Norwegian TV and the Chess Olympiad

by Albert Silver
8/22/2014 – With the chess explosion in Norway, and the Chess Olympiad just around the corner, NRK, the largest TV network in Norway was stuck wondering how they would approach the idea of live broadcasts for multiple boards, since what is fine in a browser might not be suitable for national TV. Solve it they did, broadcast it they did, and they published a detailed article on how they did it.

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While the vast majority of readers who followed the live coverage of the Chess Olympiad will have followed the games with the endless multimedia broadcasting provided by ChessBase on Playchess, or even the live coverage of the official site, NRK was a key element to the latter, since all the actual video of the boards came from the television broadcaster.

Ole Rolfsrud was the coordinator behind the TV presentation

The TV studio was placed with a view onto the playing hall

Ole Rolfsrud speaks with Espen Agdestein, the manager of Magnus Carlsen

After his historic win over Magnus Carlsen, Arkadij Naiditsch was interviewed for his impressions

TV viewers saw this on their television screens when the games were being analyzed

An archive of the full TV coverage can be found here.

NRK published an incredibly detailed article on the technical challenges they faced, and how
they solved them, from the software solutions used, to the cameras and hardware

NRK breaks new ground to show chess on television

by Jon Ståle Carlsen

When The Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) planned the television broadcast of the now ongoing Chess Olympiad 2014 in Tromsø, Norway, we encountered a challenge: How do we mix video, graphics and the results of many ongoing chess games simultaneously? The solution included a rack full of mini-switchers, open source, HTML5 code still in beta – and a bunch of $80 miniature computers.

 

Illustration showing how various elements in the broadcast from each match is put together

Challenging images

A challenge for us when it came to images, was that the players are seated very close to each other in a gigantic hall, with the audience in close proximity to many of the tables. This means it is often packed with spectators in front of tables. Although the games should be seated in a silent hall, players still are able to leave their seat and walk around between the tables.

An overview of the huge playing hall

This makes it complicated to film with big manually operated cameras we traditionally would use. Mainly because it is difficult to find positions that can cover many games, but also because we do not have any guarantee that it will not be any audience, judges, officials or players standing in the way of our cameras.

Our plan was thus adjusted to use small unmanned wide-angle cameras mounted right next to each of the tables.

(...)

Only for TV

Since the product we were creating only would be used on TV, it was less natural to solve the task using basic web technology. We began to look for solutions where we could stick to our production format for television, which is 1080i50 via HD-SDI.

Better camera

When it came to cameras, the Canon XA25 seemed like a perfect fit. They are small handycams that in addition to the usual HDMI output also outputs HD-SDI. Also practical was that we already had a lot of these cameras at the NRK.

NRK explains that the Canon XA25 was considered the best fit for the job. No fewer than
sixteen cameras were used.

From Sweden with help

In order to execute the graphics and put it all together, one of the software solutions we looked at was CasparCG. This is an open-source graphics and video playing server, developed by our colleagues at Sweden’s Television. It runs on powerful Windows 7 PCs with an Nvidia graphics card and supports HD-SDI in and out via a Decklink PCIe card.

Adobe Flash?? In 2014???

A disadvantage to CasparCG is that it uses the now aging technology Adobe Flash to create all graphics that changes dynamically during production. In our case, this meant all text, chess pieces and the computer evaluation.

The inside of the production van where all the TV magic took place (photo by NRK)

(...)

The article is extremely detailed, and the above is but the smallest snippet of what can be
found within. It makes for fascinating reading and we heartily recommend it, but be warned
it has more than its fair share of technicalities.

Click for the full article




Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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oleppedersen oleppedersen 8/25/2014 12:09
The TV coverage was excellent for ordinary viewers and club players, with one or two gems for the experts, including a fantastic commentary by Magnus Carlsen on his own thought process in one game. And you could follow any board live, with computer evaluation, in a great framework that was very easy to access. Surprised the company that FIDE has given media rights to, has the come up with something remotely as good. Irony present in that last sentence.
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