Virtual and augmented reality take center stage for Euro 2024 coverage

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As soccer fans around the world tune in to Euro 2024, they’re being treated to a visual spectacle that goes far beyond the action on the pitch. Broadcasters like Fox Sports and BBC Sport have embraced virtual production to create immersive studio environments that push sports coverage’s boundaries.

Fox Sports is broadcasting from what it calls the “Basilica of Soccer” – a sprawling 360-degree virtual set powered by extended reality technology. The two-story virtual set, based at Fox’s Studio A in Los Angeles, uses over 5,000 square feet of ROE Visual LED panels combined with augmented reality elements to create a fully immersive environment.

“This project – more than any other that we’ve done so far with AR, VR, and XR – tightly integrates our animation and our set,” noted Michael Dolan, SVP of Design at Fox Sports, in an SVG article. “We’re literally painting the set with country colors and matchups and player graphics.”

The virtual set allows Fox to seamlessly transition between different themed areas for various segments, from tactical analysis to interviews. Virtual cameras using GhostFrame technology enable sweeping movements through the expansive digital space, which spans 56,840 square feet in the virtual world.

Fox’s virtual studio is powered by twenty-three Unreal Engines, with Erizos Studio and Vizrt software controlling the show. The studio is equipped with a 24-foot Technocrane and uses Stype camera-tracking systems to enable virtual reality creation.

“Typically, we use AR and XR only as a set extension above the LED, but with this 360-degree environment, we have the best of both worlds: we can leverage all the LED firepower from our state-of-the-art stage and facility here in L.A. but also extend the volume via AR in all directions,” said Zac Fields, SVP of Graphic Tech and Innovation at Fox Sports.

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Meanwhile, BBC Sport is broadcasting from a purpose-built studio complex overlooking the Brandenburg Gate in the heart of Berlin.

Their studio combines physical sets with virtual extensions and augmented reality graphics, offering viewers a unique perspective on the tournament.

The BBC’s indoor studio marries physical elements like a large window with floor-to-ceiling LED screens and virtual extensions. An augmented reality ceiling adds height and grandeur to the space. On the roof terrace, an LED floor creates the illusion of looking down into a virtual football museum below.

The BBC’s setup presented unique challenges, particularly for the outdoor terrace studio.

The LED floor needed to be weather-resistant while providing vibrant visuals in daylight and nighttime conditions. The team opted for a glossy finish that could come alive at night while remaining practical during the day.

The BBC team conducted extensive testing to ensure seamless virtual and physical elements integration. They also visited ROE Visual and its rental partner, Faber, in the Netherlands to refine their plans and make crucial creative and technical decisions.

A final run-through at ROE Visual’s office near Leeds included a full-scale studio test with an outside broadcast truck, cameras, lights, and tracking systems. This test was crucial for assessing the performance of the LED panels in various lighting conditions.

The design of both Fox and BBC’s virtual environments is crucial in their effectiveness. Fox Sports worked with New Zealand-based architecture firm Architecture van Brandenburg to create a virtual set inspired by beautiful palaces worldwide.

The overall BBC design reflects the Brandenburg Gate’s style and provides a ‘Berlin museum’ feel, referencing the history of Euro tournaments.

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For BBC Sport, German architect Jens Weber worked on the rooftop space while Paul Kavanagh Studio handled the virtual set design and set extensions. AE Live then took those designs and integrated them with Unreal Engine and added the various real-time layers for sports coverage.  

BBC’s production was also supported by Stype, Vizrt and Timeline Television. 

While virtual production adds complexity behind the scenes, for viewers at home, the result is a more engaging and flexible presentation. As virtual production technology continues to evolve, it’s clear that virtual and augmented reality will continue to play an increasingly central role in sports broadcasting, including the upcoming 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

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