Image sensors and vision systems

5 min

AZilPix: filming and broadcasting events becomes a one-man show

AZilPix, a brand-new start-up from imec and Hasselt University, has just launched a solution which makes it possible to capture and edit complex events with a single operator – thereby finding the ideal trade-off between quality, cost and ease-of-use.

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Capturing (live) events is a costly and complex process. It requires highly specialized and sizeable teams of cameramen and technicians to make sure the on-site cameras capture the right things at the right time. For organizers of large-scale events – such as the Premier League soccer or the Eurovision Song Contest – this is typically not too much of a problem: they have the budget to install multi-camera set-ups, along with the necessary crew. But organizers of smaller productions (think of local music festivals or the yearly musical performed by the town’s high-school) are usually unable to record their events with the desired, professional quality. AZilPix, a brand-new start-up from imec and Hasselt University, has just launched a solution that addresses this need. Its Studio.One system of high-resolution cameras, video processing servers and intelligent software makes it possible to capture and edit complex events with a single operator – thereby finding the ideal trade-off between quality, cost and ease-of-use. “We are the only ones who can offer this today,” the AZilPix founders claim.

Putting smaller events in the spotlight

Capturing complex events on camera is almost an art form. To offer viewers the most compelling experience – and to make sure they don’t miss out on any action – cameramen need to be in the right place at the right time. Building on their experience, they can even anticipate the protagonists’ moves to get the perfect shot in the best of angles. First-tier events, such as Formula 1 races or music festivals like Tomorrowland, have the financial means to hire these teams of highly-skilled operators and supporting technicians. However, organizers of most mid-level events (local sports events, talk shows, conferences, etc.) lack the resources to do so… Best-case scenario, they can record what’s going on at one (or one part of the) stage.

Within this context, professor Philippe Bekaert (imec - Hasselt University), Jan Looijmans (former VP EMEA of Grass Valley), Michel de Wolf (former CTO of EVS) and Arjan Akkermans (CEO of Carrosserie Akkermans) joined forces with AXON Digital Design. Together, they laid the foundation of AZilPix. Its mission: to bring efficient video capturing within the reach of organizations of all sizes.

A start-up from imec and Hasselt University, AZilPix builds on 15 years of research in video capturing and advanced pixel processing to fundamentally change how video content is captured and disseminated – thereby finding the ideal trade-off between quality, cost and ease-of-use.

How it works

AZilPix’s Studio.One solution comes with major advantages. An array of high-resolution cameras with wide-angle lenses registers any event from multiple angles – without the need for human operators. Features such as camera pan, tilt and zoom are altered during post-production. As such, it becomes possible to capture and edit complex events with just a single operator.

Concretely, Studio.One is a readily-deployable video capturing system that consists of three tightly integrated components: cameras, custom-built video processing servers and intelligent software:

  • Sets of stand-alone, ultra-high-resolution cameras (equipped with wide-angle and/or fish-eye lenses) capture every aspect of a live event – something that used to require the skills of a small army of cameramen.
  • Custom-built video processing servers gather the cameras’ video streams and enable the recording and live processing of the data – thanks to a high-performance pixel processing engine which can process up to four billion pixels per second (almost two orders of magnitude more than full-HD TV).
  • Ultra-high performance algorithms correct lens and geometric distortions, take care of noise reduction, Bayer demosaicing and color processing, and provide ‘virtual camera’ crops.

And, finally, Studio.One has been extended with a very easy and intuitive user interface, allowing a single operator to select, frame, crop and zoom in on the images in post-production.

“With Studio.One we’re bringing to the market not just a better camera or a server with a higher capacity. It’s a radically new way of capturing events,” says Philippe Bekaert (imec - Hasselt University, and CTO of AZilPix). “Importantly, Studio.One is an open system that can easily be integrated in existing production environments. It can even be controlled remotely if operator access to the event site is undesirable – when the system is used to capture surgical interventions, for instance. And on top of traditional video broadcasting, Studio.One supports real-time 360˚ video and virtual reality productions as well.”

Want to see how AZilPix works? Have a look at the following 1-minute video.

A field-proven solution

Over the last couple of years, AZilPix’s Studio.One technology and its various components have been successfully tested in numerous venues – including the Main Square Festival (France) and the ‘Dwars door Vlaanderen’ UCI World Tour bicycle race. On the market since September 2016, Studio.One has already secured its first customers. Digital & Media Solutions (D&MS), a Dutch-based video production house, is one of them.

“We are using Studio.One for high-quality live broadcasts and streaming of events such as talk shows and university lectures,” says Jan Derksen, Managing Director at Digital & Media Solutions. “We opted for the Studio.One solution from AZilPix because of the quality of its cameras, its limited latency, the flexibility that comes with its open architecture, and its one-man operation. Obviously, we compared Studio.One with other systems, but none have the same level of flexibility or the open control structure. Also in terms of picture quality, no competitor comes close to what AZilPix can achieve.”

Next steps

Market-wise, AZilPix’s primary focus is on both traditional and online video broadcasters. Parallel to that, the company has also received a lot of attention from the health market – as Studio.One could for instance be used to broadcast surgical operations for education purposes. And several sport events organizations have already shown interest in the company’s innovative product as well.

AZilPix’s small-size cameras and openness to third-party solutions also makes them an ideal partner for first tier events – increasing users’ immersive experience by enabling nonintrusive, close camera positions.

“Supported by 15 years of intensive research and the unique expertise that is brought by each of the partners, our solution is unique – even on an international level,” assures Jan Looijmans (CEO of AZilPix). “We are currently in talks with potential clients in the US and the Middle East. We are ready to go global.”

Exemplary of Studio.One’s global potential is the fact that – on April 26 – it won the IABM Game Changer Award in the ‘Acquisition & Production’ category during the NAB Show in Las Vegas. Award winners have to demonstrate not only real innovation, but also deliver significant operational and business benefits that open up new opportunities. According to the jury, Studio.One contains an exceptional feature set and comes with a significant reduction in cost of production as well. They claimed that, in today’s world of remote control, AZilPix produced the ‘Mother of All Features’…

Meet the founders

Jan Looijmans is the CEO of AZilPix. Before launching the company in December 2015, he was VP EMEA region at Grass Valley, a Canadian manufacturer of television production and broadcasting equipment. He has been active in the media market for more than 30 years and is a highly-experienced business manager.

Philippe Bekaert is the CTO of AZilPix, being responsible for the underlying video capture and pixel processing engine technology. He is a full professor and project leader at imec - Hasselt University, where he has acquired around 15 years of research experience in media technology, image, video and audio processing and broadcasting systems.

Michel Dewolf is AZilPix’s integration and interfacing responsible. He founded DWESAB engineering in 1987, a company specialized in service and software R&D for operating workflows, reality-TV and management of TV stations. After the company merged with EVS Broadcast Equipment (where he acted as CTO), in 2008 he launched DWESAM, focusing on creative engineering.

Arjan Akkermans is one of the co-founders of AZilPix. He is the CEO of the Royal Carrosserie Akkermans, a Netherlands-based coach work company and family business since 1811, whose available products include broadcast vehicles, which are used by major television production companies.

AXON is a world-leading broadcast network infrastructure products and solutions provider. Based in the Netherlands, it’s one of the founding partners of AZilPix, focusing on broadcast sales and support.

 

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