Monday, January 09, 2012

Promoting - Finish Line Camera Thoughts

With more emphasis on USAC license points in recent years, and with points counting down more than 6 or 7 or 10 places (which is what they used to do), I want to pick more finishers at Bethel this year.

It's only fair after all. Racers need to show placings, more so than before. For example, in 2011 a Cat 5 only had to start 10 races to upgrade to Cat 4. In 2012 a similar Cat 5 has to finish 10 races to get that same Cat 4 upgrade.


Not start.

I need to be able to prove that someone finished, or that someone didn't finish.

Video is good for proof.

Unfortunately my current finish line camera system isn't great for that, and that means I need to redo the finish line rig for 2012. This means replacing our high quality albeit regular resolution Canon GL2 camcorder and our TiVO unit with a more modern and hopefully easier to use system.

In 2011 we experimented with a parallel camera set up, using an iPhone feeding into an iMac. We found that the higher resolution iPhone (not sure what it was but an iPhone 3 doesn't go much over 640x480) allowed us to read the numbers better, but the faster frame rate of the Canon let us see which tire crossed the line first.

For 2012 I want to combine the two things, the readable numbers and the higher frame rate.

(Keep in mind that these are low-buck alternatives to the real deal, a slit-lens setup that takes really cool stretched out pictures.)

Therefore we have two parts to the finish line setup - the camera and the "viewer" (the computer).

First, the camera.

I was thinking of using Contour+ exclusively, two of them. I like them because of a number of reasons:
1. I can use a Bluetooth phone to aim them (I have one, and the laptops have Bluetooth). I can review footage via USB or HDMI cables.
2. They're relatively shockproof (all three camcorders I've used in prior years have taken 10 foot falls with some serious consequences, but I'm using a ContourHD that took a tumble at 30 mph with no problem).
3. They're easily waterproofed, an important point at Bethel when it can be raining quite hard.
4. They're very light, allowing us to secure them with less sandbags or whatever.
5. They shoot at 720p at 60 frames per second (fps), or as I'll put it 720@60fps. I can pick out license plate numbers with this setup so it's pretty good.

But then a helper (who had the iPhone+iMac at Bethel in 2011) pointed out that 1080@60fps would be better for capturing numbers. Since that's true I realized that I may have to use a camcorder for number reading and a second camera for tire placing. For the latter I'll stick with a Contour+ (or two), with the Contour+'s Bluetooth capability a big must (I need to aim them easily).

Second, the "viewer".

Apple offers iMovie with all their systems, and Quicktime is usually the application of choice for HD type clips. Both applications are easy and intuitive to use. Both are free with a Mac. And both are applications I know how to use.

It makes sense for someone like me (not an expert at video stuff) to get a Mac for a finish line clip viewer.

This means my camera setup (either two Contour+ or an HD camcorder with a Contour+ or two) will feed into either an iMac (not mine but one of the helpers owns one and we used it last year) or a MacBook I just purchased (has Firewire).

Regardless we'll review finish line footage on whatever Mac. With 2 or 3 cameras I hope to have some overlap in actual pictures so we have better granularity.

What's this all cost?

iMac - $1000 or so, refurb from Apple. I was worried about portability (it takes just one drop to wreck a hard drive) so I decided against this, even though the iMacs offered a much more powerful computer for the money (it include the monitor for one thing).

MacBook - about $1400-1700 refub from Apple. I just got one for a bit under $1700. I figure I'll drop it a couple times a year, and a laptop is designed for that, kind of.

Contour+ - $500 retail (street price). If 720@60fps works I'll get at least one of these, preferably two.

ContourHD - about $150-200 retail. I own two of these (although I paid a lot more). I've done all my post February 2010 helmet cam clips on them (at least through 2011).

1080@60fps HD camcorder - $625 retail. If I need 1080@60fps, I have to get one of these.

Right now my plan is to:

1. Test the ContourHD (720@60fps) and see if I can read numbers at some reasonable speed (40 mph). I'll also test at 1080@30fps to see if the number clarity is better. Since I have two ContourHDs I'll have one at each setting, both recording the same car going by, so it's a more consistent test.

2A. If 720@60fps works then I'll get two Contour+ and two waterproof covers for them.

2B. If I need 1080 for clarity but 60 fps for granularity then I'll get the HD camcorder. I'll probably get one Contour+ for secondary granularity, to try and get close finishes (read the number on the 1080, check position on the 720). I want the Contour+ for the Bluetooth and HDMI capability, which the regular Contour does not have.

Either way I'll be buying either one or two Contour+ and maybe one HD camcorder. I'll get the appropriate cables and then we'll be ready to pick a lot of finish places at Bethel.

Ironically the Contour+ has a wider-angle lens than the regular ContourHD. I actually don't like the wider angle lens so the Contour+ won't be a new helmet cam for me. I'm sure I'll try it but as a straight out helmet cam, no. As a bike mounted one, maybe.

I'll try and have some pictures of the tests and I'll post my findings in a later post.


Anonymous said...

Here's some senarios for you.
Rain. I know you went over using the waterproof case, but what about clarity in the rain.
Time of day. As you know the sun hits the numbers at different angles throughout the day. how is the clarity at 8am, 10:30am, 1pm, 3pm?
Number placement. The camera will only pick up proper number placement. SOOOOOOOOO, anyone pinning their number on the wrong side, upside-down, in the middle of the back, or under a pony tail are very difficult to capture. Said people will not be scored, correct?

Just Askin'

Aki said...

Good questions...
Rain - a hood would work. With a smaller camera (either the Contour or the HD camcorder which is much smaller than the Canon we have right now), we could fabricate a small hood that wouldn't catch too much wind.
Lighting - if necessary we could run a spotlight to help with clarity. I can get outdoor spotlight bits so it'd be weatherproof.
Number placement - we will only pick numbers which are correctly placed. Although a little up or down won't affect the camera, if it's on the wrong side, on the back, etc, it won't be picked. I'll have to post a picture of a frame from a 2011 finish. It'll be obvious where a number needs to be to be read.

Aaron said...

Talking with some friends of mine from the midwest, they mentioned that chip timing (like you'd see at most big running roadraces) is getting more common for road races. The timing chip is strapped around the fork leg, and timing/placing/lap-counting is based on that. The timing systems are mostly weatherproof, and don't depend on visibility, so it's pretty versatile. Thoughts?

Aki said...

The chip timing stuff is pretty reliable - they use them as the primary system in the Tour (but after a bike change they rely on old fashioned stuff like eyeballs and such).

The biggest thing is cost - it would cost a lot and ultimately the racer would have to absorb the cost of the system.

The second thing is setup - to do most of the chip stuff you have to have something across the road, above it (like a finish line banner holder thing). As we have enough problem just keeping a camera from tipping over, for us to deal with a big road-width structure...

It's not to say that we'll never use one, but the situation would need to be more favorable in order to do so.