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Applied Technology: Clarity 800-HD Bexel HFR Camera

High-speed cameras add production value and an exciting new dimension to live television, particularly for sports coverage. Consumers expect an ever-more-amazing viewing experiences through features such as high-frame-rate (HFR) replays, driving sports broadcasters’ growing demand for the cameras that can offer these effects.

While there are numerous high-speed cameras on the market, choices are limited when it comes to specialty or POV-type cameras. And until now there has been a lack of POV HFR cameras that can provide the real-time processing critical for live sports.

To address this opportunity, Bexel sought to design and deliver a small POV camera with the same quality and functionality as a large HFR camera. The challenge lay in devising a small camera that would still have the “look and feel” of a large high-speed camera, with the ability to support the same workflows and provide the same functionality. And of course, a critical requirement was to deliver this functionality at a cost people could afford.

In order to rival the image quality of a larger camera, the decision was made to use a Micro 4/3 imager. This would allow our camera to run a slightly larger imager than normal broadcast cameras – which is better to capture as much light as possible to accommodate high-speed video capture. Our solution also needed to accommodate the wide choice of quality lenses that are already available on the market.

Inside the camera

Once our working prototype started capturing a beautiful, high-quality image, we turned our attention to making sure the camera would fit easily into production workflows. The camera would need to connect to a DDR in the same manner as a large high-speed camera. This meant the camera processor would need the ability to take the data stream from the camera and turn the video into separate phases for the high-speed data in real time, while also providing all the necessary handles on the video.

Technically speaking, this involved taking the camera’s raw high-speed data and bringing it to the camera processor. From there, we use a FPGA circuit to process all of that data and turn it into the outputs needed for live recording of high-speed video. This also allows users to control the video image and create handles for all the usual controls a video engineer is accustomed to. This includes white balance and black balance, gamma adjustment with balance, detail circuit with H/V and level depend, color saturation, and a variable six-way matrix adjustment. Other controls include knee point and slope, white clips, electronic gain, and shutter.

Finally, the lens mount would need to be just as easy to operate as a standard “twist-and-click” mount. We designed a positive-locking lens mount with electronics for communicating with the lens to provide iris, focus, and zoom adjustments.

Edd Bonner is vice president of engineering and operations, Bexel.

Edd Bonner is vice president of engineering and operations, Bexel.

Camera targets live events

The end product is the Clarity 800-HD, a camera that can output HD video at a frame rate up to 8x (480 FPS) at 1080p and offers the complete functionality of a larger high-speed camera, but in a form factor not much larger than the footprint of a cell phone. The camera uses a 4K Micro 4:3” CMOS imager and 1080p HD signal processing to deliver outstanding images and the clear, sharp replays that are critical for live sports. Handles on the video allow the camera to be painted to match the larger cameras on the production, and yet the Clarity 800-HD can be mounted and placed in areas that have not been accessible for other HFR cameras.

The camera integrates easily into a live event ecosystem, operating as a broadcast camera system with real-time processing via fiber optics and integration with industry-standard video servers. Key features include a full-function camera remote control panel (RCP) for paint control and the positive-locking lens mount with lens control of focus, iris, and zoom motors.

Today’s broadcasters need solutions that will help them stay ahead of viewer demand for the latest formats, and high-quality, real-time HFR video is no exception. We believe that a robust and affordable high-speed camera like the Clarity 800-HD is a highly desirable solution.

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