Already tall, NBA gets wide courtesy of Be Here

Jun 4, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Imagine watching basketball through a fisheye lens.
Viewers of the NBA Finals will be treated to that surreal experience when the championship series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals begins on June 6. NBC, which carries the Finals, has partnered with Los Angeles-based technology company Be Here to use its “TotalView” technology, which offers a 360-degree ultrawide camera angle.
Be Here’s technology has been integrated into streaming applications on the Internet since 1997, including the NBA’s first-ever webcast of a game this past April, but the NBC collaboration marks the first time the technology will be used for a live televised sporting event.
While the technology allows for a 360-degree view of the action, NBC is opting to use a 180-degree camera angle, since it provides better picture resolution, said Andrew Thau, president and CEO of Be Here. Be Here will mount a camera behind each backboard during the Finals, he said. “You capture everything and can decide afterward what to use,” Mr. Thau said.
The cameras will record a wide-angle view of a play from behind the backboard, said Andy Rosenberg, coordinating director for the NBA on NBC. NBC will then use those images in its instant replay analysis when a wider or fuller shot of the action is desired. Most basketball replays lend themselves, however, to a more intimate and close-up view, he added.
“It will be an augmentation to what we do-kind of a frosting on the cake of the replays we do,” he said.
In addition to the camera lens, Be Here’s technology incorporates navigable video software. Relying on a touch screen, the NBA announcers will be able to navigate within a picture to see what else is happening at a particular moment. For example, if the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant is shooting a jump shot on the left side, a regular camera would only capture the jump shot. With Be Here’s technology, the announcer could freeze a full-court image of the jump shot and scroll throughout it to view other action across the entire court at that moment. “[Most] cameras have a limited field of view. Ours is the entire field,” Mr. Thau said.
NBC hasn’t decided yet whether it will incorporate the technology into a full NBA season, since it wants to evaluate the success of Be Here during the upcoming Finals. “We have to see how it works under the pressure of doing a game,” Mr. Rosenberg said.
Be Here worked with “Entertainment Tonight” on its Oscars telecast earlier this year to illustrate what various movie stars were doing as they arrived on the red carpet leading to the auditorium.
Be Here relies on DVC digital cameras that are quite small, look like metal boxes and are attached to a computer by a wire. The company launched in 1996 with a focus on still photography and extended its software onto the Internet in 1997.
For the NBA webcast earlier this year, a Be Here 360-degree view was one of the live streams offered on the NBA’s Web site. As a result of the change in the streaming media and Internet environment over the last year, Be Here decided in late 2000 to adapt its technology to television, Mr. Thau said.
Ravin Agrawal, a partner with EastWest VentureGroup, an investor in Be Here, predicts the sports world will have a tremendous interest in delivering this type of “picture within a picture” view of an event on both the Internet and television.
“Here is something where you create a piece of digital video in the round and a piece of content that is completely new in terms of the experience it can provide,” he said.