Robotic Camera Systems Update

  • With 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...

Camera robotics continues to be an area of fast technical development, not least in the transition from manually controlled remote camera operation to automated tracking. Also notable is the advance into higher quality imagers, allowing easier intercut between compact UHD HDR pan/tilt/zoom cameras and broadcast studio cameras. This article looks at some of the most recent developments.

Canon's CR-N700 is a 4K UHD 60p 4:2:2 10 bit PTZ camera with 12G-SDI connectivity. Designed for broadcast, studios production and live event coverage, it has a 1.0 Type CMOS sensor and DIGIC DV7 processor. Features include 15x optical zoom in UHD, extending to 30x when capturing in HD, plus autofocus and image stabilisation. Night Mode allows operators to source content in low light via an inbuilt IR filter. HDR operation in PQ or HLG is supported. The camera can auto-track designated presenters as they move and even when they turn their face away. Eye Detection AF locks onto the subject’s pupil while Face Priority AF allows operators to prioritise a specific individual. The CR-N700's crop function allows a region of interest within a UHD frame to be output as a separate feed in HD.

Egripment describes its DigiLite as an easy-to-use robotics system offering quick set up, easy cabling and remote IP control via a simple user interface. "One of many advantages of DigiLite is the time needed to set up and configuring the heads for control," says CEO Philippe Tresfon. "Controlling the remote heads over just one IP cable centralised to a wall-box, for example, saves a lot of time in running cables for complex events such as sports. DigiLite systems can be set up and operated by anyone in the field, from camera guys to camera assistants. For cabling and signal output, you can use SIP trunking to hitchhike on fibre. The data signal from the remote head enters the SIP trunk of the camera and exits at the base station near the OB truck. Up to eight camera heads can be operated via our new and improved Multi Control Box or control a single head directly using our PanBar MkII system."

Ikegami's R2 Real Remote production system is designed to allow efficient remote camera operation between the studio and the sub-control room as well as ensuring social distancing and studio crowd avoidance when necessary to guard against infection, particularly in close-up sequences. It is intended for use with cameras such as the compact full broadcast quality UHL-43. Support is provided by a six-axis programmable articulated robot arm mounted on a motorised pedestal. This combination allows fast changes in camera height from a minimum of 400mm to a maximum of 2,350mm above floor level. Integral automation enables dynamic camera motion to be achieved. Individual or simultaneous changes in the angle of view can be captured live and stored as a preset. Camera and support movements can be reproduced directly from stored memory. Multi-vector motion sequences can be achieved under timeline-based control. Forward, backward, sideways and height parameters can all be rehearsed, stored and adjusted, including bird's-eye views. Motion data can be entered via  combination of GUI and real-time or recordable joystick control. A viewfinder in the GUI displays the incoming video. Occupying 1,100mm in pedestal width and depth, the R2 is more compact than a traditional studio crane and can be relocated easily from one studio to another.

MRMC added several new products to its broadcast line-up during 2022. All AFC-100 models were upgraded and now include the ability to output FreeD data. The PTA-2 studio head made its debut, along with a big box lens version of the product called the PTA-2B. "Our first fully automated remotely controlled auto-jib system (AJS-1) is now in operation, as well as the TRH-1 studio track robotic system," says Paddy Taylor, MRMC's Head of Broadcast. "We also released two new PTZ movement products. The QRS quiet rail system) and LLS (light lift system) enable left, right, up and down motion for PTZ cameras, as well as our own AFC heads. New features were also added to our award-winning Polymotion Chat automatic tracking software, including facial recognition which allows the software to automatically load presenter profiles. These additions speak to the continued popularity of the PTZ camera, and the desire for customers to do more than simply pan and tilt. This trend is forecast to continue into 2023 and 2024 and was one of the considerations for our acquisition of Slidekamera, a well-regarded manufacturer of pan/tilt heads, sliders, and rails. Slidekamera systems are already integrated with ours and allow their products to be controlled by Polymotion Chat. We have already seen many MRMC customers embrace their lower-cost sliders. One of these is an elegant curved rail solution that is suitable for all studios and doesn’t cost the earth. With the continued move to LED volumes, we have also seen a marked increase in enquiries for our Studiobot XL robotic arm.  The 20kg payload allows it to take a full-sized camera along with a teleprompter. Customers can create a lot of movement in a very small space or with a track can offer moves that no other product can."

multiCAM's 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 viewer 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 describes its new AW-UE160W/K as a next-generation 4K integrated camera, offering high-quality and high efficiency video production for customers involved in broadcasting and live event coverage. With a sensitivity of F14/2,000lx, which is equivalent to studio cameras, it is designed to offer clear, clean images even when shooting moving subject in dimly lit locations. Additionally the UE160 is equipped with a 20x zoom lens and an improved-generation engine that maximises image sensor performance, improved image quality, and greater AF performance. This includes new noise reduction (sD), afterimage-less 3DNR, and intelligent detail. Panasonic's newly developed PDAF, Optical Phase Detection Autofocus, enables high-speed focusing and can be used to televise fast-moving subjects. The UE160 supports the SMPTE ST2110 IP transmission standard and allows wireless transmission with the industry’s first 5G mobile router via USB tethering. It also supports return input and a rear tally lamp. A cropping zoom function can output multiple video angles using a single camera, along with 2xhigh-speed HD output from SDI/HDMI. Supported interfaces and protocols include high bandwidth NDI, NDI|HX, SRT, FreeD and RTMP/RTMPS. Additionally, support for scene files, colour matrix control, and Panasonic's Remote Operation Panel software for batch management of multiple cameras is provided. Waveform display and horizontal level gauge display functions are included. “The UE160 bridges the gap between our PTZ offering and live studio cameras," says Nigel Wilkes, ProAV/Broadcast Sales Manager UK & Ireland.

Ross Video recently acquired spidercam, specialist in broadcast cable camera systems. The spidercam LIGHT system is suspended on four cables with winches that navigate a camera dolly in 3D space using a stabilised head. The main components (three-axis gyro stabilised remote head with active roll axis and endless pan) are still the same but developments have now enabled the system, known as the Mk3, to cover an area of up to 90 (previously 70) metres with high-speed tracking at 9 (previously 4.5) metres per second. This means it can match the acceleration and speed of the larger FIELD system but with a smaller footprint. "The Mk3 also supports two different dolly types, the Field Dolly+ which is designed for larger venue applications and provides clear, shake-free images, and the Light Dolly+ providing a higher flying space and is less visible," comments Karen Walker, Ross Video's VP of Camera Motion Systems. "The company also has solutions for indoor production environments including studios. Available in UHD camera packages, spidercam enables integration with Ross graphics and render engines as well as third-party render sets. There’s the option to add a teleprompter and microphone for in-field/venue interviews too. We’ve also been working together producing live augmented reality."  The Mk3 has already been used on projects including FIFA World Cup 2022.

Shotoku continues to innovate with new products and new features being added to the range throughout 2022 and set to continue into 2023. "Demand for robotic camera systems remains as strong as ever, arguably increased since the pandemic," says Shotoku UK Managing Director James Eddershaw. "Earlier in 2022 we launched the new TG-47 pan and tilt head, aimed at mid-sized payloads and especially towards ceiling mounted rail systems. Almost any application where local manual operation is not required yet a teleprompter of useable size is necessary. When used with a ceiling mounted SmartRail, the TG-47 gives the perfect balance between a good-sized payload yet is lightweight itself which makes installation easier.

"Our TI-11X Elevator pedestal is designed for applications requiring high-quality on-air height movement but where a traditional pneumatically balanced manual pedestal is not necessary. Its compact and highly stable three-wheel design ensures great on-air shots at all times and is easily manoeuvred using the integral handle and adjustable cable guards. All power and control electronics are contained within the base and connections to the head are provided via the integrated cable management chain to create a neat, compact overall package. The TI-11X complements our other elevator control options including the TI-11 simple elevator pedestal and TI-12 bolt-on precision height drive for manual pedestals. Like all our products, the TI-11X is fully compatible with VR/AR applications. With a total payload of 90kg, the pedestal is ideal for use with the TG-18i pan and tilt head or the smaller TG-27 and TG-47 heads if the camera payload is smaller and no manual operation is required. "The TI-11X is compatible with another new Shotoku development called Absolute Locating System or AL-S. 

A simplified MoSys StarTracker optical tracking systems is integrated into the TG-18iVR head providing regular (but non-realtime) updates on the TI-11X pedestal's X-Y floor location. This enables a cost effective solution for VR/AR studios where the TI-11X may be repositioned off-air between programme segments and the VR system is updated with the new precise floor position just a few seconds after relocating - ready to begin the next segment, on air - using pan/tilt/zoom/focus and height tracking only. This saves the cost of a high-end realtime XY tracked solution when this may not always be necessary."

Sony describes its FR7 as the world’s first pan/tilt/zoom camera to combine a full-frame image sensor, lens interchangeability, and remote shooting functionality. Features include a back-illuminated 35mm CMOS Exmor R sensor with approximately 10.3 effective megapixels and 15+ stop latitude. Pan, tilt, zoom, focus, record, playback,and all camera settings can be controlled from a tablet or computer web browser. Multi cameras can be viewed remotely on one device. A single RM-IP500 unit can remotely control up to 100 PTZ cameras.

"The cinematic look and feel is rapidly becoming the norm in broadcasting and live production as it opens up new ways to tell a narrative," comments Olivier Bovis, Head of Media Solutions, Sony Europe. "In parallel, over the last two years, we've seen a steep rise in content created remotely or in small locations where access is difficult." The sensitivity setting allows ISO to be expanded up to 409,600 when shooting in low light. In the Cine EI mode, base sensitivity can be set to either ISO 800 or ISO 12800 to match lighting conditions and to minimise noise while maintaining a consistent look. Shooting at up to 120 fps 4K and 240 fps HD slow-motion is possible.

Telemetrics reports increased demand for its PT-RE-2 RoboEye robotic 4K Pan/Tilt camera system across the broadcast, corporate AV, concert hall and parliamentary sectors. "Price is not always the determining factor in our customers’ buying decisions," says the company's Vice President, Michael Cuomo. "They want reliability, performance and ergonomics in their robotic camera systems and the RoboEye deliver on all fronts. The RoboEye 4K pan/tilt camera system, with its 1-inch Sony Exmor 4K sensor block, is claimed to offer the highest quality image acquisition, at 30 or 60 fps, of any compact robotic camera in its class. 12G output is available via SDI BNC connectors. For longer links, fibre can be connected via a customer-supplied SFP module. With advanced servo motors and image stabilisation, the RoboEye can perform precise ultra-quiet smooth moves that are ideal for live on-air operation, while its 60p (HD) frame rate accurately captures fast moving action. In addition, the system's 4K sensor and built-in ND filters deliver the sensitivity and exposure latitude required for a variety of lighting situations." When paired with the latest Telemetrics RCCP-2A robotics and camera control panel and optional STS Studio or LGS Legislative software packages, the RoboEye uses artificial intelligence and facial recognition algorithms built into the company’s reFrame talent tracking technology to keep subjects in frame.

The software locks the camera onto the talent and automatically trims the shot, without the operator ever having to touch the controls. An RJ45 PoE network interface which allows users to access video, control, and data - and supply power to the system - via a single cable. It also accommodates USB and serial interfaces. H.264 and H.265 output (selectable) is included for live streaming directly from the camera, and a browers-based GUI provides simplified control from virtually anywhere.

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."