Robotic Camera Systems Update

  • By David Kirk

Robotic Camera Systems Update

Contributing Editor David Kirk gives us a further update on some of the latest developments within robotic camera systems…

Robotic camera systems must surely be the fastest developing area of the entire broadcast business, not least in the OB sector where remote production allows cameras to be operated under IP control over practically any distance. On-site production staff continue to be essential but head-counts can be lower and overall efficiency is potentially increased. This update looks at the latest advances in steerable camera heads, remote lens operation, controllers and complete systems.

Canon’s CR-S700R robotic camera system allows still images to be captured from unusual viewpoints. It is based on a remote pan head which can be used to control a compatible EOS camera. The system includes the CR-G100 IP camera controller. Optional CR-A100 software can be used to control multiple cameras from a PC, display live view images, remotely trigger a camera or simultaneously shoot with multiple cameras. Turning radius is approximately 26cm. The CR-G100 IP camera controller connects to a PC for remote operation using an Ethernet LAN cable. “The remote pan head allows operations such as zooming, panning, tilting and rolling,” says Canon’s European Product Marketing Manager, Ryan Kamata. “It can also be used to follow subjects that move at high speed.” 

Egripment’s Arc Compensation is designed to allow a telescopic crane to self-monitor its position in any movement. A hardware and software tool designed for use with the company’s Xtreme T10 telescopic camera crane. It allows automated moves including vertical straight lines, horizontal plane and pan compensation by the activation of a single button. All axes of the crane arm, dolly and telescopic column can be encoded for augmented/virtual-reality applications. The arm weighs 275 kg can be extended from 2.1 to 7.5 metres length. Maximum telescoping speed is 2.1 metres per second. “We are currently working on new products, expanding our range of telescopic columns, including the new Hothead 3 and new digital IP solutions,” adds Egripment Director of Sales, Herman Steenhuis. “These products are almost ready and will go live in the next few months.”

Fujifilm’s Fujinon S10 digital drive unit is designed to deliver precise zoom and focus, supporting robotic video production. Externally the same as the S6/8/9 drive unit, it features 16bit iris, zoom and focus encoding, reduced mechanical backlash and faster processing of commands to reduce lag when used in robotic or AR/VR applications. Breathing compensation can be activated to keep the angle of view the same whilst making focus adjustments during shooting. “S10-equipped lenses can also output positional information on zoom, focus and even iris which allows the high-precision position detection,” adds Fujinon UK General Sales Manager Ian O’Connor.

“This means live video footage can be combined with virtual video in optimum settings, thereby catering to the growing demand for virtual video production.”

Grass Valley’s PTZ 35X HD remote PTZ camera can be operated directly from any of Grass Valley’s Kula switchers or automated as a part of GV Pace preset scenes. Images from the PTZ 35X can be intermixed with images from Grass Valley’s LDX cameras. The camera uses a 1/1.7 inch 12.4 megapixel sensor with a 3840 x 2160p30 UHD video resolution.

Optical zoom magnification is up to 35x optical starting from 60.5 degree horizontal wide-angle. Video-over-IP is supported along with H.264 and H.265 encoding as well as NDI v4.0 video transmission and control. White balance, exposure, focus, iris can be adjusted automatically or manually. 128 presets can be stored within the camera head.

Up to seven cameras can be connected using VISCA protocol. Additional features include image flip for upside-down installation and video format switching within 3 seconds.

Mark Roberts Motion Control (MRMC) has revamped its Polymotion Chat automated camera control software to provide new tiered access points. Polymotion Chat Studio and Polymotion Chat Broadcast, plus the entry level Polymotion Chat Pro, now provide a range of options covering use cases from the live events sector up to broadcast, and up to six camera operation. Polymotion Chat can auto-track subjects using PTZ cameras or robotic pan/tilt heads. The system is always available and allows a single operator to manage multiple cameras. Polymotion Chat Studio is aimed at studios, live production and large corporate productions. It provides support for MRMC and many third-party robotic heads, including PTZ cameras. Advanced tracking and framing capability allows it to track multiple people across multiple cameras. It can be used either as a fully autonomous system with no operator or ensuring a shot is ready for a single operator to make minor changes. Facial recognition allows automated presets to be used. Polymotion Chat Broadcast adds presenter profiles, tighter integration into studio automation, scene recognition, and advanced sequencing for executing pre-defined camera moves. “Broadcasters and professional users all over the world are facing the increasing challenges of producing more content with less, with the importance of maintaining schedules in the face of socially-distanced production protocols throwing workflows into stark relief,” MRMC Head of Broadcast Paddy Taylor summarises. “By providing advanced automation tools that faithfully replicate the naturalistic moves and skilled awareness of experienced camera operators, Polymotion Chat dramatically increases production efficiencies and allows a single operator to run multiple cameras in a Covid-secure manner.”

Marshall Electronics offers a wide selection of robotic PTZ cameras including models with 4K, UHD and HD resolutions.  Price points range from just under US$1,000 to several thousand. At the higher end is the CV730, capable of 4K/60 with 12G-SDI, HDMI and IP (HEVC) outputs. The CV730 is offered in two versions: CV730-NDI with NDI/DHCP/HTTP/HTTPS/UDP and CV730-IP with HEVC/SRT/DHCP/HTTP/RTSP/UDP/MPEG-TS. At the budget end, the CV605 series offers broadcast quality at entry-level prices. All Marshall PTZ cameras can be operated through their VS-PTC-IP controller, NDI 5 tools, VMS software, OBS plugins and vMix, as well as other customisable command sources. 

Marshall’s robotic PTZ range are being updated to support Free-D protocols.  A high-bandwidth CV730-BHN will be introduced in second half of 2022. “For over 40 years, Marshall was built on the foundation of broadcast quality and close collaboration with our professional industry partners,” says Tod Musgrave, Director of Cameras, “and we’re fully committed to expanding on those building blocks of success.”

Marshall Electronic’s Micro CV-PT-HEAD was developed to enable previously fixed miniature POV cameras to be maneuverable. Designed and manufactured by BR Remote in the UK, the micro-PT head is seemingly the smallest robotic camera head in existence at just under 90mm tall. Designed to be weatherproof, rugged, silent, and even inverted.  The CV-PT-HEAD is setup to be controlled via CV-MICRO-JYSTK, although can be remotely operated by all of BR Remote joysticks and control decks. Capabilities include 64 pre-programmable robotic maneuvers, built-in camera protocols, and durable weatherproof characteristics. “Marshall had been searching for an appropriate robotic PT head designer for several years to complement our growing micro POV camera line,” says Tod Musgrave, Director of Cameras at Marshall Electronics, “and given their wide use globally in broadcast television, live music, wildlife, sports and live production made it an easy choice to collaborate with a high-end broadcast camera system designer like David Bradley”.

CV-PT-HEAD comes with 3 mounting plate sizes to accommodate a wide range of Marshall POV Cameras including the CV500-series and CV300-series. When combined with Marshall’s CV355-10X zoom block camera, creates the smallest robotic PTZ camera system on the market. CV-PT-HEAD also comes with a patch-cable that connects PT head base to camera to power and control camera settings such as zoom, focus, exposure, white balance, pedestal, and more.

Mo-Sys’ StarTracker Studio is specifically designed to provide a complete switched-camera system for users new to virtual production or without the skills to create a VP studio solution from scratch. It is a complete three-camera 4K virtual studio system which can be expanded to source from up to eight cameras. Fully configured with pre-calibrated lenses, integral graphics processing and 4K recording, it transforms a compact studio space into a much larger virtual studio without need for physical set construction.

The virtual production software used in StarTracker Studio is Mo-Sys’ VP Pro, which is embedded directly into the Unreal Engine’s editor interface. This architecture approach enables new versions of VP Pro to be released the same day as Epic releases new versions of Unreal Engine, meaning users have immediate access to new Unreal features. Using StarTracker Studio, virtual sets can be switched almost instantly and augmented to include remote guests or superimposed objects.

Photo-realistic graphic capabilities include occlusion handling which allows a presenter to walk in front of or behind a virtual object, and reflection mapping which intelligently adds reflections to adjacent virtual objects. Among additional features are soft shadow lighting effects and depth-of-field lens emulation. Also part of the installation, StarTracker Viewfinder is a wireless-linked handheld monitor that behaves like a virtual camera. It allows directors, video effects supervisors and cinematographers to frame a scene and create camera moves without having to guess where the virtual objects are.

multiCAM’s new Tracker software combines multiple tracking data (FreeD) to create virtual camera single tracking data for augmented reality and xR processors. It allows operators and integrators to manage offsets and calibration outside the processor. A 3D diewer and graph log are included. “Our aim is to allow broadcast organisations to achieve more on lower budgets without requiring a lot of technical experience,” says CEO Stan Walbert.

Panasonic has announced five new remote PTZ cameras. The UHD AW-UE80W/K, AW-UE50W/K, AW-UE40W/K, AW-UE20W/K and the HD AW-HE20W/K will be introduced from Q1 2022. The AW-UE40, AW-UE50 and AW-UE80 will have a 24x optical zoom and up to a 36x intelligent zoom, as well as a 74.1 degree viewing angle and optical image stabilisation. All five cameras will support PoE, NDI|HX version 2 and, in the case of the AW-UE80, full-bandwidth NDI. The SRT protocol will also be supported alongside RTMP and RTMPS. The AW-UE80 is compatible with the FreeD protocol to allow integration with AR and VR systems. “Panasonic PTZ cameras have been used at venues of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, including the Japan National Stadium and the Tokyo Aquatics Centre,” says Guilhem Krier, Head of New Business & Market Development for MEBD & DSC business units.

Shotoku systems cover live camera motion for almost any type of TV studio.  Developments in control systems and additional pan/tilt heads and elevators continue to expand the company’s product range.

AutoFrame is Shotoku’s new face tracking/recognition tool enabling higher levels of studio automation.  Within the studio itself, advances in Shotoku’s integrated PTZ control allow broadcasters to use third-party PTZ heads with the TI-11 elevator combined with broadcast camera channels under the motion control. “Automation and remote operation has long been at the forefront of advances in live news studio production,” says Shotoku UK MD James Eddershaw. “This has increased over the past two years. We continue to focus on developments at the highest levels of on-air performance, at the same time supporting deeper integration with cost-effective PTZ solutions to suit all applications and budgets.”

Sony’s BRC-X1000 4K remote camera is designed to capture images in hard-to-reach or unobtrusive positions. Intended applications include TV newsrooms, remote studios and on-air suites, auditoriums, courtrooms and sports stadiums. Features include a 1 inch CMOS image sensor allowing tight depth-of-field effects, 12x optical zoom extendable with interpolation to 48x in 1920 x 1080 HD. PTZ Trace Memory allows a sequence of camera movements to be memorised and followed. PTZ Motion Sync blends separate pan, tilt and zoom movements for seamless transitions. Up to 100 pre set positions for PTZ operations can be stored. The BRC-X1000 can operate at light levels down to 1.7 lux, making it suitable for dimly lit interior venues. It is genlockable and can be controlled with Sony’s RCP-1500/1501/1530 and MSU-1000/1500 remote control panels. Dual tally lamps are included and options are available to allow ceiling, tabletop or tripod mounting. Video connectivity includes IP and support for PoE+. Real-time PTZ/focus/iris data can be output from the camera in Free-D protocol.

Telemetrics’ ever-evolving Robotic Camera Control Panel (RCCP-2A) with reFrame™ Automatic Shot Correction technology now combines facial tracking and object tracking to enable users to more accurately track talent or live presenters as they move and turn their heads on camera. This means that if someone is not facing directly at the camera, it will still track them. ReFrame is included with the Telemetrics STS (Studio) and LGS (Legislative) software for the RCCP-2A Robotic Camera Control Panel.

The new features for reFrame make it more accurate and useful than ever before. It’s also great for non-studio applications, like auditoriums, houses of worship, corporate presentation spaces, schools, where talent often turn their heads to interact with a video wall. This can be a challenge when trying to track a person correctly.

Previously, with facial tracking alone, the technology had to lock on the talent’s face to be effective. With object tracking the system is looking at the entire body structure of the person. Although the person might turn, the camera still locks on to their torso, arms and legs and tracks them accordingly. The powerful combination of facial and object tracking allows the system to track the speaker even if they turn completely around for the camera.

Facial tracking is equally important to Telemetrics, as if you have two people in frame, the camera can still track the correct person. With other systems on the market that perform object tracking, they don’t know who to track. The new features of reFrame allow for camera zooming and two-person tracking. During a talk show or a two-shot in news of the anchor and co-anchor, the software ensures that both people remain in frame with no human intervention with the system.

Reframe is invaluable when used in tandem with the Telemetrics OmniGlide™ Robotic Roving Platform and RoboEye 4K Pan/Tilt Camera System.

XD Motion produces a complete robotic camera system based on the company’s Arcam six-axis arm and IO.BOT software. The system can be set on a pedestal, ceiling mounted or configured to work with a motion control dolly track.

“The role of the camera operator is becoming increasingly specialised given the ever growing complexity of systems and increasing choice of management software,” says XD-Motion CEO Benoit Dentan. “Arcam is designed to ease the burden. Our software works alongside our robots and is also able to control third-party PTZ heads. ability to centralise multiple functions makes operation of a project much easier.”