Augmented reality graphics is one of the broadcast industry’s hottest trends — and there are a wide range of solutions that meet a variety of needs, equipment configurations and on-air looks and features to enhance the viewing experience.
Advanced design and production tools that enable broadcasters to create virtual objects that appear as if they’re actually in the studio have now been available for a few years, but have only become a mainstream feature for major TV networks over the last year.
Broadcast is increasingly adopting AR graphics for enhanced storytelling, allowing for better interaction between presenters and graphics objects and even remote locations. AR gives broadcasters an extra level of freedom to tell a complex story in a very visual way with the presenter driving the narrative. Augmented Reality applications allow for visually engaging representations of data which can then be better explained by the presenters placed on the set.
“Augmented Reality allows for displaying data-driven graphics along with real images, where real footage or live videos are mixed with virtual backgrounds or scenes, chroma keyed talents and data-driven 3D graphics, which can interact with the talents creating an attractive environment for the audience. This “mixed reality” allows for creating virtual environments where visually engaging representations of the data can be better explained by the presenters, making complex data easier to understand while enhancing the storytelling,” says Miguel Churruca, Marketing and Communications Director for Brainstorm.
Having had a few years of experimentation behind them, broadcasters now have a much better idea of where AR makes sense, how to use it, and what kind of AR elements make sense. And we’re now seeing more realistic graphics, with the introduction of hyper-realism. Using render engines broadcasters are bridging the gaps and removing barriers to entry.
Especially in areas like live sports production, 2018 has been a breakthrough for AR graphics adoption thanks to big ticket events like the Winter Olympics and the World Cup.
AR Market: Hitting the Mainstream
The market for AR is still in the front end of the adoption curve. When it comes to the mainstream use of AR graphics in broadcast, if we assume a 100% adoption curve would mean that every local market TV station is using AR to the same extent that they deploy regular graphics such as graphics and lower thirds, then over the last year or two, the industry has been making rapid progress to reach a adoption levels of 30-40%.
“I think it’s a little soon to expect mass adoption of AR/VR solutions, but we are seeing progress. The availability of flexible and reliable optical tracking systems like the Mo-SyS Star Tracker, together with the recent publicity around the use of the Unreal engine in AR/VR applications, is beginning to have a real impact,” says Olivier Cohen, Senior Product Manager at ChyronHego.
Broadcasters continue to refine the AR viewing experience: “Apart from the quality of the graphics and backgrounds, the most important challenge is the integration and continuity of the whole scene,” says Churruca. “Having tracked cameras, remote locations and graphics moving accordingly, perfect integration, perspective matching and full broadcast continuity are paramount to provide the audience with a perfect viewing experience of AR graphics.”
The growing maturity of the industry has helped graphics vendors develop better solutions that are improving the quality of the augmented reality viewing experience. Brainstorm’s Churruca elaborates on what details help to improve the viewer experience: “AR is a team job, involving design, data gathering and management, virtual sets, camera tracking and much more. So, the perfect integration between the different real and virtual objects and the backgrounds becomes essential, but what really makes the difference for the audience is to be unable to tell whether the images they are watching are real videos or digital renders. However, for virtual set production and live broadcast operation, photorealism is a complicated challenge because of the constraints of real-time rendering and operation.”
These technologies offer really exciting new opportunities for revenue generation. At a basic level, using AR and virtual set tools in the studio to augment storytelling lowers costs, enables fast changes to any environment.
Stations can use virtual set technology to create a lot more content and greater numbers of shows within the same studio space. Without the time and hassle of building and dismantling physical sets between shows, new revenues can open up thanks to more efficient of valuable real estate in the studio.
Plus the AR graphics can serve as virtual advertisements, together with sponsored virtual graphics — both of which offer new revenue sources. For example, a station could sell sponsorships of virtual players or data and stats; “this player segment is brought to you by (the sponsor),” along with a huge 3-D rendition of the sponsor’s logo.
As the technology matures and
becomes more widely adopted, there is the potential to monetise Augmented Reality content through programmatic ads inserted into a virtual environment, based on information about a specific user such as their location or preferences, or even allowing the user to control the environment through their device.