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Depth is the Key
3DV's innovative ZCAM
by Stephen Jones (April 23, 2001)


No longer do live productions need to suffer from CG envy.

3DV Systems is demonstrating an innovative add-on to any pro video camera that can not only allow you cut-out even troublesome backgrounds from your subjects, its live z-buffer technology lets you insert CG characters and props right into live action video.

You attach the ZCAM between the lens and body of any color NTSC, PAL or HDTV camera. While filming as usual, the ZCAM emits pulses of infrared light and uses patented Parallel Range Sensing technology to generate a z-buffer or depth key mask for every frame.

Because the device is self-illuminated, your lighting setups are unchanged. Likewise your set (or lack thereof) can accommodate the device unchanged with no blue screens in sight.

Once you start rolling, the fun begins since you can "dial-in" the depth for your switchers to mask from the scene. Is the talent wearing a blue checked blazer in front of a blue plaid background? No problem.

The ZCAM also has the potential to bring virtual sets alive since CG elements can be easily placed into a live scene in the foreground, background, or in-between overlapping live elements in the same shot, something impossible with traditional color keying.

Beyond its ability to streamline studio setups and add new CG effects to live video production, 3DV's technology has the potential to break down the walls between synthetic and live content. It will be interesting to watch how ZCAM technology filters its way down into everything from full-body interactive video games to security cameras.


- Cameras: any NTSC-PAL or HDTV color camera
- Frame rate: 24-30 frames per second
- Depth: 8-10 bit (256 to 1024 levels)
- Range: up to 10 meters
- Output: B&W video or digital data

Copyright 2006 Stephen Jones All rights reserved.

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