Virtually amazing: Harnessing AR for World Cup effect

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As the football World Cup progresses, fans and tecchies alike have been able to savour mind-blowing visual effects and the imaginative use global broadcasters have made of them.

Specialist Vizrt - justly proud of their contribution to coverage - launched a new version of its Viz Libero just ahead of the competition, with new tools for the World Cup including an AR feature to combine Libero analysis with augmented reality graphics.

With Deltatre's official Cup data plug-in, live player tracking data, event logs, statistics and heatmaps are retrieved and displayed, enabling users to browse through game logs for a moment of interest, highlight players onfield and retrieve player information.

The plugin also includes new statistics and heat maps for each player and each team, with the Libero graphics package matching official FIFA designs.

A battle has been underway between UK FTA broadcasters, with the BBC's live Match of the Day studio in Moscow using AR to present dynamic virtual effects from Red Square, where a view of St Basil's Cathedral dominates the background.

AR graphics help tell match stories, with stats, team news and even players 'walking into the studio' as they are discussed, and viewers given the impression of travelling directly to the live stadium action with a 180-degree camera move.

Croatian tracking specialists, stYpe provided tracking for six cameras in the studio while the UK's Alston Elliott designed and are operating the AR graphics, complementing the broadcaster's teams. Vizrt's Viz Engine is the workhorse behind the graphics rendering, including AR in the studio and virtual set extensions which hide huge production systems.

The ornate St Basil's Cathedral was also central to ITV's 'theatrical' concept, broadcast from a studio next door to that of the BBC - with whom they shared coverage rights - except of course, that much of it wasn't there.

Virtual set extensions extended the ceiling and studio space to create additional height, with executive producer Paul McNamara admitting that the whole of the 'cathedral' section didn't exist, even though the bottom half was live, with perspective tracking allowing real and virtual to move together, creating a seamless image.

Or if they wanted, the studio could transform into a skybox with a soccer pitch behind...

In a LinkedIn post, Broadcast Engineering consultant Nicos Christodoulou said the actual AR system came from DeltaTre - with four Vizrt servers and tracking/graphics and White Light knitting feeds together - while a complex set had to be built to millimetre accuracy on site to tie in the Dome AR set and Red Spy tracking system.

Central to Fox Sports' ambitious coverage is an eight metres by 11 studio set erected in Red Square with a massive crystal LED display screen, eight Sony HDC-4300 cameras - four of them robotic - and an automated Studio Bot jib with a 240-degree range.

A fully interactive touchscreen uses graphics technology from Vizrt and advanced data and analytics from DeltaTre and Astuce Media, and is capable of handling anything Fox wants to throw at it, from highlights and heat maps, to charts and match analysis. Again, AR elements come from Vizrt.

With massive expertise, China's CCTV has even been putting its presenters into the game, using Libero's Virtual Presenter. One of more than 600 clips already since the start of the Cup uses virtual angles as the presenter talks about specific plays and (at 1:30) even walks completely around the keeper.

In another - with the presenter again in the middle of the action - he analyses a free kick, measuring distances, height and angles... and even adding in a virtual Yao Ming.

Croatia's NovaTV is using an interactive AR table in which World Cup players come to life for its analysis. After the national team defeated Denmark with a final penalty kick, it analysed that and other key games with the table, which is powered by Vizrt graphics tools.

Presenters are able to interact with each player position, the broadcaster's design team having developed a script to combine the touch screen with the AR in Viz Artist without additional third-party plugins. Vizrt says two Viz engines are used to render the final product - one for the touch table and one for the AR - and Virtual Studio used with tracking data coming from Croatia-based stYpe and their RedSpy optical tracking system.

Other AR tech examples in Russia include Mexico's Televisa with Libero AR analysis - and tracking kit including Shotoku VR cranes and pedestals and an Ncam-mounted camera sending data to Virtual Studio - and Dubai-based Al Arabiya's hybrid coverage using tracking feed from RedSpy and a crane-mounted stYpekit to five Viz engines.

The heart of the ORF World Cup coverage has been a studio with four cameras, one a crane camera that can be used to display virtual elements such as tables, statistics, lineups and portraits of players. Viz Libero combines images of the live cameras with real-time graphics animation creating an additional virtual camera view.

Vietnam's VTVcab (Vietnam Cable Television Corporation) is using a combination of video wall, virtual set and AR graphics for insights into each match, using a single-system Viz Opus compact control room which went live last December.

The World Cup was already underway when the Vizrt Days customer event was held, giving designers from Denmark's DR (among others) the opportunity to tell attendees how they were covering it from a custom studio in Aarhus. AR graphics feature above a minimalist wooden table, with the official World Cup graphics package adapted to AR by adding depth to each element, and three Viz engines for on-air presentation.

Peter Coleman from Vizrt sources

Pictured: China's CCTV presenter 'virtually' walks around the goalkeeper

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