CNN planning virtual Capitol, holographic correspondents

CNN appears to be gearing up for a extremely high-tech night of election night coverage that may trump all other networks’ gadgets.

Using a combination of Vizrt technology and gear and software from an Israel-based company called SportVu, CNN will be combining virtual environments with real-time data feeds to create stunning visual guides to the plethora of data being pulled from all over the country.
According to a report in Broadcasting & Cable, CNN has create a virtual model of the U.S. Capitol, which will be linked to John King’s “magic wall” touchscreen and be used to show how election results will affect Congress. Using camera interpolation technology, CNN will be able to jib over the virtual background for a flyover effect.

The new graphics will also be used to report exiting polling data using a custom-design system that will have each state represented by a thin bar stacked one of top of another. Color coding and length of each bar is used to break down data into demographic groups such as education levels or sex and show how each of these groups is leaning. The overall effect, when all the bars are combined, tends to be a vortex or hourglass shape. Anchors will then be able to “touch” one of the bars to display further breakdowns as well as compare data from state to state.

Perhaps most groundbreaking, however, is reports that CNN will be utilizing holographic correspondents. The network is still working the tweaks out and isn’t sure how much the technology will be put to use. However, plans call for trailer at the candidates’ election night bases in Chicago and Phoenix to be equipped with chroma key environments. This will allow field and studio talent to be placed together in a virtual environment that makes them seem right next to each other.

According to USA Today, CNN will have 44 cameras and 20 computers at each location. These will be used to capture 360-degree data of the person and allow for up to two people to be interviewed at the same time.

CNN says it will likely let viewers in on the secret behind the technology, possibly by showing the chroma key wall or crowds in their un-altered forms on air before the holographic effect is switched on. This  is important to avoid misleading anyone as to the location of correspondents.

It’s hard to imagine the technical know-how that must go into these types of systems. Remember that while the hardware and basic software exists already, most of the graphics, charting systems, touch locations, animations and data feeds need to be custom-programmed for each application. Plus, there is likely hours spent on rehearsing for the benefit of both the technical staff and talent.

It will be also be interesting to see if the virtual components add depth to the coverage instead of just being eye candy. While there is always a “cool factor” when a network decides to utilize these types of tricks, it’s important to remember that technology needs to be used to enhance the story and clarify information for viewers, rather than confuse.