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What Next? testing the limits of immersive live TV

New Zealand’s leading post production facility Department of Post combines AR and VR elements into a series of live broadcasts for Ruckus Media’s What Next? on TVNZ

What Next? is a five-part, live and interactive series that explores what New Zealand could look like in 2037. In addition to futurist content, the production itself has taken a similar, meta view, also considering what live television could look like at that time. 

What Next? is a studio based show, but unlike any live studio show we’ve seen before. For the first time New Zealanders will work together in real time, across multiple platforms to create a vision for the future of NZ in 2037,” says Ruckus Head of Production, Arwen O’Connor. 

Department of Post is known for pushing the boundaries of technology, their innovative, forward-thinking ethos democratizes access to the world’s best production technology, for content creators at every level. They have Auckland’s only DCI grading theater, and are the only end-to-end standards-driven UHD HDR capable post facility in New Zealand. The challenge of exploring and executing a production like What Next? In collaboration with the University of Auckland, Perceptual Engineering, NZ Live and Ruckus Media was a natural fit. Arwen O’Connor explains:

“Broadcasting live from a custom built futuristic studio set, this series is highly complex and pushing the limits of existing technology. Department of Post have been working with us at Ruckus on bringing our creative vision to life, working on all technical aspects of the live studio OB, studio build and video elements to create this landmark series.” 

Department of Post are the Technical Producers of What Next?, providing Workflow Supervision and bridging the gap between the divergent expertise of Perceptual Engineering and NZ Live. They also had to devise robust enough experimental workflows, stable enough to be trusted for a live, nationwide on-air production. 
“Although we are a post facility, this project is not really outside of our comfort zone, because we’re always using available technology in creative ways. We want to say “yes” to our clients’ vision, helping them to develop new ways to engage the audience without technical constraint,” says Department of Post GM and Workflow Supervisor, James Brookes.

Reconfiguring existing live broadcast workflows to accommodate the vision of the production, Department of Post CTO James Gardner has overcome the limitations of current technologies by combining existing solutions with DIY-style innovation.  

“We had to explore all sorts of camera tracking technologies, until we found something we could make reliable for use on-air. We combined existing production and post production technologies to create an entirely new toolset, because in order to envision broadcasts of the future, we couldn’t use existing tools as they stand.”

Stype GRIP is used to track XYZ values and send metadata from 3 of the 4 Sony F5 cameras, to control pre-made 3D models in the live studio environment. While integrating AR content live generally requires limited camera movement, a true vision of the future would not. Therefore Gardner worked with Canon to develop new lens data protocols, adding to the existing Stype information, allowing for the primary cameras to be fully mobile on technocranes in the broadcast studio. 

Cameras feeding and receiving complex data sets in real-time from the NZ Live OB Truck, are complemented by the addition of two on-set Holo-tables. Similar to the emerging technology of Microsoft’s Hololens, live objects appear from the tables, which the presenters interact with as part of the discussion. Additional graphical elements are driven by viewer interaction across social media and a dedicated website. 

The greatest challenge for the Technical Producers of What Next? was solving multiple time-delays caused by complex intermediate protocols, and ensuring that the live broadcast could showcase not only the futurists’ discussion, but the tech futurists’ vision for media consumption. 

What Next? is a conversation with New Zealanders about what’s important and what we need to do to protect the things we love about our country for the next generation” says host, Nigel Latta. 

The series will be broadcast live on TV One, 8:30pm Sunday 11 to Thursday 15th June 2017, and be available to stream on tvnz.co.nz.

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