Beyond the hologram: CNN readying new virtual technologies and enhanced displays

[From Broadcasting & Cable]

Beyond the Hologram

New virtual technologies and enhanced displays are only the start of CNN’s midterm election coverage

By George Winslow — Broadcasting & Cable, 9/20/2010

It’s odd to think of hologram technology as old-school, but for its midterm 2010 election coverage, CNN probably won’t be bringing back those images that seemed so dramatic during the last presidential election. Instead, the cable news network is looking to stay ahead of the news pack with a number of virtual-technology advances.

“I think we were way ahead in 2006 and 2008 with our display technology and the Magic Wall,” says David Bohrman, senior VP and the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for CNN. And while the Wall—a large touch-screen display technology from Perceptive Pixel that allowed CNN anchors to add detailed graphics and data to coverage—worked wonders, Bohrman points out that “all of our colleagues are catching up. To stay ahead, we are working on several fronts to push forward in some really spectacular ways.”

One big development, Bohrman adds, can be found in New York, where CNN is installing equipment to display virtual objects. “It builds on the fundamental technology we used for the Virtual Capitol and the hologram” in 2008, but unlike that hologram experiment, this installation will be permanent and is designed to be used on a daily basis following the election, he promises.

The installation will combine motion capture technology from Motion Analysis, and new graphic rendering equipment from Vizrt, to use virtual objects in “a way no one has ever done before,” Bohrman says.

CNN will also be making major improvements to the kinds of information it will be able to offer up on its Magic Wall and other displays. That’s thanks to a major upgrade the network undertook between 2006 and 2008 in how it handles the massive amount of election results and exit polls that the National Election Pool provides during the evening and wee hours to ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, The Associated Press and CNN.

“Nothing has been written about it, but it has really been an enabler for us in taking all this information and using it in new ways,” Bohrman says. “It allows us to work with the Magic Wall without having to spend 10,000 hours of writing code in COBOL.”

CNN is also looking to break new ground in social media, as it did in 2006, when it brought a group of prominent bloggers together to cover those midterms. This time around, CNN has partnered with a Harvard spinoff, the Crimson Hexagon. The social media analysis company has developed technologies and sophisticated algorithms to troll through a massive amount of information to track in real time how people are using social media to react to the election. CNN used the technology for the State of the Union address earlier this year; this time around, the technology will get bigger play.

As Bohrman puts it: “For the midterm elections, it provides a fascinating way to listen to the social media conversations—not just the Twitter fire hose but all of them.”

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