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Business Trends

Canon has real game changer in store for sports fans

3-D tech lets viewers watch from all over the stadium -- even on the field

This still frame from 3-D footage of a soccer match was created with Canon's Free Viewpoint Video System and uploaded to YouTube.

TOKYO -- Sports nuts, take note: Canon has developed a revolutionary 3-D video technology that makes viewers feel as if they are right in the thick of the action.

When used to cover a soccer match, the Japanese company's Free Viewpoint Video System allows users to move their point of view around the 3-D space, as if they were walking around the stadium or running with the players on the field.

About 30 4K cameras set up inside the stadium capture every pass, dribble and shot from multiple angles. The video is fed into computers and rendered by image processing technology as high-resolution 3-D spatial data.

Canon is hoping this can become a new revenue source, given the bleak growth outlook for digital cameras --its mainstay business. New income streams could include selling related equipment as well as producing footage for customers.

The company demonstrated the new technology at Inter BEE 2017, an international exhibition of broadcasting equipment held in November at the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba Prefecture, near Tokyo. A line of visitors waited to watch a 3-D demonstration of the technology on a large home theater system.

The video included parts of a J. League soccer match between Kawasaki Frontale and Gamba Osaka.

It was clearly no ordinary multicamera soccer broadcast. One segment showed the on-field viewpoint; as the game unfolded, the view moved seamlessly around the stadium.

About 30 high-resolution cameras set up around the stadium are used to capture a game from multiple viewpoints.

When a Kawasaki player scored a goal, the footage made it seem as though the ball was flying straight at the viewer.  

So far, Canon has tested the system with three soccer and two rugby matches. Some videos made with the technology have been uploaded to YouTube.

Currently, producing a 40-second Free Viewpoint video requires a full day of processing. Canon is racing to shorten the production time.

Multiple applications

The Free Viewpoint system has a wide range of potential applications, including virtual reality. Combined with a head-mounted display, the system provides a truly immersive experience. Following specific players is another option.

Canon is testing the system with an eye to deploying it during the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Summer Olympic, both of which will be held in Japan. 

Other companies are also working on similar technology. In 2016, Intel acquired Replay Technologies of Israel, which has its own immersive video system. Last year, Japanese wireless carrier KDDI invested in 4D Replay, a California-based startup that is also in the free-viewpoint game.

These moves reflect a wave of innovation in recent years that has brought 3-D VR experiences to the masses. Photo- and video-focused social media is also fueling the quest for new imaging technologies. And the coming era of fifth-generation wireless telecommunications will make such experiences even more accessible.

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