360-degree TV born in Brandon

Company hopes eye-popping technology Olympics-bound

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His day job is as owner of a popular Trans-Canada Highway Esso station at the Brandon interchange.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/12/2009 (4811 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

His day job is as owner of a popular Trans-Canada Highway Esso station at the Brandon interchange.

After hours, Larry Brown is purveyor of what may be the sexiest new broadcast television technology on the planet.

Brown is president of 360 Replays, a broadcast television technology system that captures eye-popping, 360-degree live-action images designed to enhance the television broadcast of sports events.

BRANDON SUN CHRISTOPHER PIKE / BRANDON SUN ARCHIVES Sports broadcasting is switching to high-definition, and converting from standard cameras will be an expensive proposition for 360 Replays.

The technology, called the VantEDGE system, was designed by Brown’s 30-year-old son, Michael, a self-taught computer whiz and the company’s chief technology officer.

The Browns and their partners, including Ralph Mellanby, the veteran Olympic hockey producer, and Glenn Norman, one of the senior executives at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, are trying to raise up to $4 million through the province’s investment tax credit program.

After turning heads with NBA and NHL demonstrations in 2008 at the Phillips Arena in Atlanta, home of the NHL Thrashers and NBA Hawks, and the DisneyWorld Martial Arts Festival in Orlando, the group has hopes to have the system used at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.

Norman, whose Atlanta company called Omega Productions provides broadcast and marketing services to all sort of Olympics-related enterprises, made it clear he was not comfortable discussing the prospects of 360 Replays being used at the 2010 Olympics in February, because of the sensitivity regarding those types of arrangements.

But reading between the lines, it is clear the Brandon company has its sights set on some sort of deployment there. Figure skating and short-track speed skating events have been mentioned.

But in the meantime, the company needs to raise cash to upgrade the technology — which includes a sophisticated computerized array of 60 cameras that would be located around the circumference of the playing field — to be capable of broadcasting in high definition.

“Our problem is that we designed the system to operate in standard definition, but since then the sports broadcast world has moved to high definition,” Brown said.

Converting to HD is an expensive proposition and the company, which is still in the pre-revenue R&D stage, has burned through close to $1 million since Michael Brown first started experimenting with the idea in his father’s garage about five years ago.

One way of describing the effect of 360 Replays’ technology is to think of stop-action effects in the movie The Matrix — but in this case, the images that have been captured are all live action.

Norman can barely contain his enthusiasm about the prospects for 360 Replays. When he heard about the company about two years ago he flew to Brandon right away to meet the Browns.

“He told us that this was the technology he had been looking for for years,” said Brown.

“If you have seen it you’ll know this is pretty impressive,” Norman said.

Brown said a demonstration at the National Association of Broadcasters convention a couple of years ago made them realize they were on to something.

Attempts have been made in the past to create a similar effect, but none are as advanced as 360 Replays’ system.

“We had been operating in a vacuum in Brandon,” Brown said. “We were astounded by the reaction.”

Norman said the technology would be valuable to sports broadcasters as a way to continue to attract the young demographic who have become accustomed to the spectacular imagery that keeps getting better in video games.

The VantEDGE system would be used as eye-candy to “sex up” sports broadcasting, said Norman.

Bruce Bumstead/Brandon Sun BRUCE BUMSTEAD / Brandon Sun Michael and Larry Brown of Brandon�s 360 Replays show off a VantEDGE rig that suspends 40 cameras above the action for dazzling live action and replay footage.

It would be a natural for the increasingly sophisticated in-house video at big-league sporting events and there is also an interactive broadband version where the viewer can choose the perspective to see the play.

The company does not have a dedicated workforce, but Brown said he is determined to raise the money locally necessary to take things to the next level.

“We know that if we connect with venture capitalists we might have to go where they want us, but we are determined to keep the company in Manitoba,” said Brown.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

For more on 360 Replays and a demonstration of its live-action technology, see www.360replays.com

Martin Cash

Martin Cash
Reporter

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

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