NHK Bullet Time camera systemAmazing. It would look -- amazing. And this isn't something I thought up in a wonderful wonderful dream I had. (If it was, it would've been Muggsy Bogues dunking on Hakeem Olajuwon and then high-fiving David Robinson before dismounting off of the backboard in a fiery double gainer.) This is what we could see every time we turn on a game if broadcasters use a bullet time camera system developed by Japanese broadcasting company NHK. The multi-viewpoint remote-controlled camera setup could take instant replays in sports to a whole new -- very exciting level.

Though the concept of bullet time is no new thing (The Matrix being only one, but the most obvious example,) NHK has created a much more versatile and sophisticated setup. Developed specifically for live sports broadcasting, the setup employs an array of 8 motion tracking cameras that record from all different angles of a shot and are controlled by a central camera. Action shots can be more easily captured and render a much smoother image, since the object can be tracked over a larger area. An NHK rep says:

Using this system, you can create the effect of stopping time and moving the viewpoint all around the subject -- Previous methods used a fixed camera, so they could only capture subjects moving in a narrow or limited space. But this multi-viewpoint robot camera system can film dynamically moving sports, or subjects at lots of locations in an extensive space.

Check out the video below to see the camera setup in action.

According to the video, each camera is equipped with two motors that allow it to pan and tilt. The cameras also share lens data that gives them the capability to zoom and pull in unison. An Imaging Resource article broke it down further:

What's unique here is that the cameras aren't just panning and tilting in lockstep, they're rotating by varying amounts, to overcome the extreme parallax between their respective locations, so they're all "looking" at exactly the same point.

NHK Bullet Time camera setupBut, how fast is the turnaround? It seems like producing the final product of these images would be time-consuming, but an NHK rep says, "Pictures from this system can be sent out about one minute after filming is finished." In the NHK press release it states that "faster image processing and automatic editing and feeds moreover allow for multi-view images to be used in a timely manner during a live telecast or sporting event."

There are some obvious drawbacks, or perhaps only concerns regarding using a rig like this. For one: the number of cameras and gear needed to produce one specific kind of shot. Secondly: the amount of data storage needed to capture all of the footage. I'm sure that this is going to be -- expensive.

At least from a viewer's perspective, as opposed to a user's, I'm excited to see this setup in action in a game/match/pretty much any other sports competition other than curling (no offense curling fans.) So, keep an eye out for further developments of this rig. I know I'll be waiting with bated breath every time I watch the NBA or FIFA -- and how great would it be to see a Matrix-style replay of a bicycle kick or unwarranted response to an injury? Until then -- I will dream.

What do you think of NHK's bullet time camera system? Where else would you like to see it be used other than in live sports broadcasting?