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New Views: How POV Cameras Are Transforming Traditional Production

A skier soars from a mountaintop, taking viewers along for the adrenaline rush. Motocross fans get a ground-level view of the tension at the starting line before the gates drop. An IndyCar speeds around a curve, and the driver’s viewpoint appears on screen.

GoPro athlete Shaun White takes several GoPro HERO3s up in the air for a test flight

It’s the evolution of the point-of-view camera that permits these behind-the-scenes perspectives, allowing broadcasters to accentuate their productions and provide new angles of coverage.

Some POV units are made with the consumer in mind, others for the professional user; some are for sale, others for rent on a professional basis. As a trend, they’re heightening the viewing experience across the sports landscape.

Simplicity of Use

The attraction of Adixxion, JVC’s new POV entry, is in how it combines “the simplicity of a traditional camcorder with the durability of a POV camera,” says Karl Bearnarth, JVC’s senior vice president for marketing.

The other cameras on the market “have the start and stop buttons, et cetera, but not an LCD screen set up for those functions,” Bearnarth says. “This makes setting the menu and framing the shot easy, because you can see what you are shooting in the screen. Most other products don’t have that capability.”

JVC Adixxion

The fact that it’s freeze-proof and available in the housing (a marine housing for depths of more than 16 feet is also available) just accentuates its value. In short, Adixxion offers the convenience of a traditional camcorder. “It’s easy to use out of the box and is packaged with few accessories, though it does come with the somewhat ubiquitous 1/4-20 connector, which can be affixed to whatever the camera is used on [a car, for example] with a suction cup adapter.”

To showcase the camera’s strengths, JVC has posted content online of the camera in action in pursuits ranging from backcountry skiing, ziplining and skydiving to motorcycle racing, mixed martial arts and motocross.

Experience Counts

POV cameras are designed for such purposes, says Greg Herd, product manager for Sony, manufacturer of the HDR-AS10 and HDR-AS15. “The technology has reached the point where we are able to offer a tremendous amount of camera and image processing [in] a package of about three ounces that fits in the palm of one’s hand.”

Sony HDR-AS15

Herd points to the Sony units’ image stabilization as an example of that progress. “It’s been refined over many years,” he says. “Users are getting Sony’s very best sensor, the 16-megapixel Exmor R, which facilitates improved low-light capability.” Sony partnered with Carl Zeiss on the development of lenses in the HDR units “for a level of sharpness of image that would be unavailable otherwise.”

Sony is increasing the number of mounts available for both cameras, including mounts for surfboards, wrists and even dogs. “That’s possible because the cameras have a really narrow profile,” he says. “It’s easy to ‘set it and forget it’ on goggles or a headband,” just as Herd says he’s done while skiing.

While he says Sony is “just getting started,” that’s not entirely true. “We bring technology to the table that a newer company can’t,” he says.

It’s About Coverage

And then there’s GoPro, a San Mateo, Calif.-based company that has come to dominate the POV camera market. Its top-of-the-line HERO3 Black Edition, released in November, is smaller than a matchbox and costs $400.

GoPro HERO3 Black Edition

It comes with various mounts—wrist, handlebar, surfboard, helmet and chest harness, for a start—and will shoot 1080p at 60 fps and 2.7K at 30 fps, according to Rick Loughery, GoPro’s director of communications. “Those are the key video qualities that are often used for the X Games for course previews, as well as televised coverage of motocross.”

Sporting events including off-road truck racing and the IndyCar series also employ GoPro technology. The HERO3 offers Wi-Fi connectivity and may be operated by remote—from the pits of an auto race, for instance.

“Of the POV cameras on the market, it’s the smallest and lightest, thus the most versatile,” says Loughery, “and it’s used by more professional productions and pro athletes than any camera in its class.”

Getting the Signal

Wuppertal, Germany-based Riedel is in the POV mix with its RiCam Goggles Camera, which is marketed as part of a complete rental solution—meaning that Riedel takes care of the antennae, frequency management and signal transport.

Riedel RiCam

“It’s also about having coverage,” says Andreas Hillmer, director of marketing and communications. He adds, “It’s meant for professional live coverage and not as a consumer product.”

RiCam was the technology of choice for the FIS Skiing World Cup, which was carried live by Austrian broadcaster ORF. Riedel’s fiber backbone accommodated 92 cameras, 160 HD video signals, 200 audio signals, and Ethernet and intercom in a single flexible infrastructure. “That called for setting up 14 antennae and using 10 cameras,” says Hillmer of the camera’s first official use.

That initial foray is leading Riedel toward other sports, such as horse racing, which is big in Asia, and camel racing in the Middle East. The company is also marketing the camera “to various other racing sports, like motocross or any sport where the shooter would wear goggles anyway,” Hillmer says.

Room for Everyone

While GoPro and Riedel are newer players in the market, Broadcast Sports Inc. (BSI) of Hanover, Md., has been in the POV game for about three decades. The company emphasizes its professional services rather than a given product. Its clients include NASCAR and ESPN’s X Games.

“Our core system is built with a third-party imaging company. We completely customize the particular camera and apply the mechanical package for various sports,” says customer application manager Clay Underwood. He points to BSI’s work with catchers for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball and the referee cam BSI provided to the French Rugby League.

“The big thing with our POVs is that they are made to be wireless for broadcast,” says Underwood. “No one else does that to the extent that we do.”

Three recently updated BSI cameras are being used in NASCAR broadcasts on Fox, ESPN and TNT. The units include the gyrocam behind the driver’s right shoulder; a new bumper cam, with better color purity; and a third POV that can be mounted anywhere inside the car.

Next on the agenda at BSI is a wearable POV camera with various applications “that are somewhat unlimited,” says Underwood, who declined to offer specs because the unit won’t be rolled out before what he termed “a large international sporting event next year.”

While BSI was an early innovator in the use of POV cameras, it’s important to note the ongoing innovation in that sector of the broadcast industry.

“I think we’re just seeing the beginning of how people use these POV cameras,” says Loughery. “They’ve been used as ‘lipstick tubes’ in football and racing helmets for a long time, but we’re starting to see them used to acquire unique shots that are not attainable from the long lens of a [dedicated] camera set up in a stadium.”

Hillmer agrees. “We’re at the beginning of the story in a market with enough room for everyone.”