April 17, 2009

Behind the Storm: Bringing virtual environments to local news

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This photo, taken during NBC's primary election coverage, shows the green screen studio being used at that time.

This is the last of an exclusive three-part series on Brainstorm America, the company behind NBC News’ 3D election graphics. Part two, coming Friday, will focus on how Brainstorm’s team developed the NBC News look and feel. Part three, coming next Wednesday, will cover Brainstorm’s vision for using its technology in local news. Read the first installment here and second installment here.

For the most part, fully-immersive 3D environments with real-time camera tracking and data integration has been outside the reach of local television news. However, Brainstorm USA’s J. David Hoffman, thinks that may change soon.

More details and images after the jump.

“We feel the time is ripe for the local affiliate markets to take advantage of technology once only accessible to the networks,” said Hoffman. “Costs are down for the technology and barriers to entry from a staffing level have been lowered as more talent is produced in the market through experience and schools focused on this technology.”

Hoffman mentioned that Full Sail University in Orlando, Fla., has started focusing on this technology.

However, the idea that virtual reality sets will replace hard sets is a fallacy that has hurt the virtual market, he said. “The preconception that a production can use hard and VR sets interchangeably leads to disappointment when the visuals don’t meet the expectation,” Hoffman explained. “While technology is quickly advancing to the point where it can support visually convincing sets, I see VR as more of a complement or augmentation to hard set productions.”

This image shows a Brainstorm America demo at NAB 2008.

This image shows a Brainstorm demo at NAB 2008.

The main advantage virtual sets bring to television is the speed of production change and volume of throughput. One-off or short run programming can be done more cost effectively or with raised production value with the technology as opposed to hard set productions.

Though Hoffman won’t comment specifically on the future uses his company is targeting, he did mention business-to-business communication as a possible arena for the technology.

Brainstorm eStudio also has potential applications as an all-in-one graphics system for television news, including the local news market. The system can render and output everything from standard news graphics to the fully immersive environments seen on NBC.

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