Canon U.S.A., Inc., a leader in digital imaging, has expanded the frontiers of optical performance for broadcast TV production with its new HJ14ex4.3B wide-angle portable HDTV lens. In addition to an unprecedented 4.3mm wide angle of view and a 14x zoom range, the new lens also features advanced data connections that facilitate the creation of dynamic, visually appealing virtual studio environments. The creative options offered by its powerful combination of advanced features are being fully exploited by Intertainment Broadcasting Corp. (iBC) of Irvine, CA.
“Our virtual studio system enables us to change our on-air sets anywhere from six to twelve times in a three-hour period,” explained Chris Mapes, VP of engineering at iBC. “Virtual sets are the only way to accomplish this, given studio space and time limitations. Virtual sets look great and they enable us to design specific environments for particular vendors, which gives us very targeted marketing along with ultimate flexibility for our physical space.”
The portion of the HJ14ex4.3B wide-angle portable HDTV lens that enables integration with virtual studio systems is its Digital Drive unit. Designed to allow camera operators to program lens zoom positions and speeds, as well as focus and iris settings, the unit also includes connectors to output positional data into virtual studio systems. Such systems include a render engine that generates a computer graphic image of a “set” that looks convincing to viewers, but which doesn’t actually exist. (“Virtual sets” can be changed at will, and don’t require the construction, storage, and labor costs associated with real sets.) Combined with additional data from camera mounts, data from the HJ14ex4.3B enables the render engine to instantly “redraw” the image of the virtual set when on-air studio talent moves or lens settings change. The result is a convincing illusion for TV viewers.
“We use the data from our two Canon HJ14ex4.3B wide-angle HD lenses and two Canon HJ22ex7.6B long focal-length HD lenses live-to-air with our virtual studio system six hours a day, seven days a week,” stated Mapes. “One of our biggest priorities is to make sure that all of our equipment is totally reliable on a day-to-day basis, as our margin for error is very small. Canon’s HD lenses give us that reliability.”
“Lenses traditionally present the largest degree of difficulty when it comes to virtual studios, but Canon’s internal encoding makes it simple.” —Chris Mapes, VP of Engineering at iBC
“Virtual studios require high-quality internal lens data,” continued Mapes. “Canon has been making strides to reliably track that data at the quality level we need. We take the internal encoder values out of the Canon lenses for zoom and focus, and we feed it—along with data feedback from the rest of the HD camera system—into a real-time render engine, which drives the 3D data comprising the virtual studio set. Lenses traditionally present the largest degree of difficulty when it comes to virtual studios, but Canon’s internal encoding makes it simple because we don’t have to rely on manual input with the possibility of human error. We are particularly happy with the reliability of the encoders in the Canon HD lenses.”
“Direct digital integration of encoder data for zoom, iris, and focus settings into virtual studio systems is yet another user benefit provided by many of Canon’s 2/3-inch portable HDTV lenses,” noted Larry Thorpe, national marketing executive, Broadcast and Communications division, Canon U.S.A. “The new HJ14ex4.3B wide-angle portable HDTV lens advances this capability to an exacting degree with Canon’s updated design of the associated Digital Drive unit, which incorporates Canon-developed, ultra-compact rotary encoders capable of 0.1um position detection. These encoders employ our unique Micro Roofmirror Array (MRA) technology to produce 16-bit resolution of the zoom, iris, and focus control positioning. This provides camera operators with the ability to digitally program precise and repeatable settings into their lenses for focus, iris, and zoom positions and speeds. In addition to MRA capability, the Digital Drive unit also includes a connector to output this lens data so it can be used by virtual studio systems.”
“As for the optical performance of the HJ14ex4.3B itself, we believe it to be the world’s widest-angle lens in the professional realm of 2/3-inch lenses, the market for which continues to grow,” added Thorpe. “The HJ14 design incorporates years of input from the worldwide community of Canon’s HJ11ex4.7B users, which had been the Company’s widest 2/3-inch portable HDTV lens. Canon applied its R&D efforts to the HJ14 to make the new lens even wider but with reduced chromatic aberrations, minimized geometric distortion, negligible focus breathing, and an increased focal range. An expanded contrast range and higher resolution provide HD images of exceptional sharpness. New optical and optomechanical techniques were mobilized to minimize optical artifacts caused by strong light sources. Canon’s HJ22ex7.6B long focal-length, portable zoom lens, which iBC is also using, is the longest focal length portable HDTV production lens offered by Canon (without an image stabilization system). It too features an advanced Digital Drive unit that outputs data for virtual studio systems.”
“On top of the ability of the HJ14ex4.3B to output encoder information, we are impressed with the superior optics of the lens,” stated Mapes. “This helps us in situations unique to virtual studios, such as keystoning and in close-ups, where the physical distortion of a lens can cause tracking-space errors.”
“A lot of times with wide-angle lenses, you have to sacrifice on the telephoto side,” continued Mapes. “The HJ14ex4.3B is amazing because it gives us more on the telephoto side, as well as on the wide side. Our director was thrilled to gain on both sides. Usually you give up one to get the other.”
“I’d say that the HJ14ex4.3B is one of the lynch pins involved in our whole virtual studio process,” summarized Mapes. “To have the reliability of good camera tracking, one of the largest obstacles is getting great lens/optical data. Canon’s HJ14ex4.3B wide-angle portable HDTV lens delivers the precise data we need at a fantastic price point.”