All the tricks of the OB trade


South Africans in general are obsessed with sport, and one may argue that the
best method of watching sport is on television. Coverage of sporting events has
improved in leaps and bounds in recent years and, with the introduction of high
definition (HD) cameras, it’s almost like being at the match. Andy Stead reports.

To further enhance viewer interest many technological add-ons have been
introduced including those that examine in detail decision making by referees.
While some sports are not great users of this technology, cricket has adopted
virtually all available technologies and now relies heavily on them to confirm
umpires’ decisions regarding several aspects of the game.

As far as television coverage of cricket is concerned a lot of requirements come
from the International Cricket Council (ICC), which informs broadcaster what
services are required. These are mostly for the third umpire decision making.

South Africa’s national team, the Proteas, currently the number one team in the
world, have popularised the game for South Africans and, with their recent
series against New Zealand being televised live by SuperSport, viewers have
been afforded the benefits of a whole gamut of available technology.

Despite having been around for a while the sophisticated graphics and historical
data seen on the screen during cricket matches are superb. Almost
instantaneously we are able to see scores, run rate, history of the batsman or
bowler, the percentage chance of a win and exactly how many runs per over are

Clever cameras

Stump cameras are the small cameras embedded inside one of the stumps,
intended to give a shot of the action as seen by the batsman. The first stump
camera was installed by the BBC in the early 1990s.

Hot Spot is an infra-red imaging system used to determine whether the ball has
struck the batsman, bat or pad. This technology requires two infra-red cameras
on opposite sides of the ground above the field of play that are continuously
recording an image.

Hawk-Eye is a complex computer system used in cricket, tennis and other sports
to visually track the trajectory of the ball and display a record of its most
statistically likely path as a moving image. In cricket and tennis, it is now part of
the adjudication process.

Ultra slo-mo cameras, such as the i-movix, which operate at frame rates from
25fps to 2 600fps in 1080i50 or from 25fps to 5 600fps in 720p60, provide
instant replay at native HD resolution and image quality.

The Spidercam operates with four motorised winches positioned at each corner
at the base of the covered area, each of which controls a Kevlar cable connected
to a gyro-stabilised camera-carrier, or dolly.

Gun mounts give the option of a very low angle shot – just centimetres above
the ground.

While this may not be the full list of technology available it does cover the most
commonly used, and it’s not just for cricket.

SABC TV Outside Broadcasts is using this technology to cover the Africa Cup of
Nations (AFCON) 2013 football tournament in South Africa and is in the process
of purchasing two ultra slo-mo systems as well as gun mounts, Steadicams and
Jib equipment. They have introduced DMNG (Digital Mobile News Gathering using
3G and 4G) technology, first used in the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand last

“This was also used successfully during the SABC’s coverage of the London
Olympics in 2012 and resulted in very cost effective and efficient workflows,’
says Nic Bonthuys of SABC TV Outside Broadcasts.

“We have used the Spidercam and will be using Sky Cam as the Host
Broadcaster on AFCON 2013. These devices are very expensive and on top of
this you have to add the cost of bringing them into the country since a local
solution is not available.’

A lot of the devices used are hired in for the specific event. Take the New
Zealand cricket tour for example, SuperSport hired in Hawk-Eye, Hot Spot and
stumpcams but they do have four ultra HD cameras, gun mounts and a jib of
their own. For other events they also make use of helicopters and a gyro cam –
again rented in.

“We do experiment with angles and use a Q ball Sony camera (round ball) which
we place in the commentary position. Its fully remote controllable, so can also go
into change rooms, etc,’ says Johan van Tonder, technical operations manager
at SuperSport Outside Broadcast.

SuperSport has four multi expander large HD vans (horse and trailer) housing up

22 cameras, one six-camera unit and another due in March, and one standard
definition (SD) unit with 14 cameras. There are no plans at this stage for further
vans, but according to Van Tonder they may change the SD van to HD.
SuperSport services South Africa from Cape Town to Messina.

While some sports have made efforts to minimise the intervention of technology,
namely rugby where third umpire decisions are kept to a minimum, it is inevitable
that where technology is able to assist in determining whether it’s a try, a goal
or a line call in the case of tennis, the benefits of camera positions or ultra slo-
mo replays will become part of the process.

Lest we forget however, regardless of all the above spectacular technology, the
most important element is human skill. Ninety percent of the broadcast is still
dependent on excellent camera work, not missing the shot, being in focus,
following the ball, anticipating the next move and being in focus.


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