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A New Breed Of High-Speed POV Camera Optimized For Live Sports

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High-speed cameras are exciting tools for adding production value to live TV broadcasts, particularly for sports, says Edd Bonner, VP of Engineering and Operations at Bexel.

Viewers love their high-frame-rate (HFR) replays, and in turn broadcasters are driving the demand for high-speed, POV cameras that can provide the real-time processing they need for live sports. Until now, however, their market choices for these types of cameras have been limited.

At Bexel, we wanted to address this opportunity by creating a small POV HFR camera with the same quality and functionality as its larger brethren. The challenge lay in devising a small camera that would still have the "look and feel" of a large high-speed camera, with the ability to support the same workflows and provide the same functionality. And perhaps the biggest challenge of all lay in how to provide all of these capabilities at a price people could afford, in a rental-only solution.

In order to build a small camera that could rival the image quality of a larger camera, we decided to use a Micro 4/3 imager. The primary reason for this was a requirement to run a slightly larger imager than normal broadcast cameras. This would allow the camera to capture as much light as possible to accommodate high-speed video capture.

We also wanted to deliver a solution that could accommodate a wide choice of quality lenses that were already available on the open market. After creating a prototype and working through a few small issues, we were able to confirm that our prototype camera was indeed creating a high-quality image.

The second issue centered on turning this beautiful image-capture ability into a tool that could fit easily into production workflows. Our live high-speed camera would need the ability to connect to a DDR the same manner as a larger camera. To meet that challenge, we designed a camera processor that would be able to take the data stream from the camera and turn the video into separate phases for the high-speed data, while also providing all the necessary handles on the video.

To explain this process a little further, it essentially involves taking the raw high-speed data from the camera and bringing it to the camera processor. From there, we use a FPGA circuit to process all of that data and turn it into the outputs needed for live recording of high-speed video. That FPGA circuit also allows us to control the video image and create handles for all the usual controls a video engineer is accustomed to. This includes white balance and black balance, gamma adjustment with balance, detail circuit with H/V and level depend, color saturation, and a variable six-way matrix adjustment. Other controls include knee point and slope, white clips, electronic gain, shutter, and many other capabilities.

Of course, we couldn't overlook the lens mount, which had to be just as easy to operate as a standard "twist-and-click" mount. Our solution is a positive-locking lens mount that also includes electronics for communicating with the lens to provide iris, focus, and zoom adjustments.

The result of all of this thoughtful development is Bexel's new Clarity 800-HD, a camera not much larger than the footprint of a standard business card that is capable of a frame rate of 480 FPS at 1080p. The Clarity 800-HD integrates easily into a live event ecosystem, operating as a broadcast camera system with real-time processing via fiber optics, integration with industry-standard video servers, and a full-function camera remote control panel (RCP) for paint control.

And of course, the Clarity 800-HD offers outstanding picture quality – and the clear replays will be sure to delight even the most discriminating live sports fan. Handles on the video allow the camera to be painted to match the larger cameras on the production, and yet the camera can be mounted and placed in areas that have not accessible for a high-frame-rate camera in the past.

Today's broadcasters need solutions that will help them stay ahead of viewer demand for the latest formats, and high-quality, real-time HFR video is no exception. We believe that a robust and affordable high-speed camera like the Clarity 800-HD is a highly desirable solution. But the Clarity 800-HD is just the beginning, as Bexel continues to roll out a new family of cameras designed to solve broadcasters' problems and answer the specialized requirements of today's productions.

The Clarity family of cameras is available for rent exclusively through Bexel and Camera Corps.

Edd Bonner is vice president of engineering and operations at Bexel.

Image: Clarity 800-HD camera.

This article is also available to read in the latest edition of Broadcast Film & Video here, page 42.

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