (D), and takes up about one-third of the area of the set. The LED volume, which was built and commissioned by NEP Studios, consists of three LED walls and an LED floor—a combined 5,130 square feet of LED display—that enables Fox Sports to change environments quickly as different show segments air.
“One of the key technologies we are using is called GhostFrame. It allows multiple cameras to see their own image on the LED wall,” says Field. For this LED volume, four cameras can have their own view of and projection onto the LED volume at the same time. To someone standing in the LED volume, the displays appear to have the pickup of the different cameras overlaid on each other. However, the technology makes it possible for each camera to see only its own image, thereby giving the director an accurate preview of LED volume shots from the four cameras before deciding which one to take to air, he says. “GhostFrame is sort of like the secret sauce to making this work in a live broadcast environment,” says Fields.
"I would say that was a big factor in our utilizing LED over green screen,” says Fields. “We’ve been doing green screen for quite some time, and talent get used to it, but, when they’re interacting with anything on the walls, they don’t actually see it. With LED, they do. It’s a little more natural for them, and it’s an easier transition.”
Fox Sports developed much of the creative for the LED volume and also worked in concert with “out-of-house design studios” on some of the creative integrated into the studio. “They would help facilitate building an environment,” says Fields.
To support the use of AR throughout the set, seven cameras are tracked and support object tracking that allows for elements in the shot to be interactive. “We deployed stYpe tracking for the cameras as well as object tracking,” says Fields. “That allows us to not only place objects in AR, but also to interact with objects in 3D space.” Wireless tablets will be used to give talent control over AR elements and telestration. In total, the setup supports 41 real-time graphics output channels.
In Fields’ view, the new Fox Sports studio is only the latest advancement in a long line of virtual technology—one that’s poised to transform television going forward.
“I think this is a technology that you’re going to hear a lot about in broadcast’s future. There’s been an iteration of virtual sets. It started with virtual sets used for weather segments and grew into a whole other thing as the technology progressed,” he says. As photorealism entered the picture so did a new generation of LED display technology that enabled the next advancement.
“We’re now able to not only project incredible imagery, but the LED also provides this lighting on your subjects that creates a believability that hasn’t been able to be achieved before. That is why when this is seen on the air, I think people will really be impressed with the visual presentation,” he says.