Premier Boxing Champions to offer 360-degree look at fights

They say it’s the punch you don’t see coming that knocks you out. Well, all those fighters napping on the canvas are about to run out of an excuse.

When the Premier Boxing Champions series debuts at 8:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC, it will arrive hand-in-hand with new technology that will offer a nearly unprecedented look at fighting.

It’s just that the fighting was more kung fu than boxing, and the precedent was 1999 sci-fi flick The Matrix.

PBC has teamed with North Carolina tech firm Aqueti to deploy a 360-degree 32-camera array above the ring, meaning you’ll be able to see every big hit and every quick jab from any which way.

“Boxing is ideal for a 360-degree camera,” Aqueti CEO David Brady said. “Basically so much is happening in boxing. There are very few sports where it’s so important to have such high-resolution images to understand what’s happening.

"The cameras will be recording video continuously. The broadcaster can move from camera to camera, so it will look like motion going around the ring. You can freeze time and rotate.”

Thanks to improvements in computing power, what took hours to get the effect working in film can now be achieved in real time. Finally, technology has caught up to Keanu Reeves.

It’s possible that down the line, this kind of camerawork will affect how judges look at the game itself. At the very least, it will certainly impact how the TV audience experiences the sport while watching the broadcast.

“I think this will be the first time that boxing is continuously recorded from all directions,” Brady said. "It would certainly give the judges a better perspective on exactly what’s going on. But currently there’s no plan for judges to have a video feed.

“In the broadcast truck, the camera operator will have this ability to rotate around. We do think that we can take that ability and put it online for viewers in the next year or so. In some ways it seems like the viewers will have more information than the judges.”

That’s not the only tech improvement Aqueti has on deck. Down the line, referees and cornermen will be wearing headband-mounted cameras. It’s similar to the idea behind a GoPro, but with much smaller, lighter cameras that can film in high-definition.

In particular, the referee cameras will give viewers rare insight into an official’s verdict on whether or not a fight should continue.

“In boxing there’s nothing more important than what the ref sees. The ref decides whether to stop the fight or not,” Brady said. “We’ve gone to a lot of effort to get the camera as close to the ref’s eyes as possible, so the viewer can see exactly what the ref sees when he makes his decision about the status of the boxer.”

The final piece of the puzzle will debut later this year, when PBC adds Aqueti’s qG camera to the mix. The qG is similar to the 360-degree setup in that it’s an array of cameras clustered and controlled as one unit, but instead of going all around the action, the qG allows for super deep zoom by stitching together each camera’s narrow field of view into a composite 250 megapixel image.

“Our goal is to change the way you think about television, from capturing the view of a single camera to ultimately capturing the entire arena and allowing the viewer to navigate,” Brady said of the 360 camera and the qG. “What we imagine is we increase the number of cameras in the arena and combine their functions to allow viewers to virtually navigate the environment—go anywhere and see anything.”

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