(first appeared in TVBEurope magazine)
An axon is the part of a nerve cell that sends one cell’s signal on to the next nerve cell. Without an axon, a nerve cell might be overflowing with great ideas, but its fellows will never know about them. AXON Digital Design, headquartered in The Netherlands, has specialized for years in producing hardware for the transmission, processing, and routing of audio and video signals. Now they’re becoming a key player in getting 3D signals where they need to go.
When Belgian HD company Outside Broadcast wanted to demo the live 3D transmission of an athletics event at last year’s IBC, it didn’t go to a sleek new company selling “the latest in 3D broadcast solutions”. It went to its time-tested partner AXON. Outside Broadcast were already using AXON’s Synapse infrastructure. Their challenge for AXON was not “Can we get some new technology which will allow us to do something new?” but “How can we do something new with the technology we already have?” The Memorial Van Damme, an annual summer event being held in Brussels at the King Baudouin Stadium, concurrently with Amsterdam’s IBC, provided a perfect opportunity to give professionals a taste of the future of live 3D.
TVBEurope asked AXON’s Chief Technology Officer, Peter Schut , how the company met Outside Broadcast’s needs. “Our Synapse modules are a hot-swappable solution. The infrastructure’s already there. For Outside Broadcast, we modified existing hardware to cope with their requirements, so they didn’t have to rewire anything. It’s very convenient if we can add these features to existing hardware.”
The principle requirement for the 3D transmission was to handle two simultaneous signals of left and right eye information provided by the stereoscopic camera rig. Outside Broadcast used a mirror splitter stereo camera rig – and so also added the necessary flipping of the mirrored image. AXON modified their already existing HXH150 card.
For the 3D transmission two left eye and right eye sources needed to be combined into a single SDI (HD) video stream. This was accomplished by squeezing both images down to an anamorphic half-horizontal size, then displaying them in a side by side mode compatible with MPEG transmissions.
“It was combining software blocks that we would previously use for other purposes,” Peter Schut says, “The card was designed to provide a 4:3 image with a pillar-box on each side to contain additional, external information. It was already ready to receive data from two sources. It was then just a matter of ‘moving the curtains around’ and the scaling algorithms.” His description makes it sound like something accomplished during a working lunch, but it is the AXON team’s skill and experience that allow for elegant, simple solutions, solutions that might take less established companies many hours – and many Euros – to resolve. AXON has prided itself on providing customers with smooth transitions when there are leaps in technology.
Outside Broadcast’s 3D demo was so impressive, that AXON was asked on the spot by EuroMedia for support in its camera motorcycles for 3D broadcast of the Tour De France and the Tour De Paris.
AXON are now offering a new dedicated 3D card, called the H3D100. The H3D100 will also be available in a 3GB version and both versions will have a variety of extra features. The inputs are the standard left and right eye images for stereo production, and feature flexible outputs that directly usable in a production switcher. Look for the H3D100 modules to feature prominently in AXON’s NAB 2010 presentations. These cards are currently being trialed on a few different projects, including L.A.-based video rental company Sweetwater. Sweetwater is also using AXON’s 3D cards to output stereo video for anaglyph viewing. Though anaglyph (you know, those different coloured lenses from the 1950’s) is not recommended for transmission or viewing by a large audience, but it is an inexpensive means of monitoring various 3D outputs.
Despite working intensively in providing 3D solutions to major players in European broadcasting, Schut – like many of us – has been reluctant to whole-heartedly join the 3D mania ubiquitous in the media industries. We asked him the eternal question: Will people watch 3D at home? Schut answered, “Until December, I would have said no. And then I saw “Avatar” – 3 hours of 3D without getting a headache. Now, I think Christmas 2010, if someone’s going to be buying a new big-screen TV, they’ll want it to be 3D capable. How much the viewers will be watching 3D, I don’t know. I don’t think the whole family, day in, day out, is going to be watching every programme with glasses on.”
Schut notes that, in the wake of “Avatar”, CES was a virtual stampede of 3D products and services – some perhaps creating more problems than would ever solve. AXON’s reconfiguring of its well-tried hardware may suggest that solutions to your new 3D challenges may not be far from home.
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