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Virtual scenarios for news

altThe news network sought to create a virtual environment that was dynamic and offered the most real-time data to its viewers about what was happening with the elections that took place in the United States in 2010.



In the relentless pursuit of supremacy within the existing competition in the televised news industry, television networks do their best to stand out in their coverage of election night.

- Publicidad -

They know that there are more people following the news that night, so they intensify their voting programming to attract and impress viewers.

By using three-dimensional graphics to instruct voters with the information needed to follow the main candidacies and their implications, the networks hope to turn stakeholders into regular viewers throughout the year.

For the 2010 U.S. election, CNN contracted with independent producer Jason W. Odell to create an ambitious three-dimensional virtual studio powered by Nvidia's Quadro.

Dubbed CNN Electoral Matrix, this live environment presented election results and other political data in an extremely compelling 3D format.

Odell is no stranger to CNN or innovation in digital television production. In 2008, he led CNN's elections team, which was in charge of the network's Data Wall and the first live 3D hologram ever broadcast, which managed to make a person look dimensionally accurate and as if they were actually in the studio.

CNN's Electoral Matrix, based on three-dimensional graphics workstations powered by Nvidia Quadro and Vizrt software, allowed the network's reporters to easily interact with statistical and polling data.

The deployment of the data, under the control of John King, via touchscreens and Ali Velshi with a tablet helped viewers stay up-to-date in the closest Senate and House races.

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As CNN senior vice president and Washington bureau chief David Bohrman stated in an interview published by Newser just before the 2010 election:

"We are taking functions from the Data Wall and quadrupling them to report the news as clearly as possible. Viewers are prepared for abundant information on election issues, and with CNN's technology on the air and online, combined with the best political team, we will provide an unparalleled experience on election night."

The creation of the Matrix
To create the environment for CNN's Electoral Matrix, Odell and his team needed to retrofit CNN's 465-square-meter Studio 51 in New York, replacing traditional sets and lighting with new camera tracking systems.

"Camera tracking technology was the basis of the new environment, because once it's possible to track the cameras well, it's possible to do lots of interesting things," Odell says.

He adds that "it was difficult to recondition the CNN stage for tracking and we decided to use Motion Analysis motion capture technology for camera tracking as it could cover the largest area and was the easiest way to adapt existing equipment."

CNN Studio 51 was refurbished with 48 measuring cameras that transformed it into a virtual stage. A three-by-six-meter green screen was mounted in the studio, and two Perceptive Pixel plasma multipoint touch screens were installed on the wall.

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Vizrt, CNN's longtime partner in graphics technology, supplied the graphics gear for CNN's Electoral Matrix, and the Nvidia Quadro digital video pipeline and Quadro Graphics Processing Units were used to get everything up and running.

The system made it possible to display survey data in the form of colored blocks that appeared to come out of the ground.



On Election Night 2010, CNN's Electoral Matrix, there were six tracking cameras in the studio. Video from these cameras went all the way to Nvidia's hardware-powered Vizrt system, and camera tracking data with Motion Analysis went into the VizIO software.

All this telemetry data was channeled into six VizEngines gears, one per camera, which controlled every aspect of the cameras' operation: the lens, focal length, zoom, position and orientation in the studio, etc.

The VizEngines gears powered by Quadro represented each scene from the right perspective. A Vizrt chroma inserter, taking advantage of Nvidia's Shader feature, inserted the graphics onto the green wall where the touchscreens were, while linear insertion was used for foreground elements.

Bringing everything together in real time
"The biggest problem was making this complicated environment work in real time," Odell says. "Seeing the graphs of the exit polls in the middle of the enclosure and the touchscreen wall in the background, live and simultaneously, required many polygons."

The Quadro Digital Video Pipeline is the GPU (graphics processing units) accelerated industry solution for the acquisition, processing and real-time transmission of high-resolution video in standard and three-dimensional video broadcast environments.

In addition, it is the only platform that streams up to four HD-SDI video inputs and HD-SDI video outputs from each GPU while keeping the processing power fully available to process graphics.

Since the Digital Video Pipeline can drag graphics directly from the video card and send them as an SDI signal, without having to go through the internal bus of the PC, it saves a complete step in the process.

CNN also counted on Nvidia's reliability to make it all work. The team was finalizing the dynamic environment of CNN's Electoral Matrix just before airtime, so they had to trust that Nvidia technology would work flawlessly, which happened. The live production was perfect.

"The Quadro Digital Video Pipeline is crucial for two reasons," explains Gerhard Lang, Chief Engineer Officer at Vizrt. "The first is its low latency, important so that camera operators looking at composite graphics don't look at images that are delaying live action, which is hugely complicated."

"Even more important, however, is the amount of time available for pure rendering when using the system," he continues. "The Quadro Digital Video Pipeline only takes 2.3 milliseconds per field for the total video transfer process, from video input to output.

Even with nine rendering passes that Vizrt does so that these effects occur in the processing time per frame, of 16.7 thousandths of a second, available for the 60 Hz format, which even leaves more time to render more complex graphics and apply additional effects, making the resulting graphics more real.




Richard Santa, RAVT
Author: Richard Santa, RAVT
Periodista de la Universidad de Antioquia (2010), con experiencia en temas sobre tecnología y economía. Editor de las revistas TVyVideo+Radio y AVI Latinoamérica. Coordinador académico de TecnoTelevisión&Radio.

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