Come together

Mar 11, 2002  •  Post A Comment

In the giant slalom at the Winter Olympics, U.S. skier Bode Miller was bested by Austria’s Stephan Eberharter and lost the gold because he was 0.91 seconds behind.
NBC viewers-most of whom couldn’t imagine what a difference of less than one second looks like-got a side-by-side comparison of the two men’s runs, thanks to SimulCam technology devised by Swiss vendor Dartfish.
SimulCam gives a producer the ability to merge two images into one, allowing a competitor to appear to race against the leader on a single videotape. In the case of the giant slalom event, NBC showed Mr. Miller swinging wide, losing time and ground to Mr. Eberharter, who shot straight to the end of the slope. The SimulCam made imperceptible differences in their performances obvious to fans of ski racing.
“It’s expensive but worth it,” said David Neal, executive VP of NBC Olympics. “This technology exceeded our expectations.”
NBC wouldn’t put a price on the technology, but others’ estimates have put it in the $20,000-per-event price range. SimulCam uses computer sensors on two cameras that collect information on the cameras’ panning, tilting and zooming actions. The video information captured by the sensors is stored in a computer, where the Dartfish software blends both backgrounds and isolates the performers. In the finished product, the skiers become semitransparent as they near each other, opaque as the distance between them increases.
Victor Bergonzoli, president of Dartfish USA, based in Atlanta, said the SimulCam technology has become a standard in Europe. “Almost all the broadcasters use it,” including Austrian, Swiss, Norwegian, German and Mexican networks and EuroSport, the European sports channel, he said.
The technology was developed by a partner in the Dartfish group, Serge Ayer, a software engineer and ski instructor who wanted to be able to compare students’ performances. Although Dartfish is doing a healthy broadcast business, Mr. Bergonzoli said the company sees video training tools as most promising for future growth. A number of the U.S. Olympic teams used SimulCam for training purposes, including the skiing and snowboarding teams.
Mr. Bergonzoli is pushing the product to the university sports market and has his eyes on the golf market. Dartfish has developed software that allows a golf instructor to connect a computer to a video camera and provide students with instant visual feedback-comparing a duffer with a pro and highlighting flaws in the duffer’s swing. Mr. Bergonzoli chortles over the opportunity, calling it unlimited.
“Millions of people will buy the software to improve their performance at golf,” he said.
In the media space, Dartfish has partnered with Sportvision, the company that developed the 1st & Ten line for the NFL, the strike-zone technology for ESPN’s baseball games and some nifty technology that follows NASCAR race cars on the track.
Sportvision and Dartfish hope to enhance what viewers see in all these sports, Mr. Bergonzoli said.
At NBC, Mr. Neal is already thinking about the Summer Olympics, and he has Dartfish in his plans. “There’s no question that the SimulCam technology from Dartfish has any number of applications that I can think of in summer sports,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that there are places where the Dartfish technology can be used to great benefit.”