Anatomy of a Lightning Strike in 3D
The Weather Channel is the best known name in weather programming for television. Its 24-hour, localised channel is seen in 22 million households in the United States, weather.com is the most respected source of real-time online forecasts and reaches more than 124 million unique web consumers each month. One of the core drivers for The Weather Channel’s success — beyond the accuracy of its forecasts — is its continual striving for more engaging, more dynamic presentation of the science behind the weather. The network is a source for amazing and visually stunning content that constantly teaches viewers something that they didn’t know before. Launched on 20 May 2015 is its most ambitious, most engaging project yet. The new segments will feature meteorologist Jim Cantore interacting with stunning augmented reality graphics to illustrate a current theme in the weather, how it is created and what its impact might be.
“We’re bringing the outside into the studio,” said Jeremy Jones, director of television products at The Weather Channel. “If we want to explain a tornado, for example, we’ll have a realistic 3D graphic of it come to life in the studio. The presenter will be able to walk around and explain the dynamics of a tornado as if it’s happening right there in front of him.”
The augmented reality graphics will be generated in the broadcaster’s long-standing tools, including TruVu Max from WSI, The Weather Company’s professional division, and 3D augmented reality from Vizrt. The key to making it engaging for audiences, though, is to feel that the presenter is walking around the weather phenomenon, pointing to the features that make it important.
The Ncam Live tracker system attaches to the main broadcast camera
To give the presenter this freedom of movement, the camera had to be free to track and pan. The Weather Channel’s television product team looked at the market to see if there was any real-time camera tracking tool that could deliver absolutely accurate positional data with latency low enough to work in a live broadcast.
The answer lay in Ncam Live, the camera tracking system developed specifically for broadcast applications such as sport, news and weather. Using multiple sensors attached to the main broadcast camera, it provides a constant stream of precise location data whether the camera is on a pedestal, a Steadicam or even hand held.
The metadata is available in the widely recognised Free-D format and also via Ncam’s SDK allowing users to build simple and reliable interfaces with their software of choice. The Ncam data stream is already built into 3D graphics software from Brainstorm, Vizrt and others.
“One of the great benefits was that Ncam had immediate plug and play capabilities,” Jones said. “On top of this, it allowed us to develop connections to Max and WSI, which is the back bone of our network and was a crucial requirement when seeking our technology partner. We quickly saw the capabilities of Ncam, and that they were willing to work with the developers at WSI, and we formed a strong partnership.”
The Weather Channel had already developed a bank of augmented reality graphics, but the presenter was limited to standing in front. “It always felt very separated,” explained Jones.
“We went out looking for solutions where we could move the presenter and the camera,” he explained. “We wanted to immerse our fans into the graphics so we could get them closer to the weather and disconnect that separation.”
Jones was heavy in his praise for Ncam. “If you go to NAB you see a lot of virtual and tracking systems, but they are clunky and heavy and hard to integrate, usually using their own graphics software,” he said. “Ncam is portable, and it is plug and play. It integrates with our software and it is completely flexible. Ncam is unique.”
While US viewers are already seeing augmented reality driven by Ncam on sports broadcasting, this is the first time anything this sophisticated has been presented for weather graphics, certainly on a daily, live basis.
“Our fans already like our augmented reality graphics,” Jones commented. “Our viewing when these new, dynamic augmented reality segments are on air is huge and growing.
“This is state of the art, ground-breaking weather presentation,” he concluded. “With Ncam, we are taking weather presentation and just simple story-telling on broadcast television to the next level.”
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