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Monday, 01 March 2010 15:47

Capturing Sports in High Def

Written by  Debra Kaufman
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Capturing sports events for broadcast TV can be challenging the cameraman has to be ready to capture the action as it evolves.

Capturing sports events for broadcast TV can be challenging, as events happen quickly and unpredictably. To do the job, the cameraman has to be ready to capture the action as it evolves, often over large open spaces and in all kinds of weather. And the camera needs to be robust enough to get banged around, rained on and dragged from field to post, all while performing reliably for each difficult circumstance. So it’s no surprise that the cameras used to capture professional sporting events are professional cameras — largely Panasonic and Sony — that come with a reputation for ruggedness and high-quality HD signals. These cameras have also made sports acquisition tapeless, a change that debuted at the 2006 Super Bowl and has been a consistent feature of this event’s acquisition strategy ever since.

Panasonic AG-HPX500 P2 HD camcorder Photo courtesy of USNASony Electronics Director of Marketing Rob Willox says that Sony cameras will be “up front and center” at Super Bowl 2010. He also reports that NEP Broadcasting, a leader in mobile trucks, will be bringing 30 to 40 Sony HDC-1500s for a total of 60 cameras to Miami’s Dolphin Stadium. “We’re bringing 15 trucks to the Super Bowl,” adds NEP Chief Technology Officer George Hoover. “The CBS coverage for the game will be entirely with Sony cameras.” In fact, Sony developed its HDC-1500 in conjunction with CBS, Fox and the mobile production community. “CBS City was going to do a new live show for its customer Fox, and they wanted to invest in camera technology that would allow them to do production in 1080i, 720p or 1080/24 for productions in Europe,” Willox explains. “We produced a camera that would do all of that.” The Fox show was “American Idol,” for which Sony hand-built 72 of the first HDC-1500s.

The HDC-1500 is also ideal for sporting events because it works with triax or fiber optics. “The difficulty in the transition between SD and HD is that most major sporting venues were triax, and many of them still are,” Willox says. “Imagine bringing 25 cameras in, and having to lay fiber for all of them. It added a lot of days to the broadcast and was a precarious thing to do.” It’s not a simple task to feed an HD signal through old copper, but the Sony team found a way to accommodate both triax and fiber optics with the HDC-1500. Sports cameras also need to be able to take rough treatment. “They have to be over-built to take punishment,” says Willox. “There were a lot of jokes about building a camera to military specs … but it would break down as soon as you gave it to a mobile crew. The HDC-1500 is that rough-and-tumble camera.”

The HDC-1500 also brings the HD camera full circle to the SD cameras and their broad set of features that broadcasters were accustomed to. “[With] the first-generation HD cameras, a lot of features were left out because of complexity,” says Willox. “The HDC-1500 is the first one that puts all the feature sets of the SD camera into an HD camera.”

NEP Broadcasting recently took possession of the HDC-3300, a 3X-speed Super Motion camera, to replay elements for sports analysis. NEP’s Hoover reports that the trucks will have six HDC-3300s at the Super Bowl, and the camera signal will go to two EVS file servers for replay. “Sports in this day and age is pretty much tapeless,” Hoover adds. “We do a [tape] record for archiving and that’s pretty much it.”

NBC’s coverage of the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver will also rely on Sony cameras, one of which is the HDC-1400, a “brother” of the 1500. “I can send a camera with less frequency capabilities, since I don’t have to worry about 24P,” says Willox. “The camera has all the other features. It’s in a lot of O&Os and is used in the “The Tonight Show.” The second Sony camera that will go to the Winter Games is the HSC-300, a camera that can operate off triax in 1080. “It was designed primarily for broadcasters,” says Willox. “If you didn’t want all the accoutrements of the higher-end cameras but wanted something simple to operate with good capabilities and a mid-range price point, the HSC-300 is good for that.”

Panasonic cameras are used by many professional and university sports organizations that want the advantages of the solid-state P2’s tape-based workflow. Most recently, the Big Ten Network, the first nationally distributed TV network dedicated to covering this high-profile collegiate conference, invested in multiple Panasonic P2 HD camcorders for field production at 11 campuses throughout the conference, as well as for production and promotion at the network’s Chicago headquarters. Big Ten operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, covers 350 live sports events and reaches 75 million homes across North America. “P2 helps speed up the workflow,” says Steve Cooperman, Panasonic P2 product line business manager. “The cards are high capacity — up to 64 GB — and the new series of cards are 50-percent faster and two-and-a-half times less expensive. With four slots, you’ll have four hours within a single camera and you don’t need to change cards.” Cooperman adds that a card can be handed off to an editor while the camera is still shooting.


Panasonic AG- HPX500 P2 HD camcorder photo courtesy of USNA
Having four slots in the camera also allows the videographer to dedicate each card to a specific task — in the case of football, the cameraman may reserve one card for offense, another for defense and a third for kicking. “Used with DVSport or XOS Tech, two leading coaching tools analysis software, the P2 cards give them instant access to the footage they’re interested in,” says Cooperman. “The file-based workflow allows you to get your content into the system more quickly, and production is sped up.” That’s how the Navy Midshipmen football and men’s lacrosse teams use the cameras. Representing the U.S. Naval Academy in NCAA Division I college competitions, the organization bought six Panasonic AG-HPX500 P2 HD camcorders, equipped with BT-LH80WU 7.9-inch color viewfinders/production monitors, to be used for coaching analysis with DVSport GameDay editing and data analysis software. (Both sports also exchange game videos with competitors over the Internet using the DragonFly STORM video-exchange system.)

John McGuire, director of video operations for the Naval Academy, says the P2 purchases replaced Betacam SP cameras. He puts two HPX500s on lifts focused on defense, with both cameras in the end zone, one shooting a wide angle and the second on a tighter angle. On offense, two HPX500s (one on a lift and one shoulder-mounted) shoot from the sideline. Recording to P2 cards, the video is broken down to offense, defense and kicks immediately after the first quarter.  McGuire says that during training camp, says, the increased speed of working with P2 means finishing up at 7 p.m. versus 9:30 p.m. During the season, the offense, defense and kicking games can be printed out to DVDs for players and coaches. McGuire reports that while on the road for an away game, they were able to break down the game in a laptop from the P2 cards, copy the footage onto a removable hard drive, and let the coaches watch the game on the airplane.

 Another organization that invested in P2 cameras is HuskerVision, the high-tech video production unit of the University of Nebraska’s Athletic Department. The unit has added four Panasonic AK-HC931B HD studio cameras as well as two AK-HC1500G 2/3-inch multi-format 1080i/720p HD multi-purpose cameras, five AJ-HPX2000, two AG-HPX300 and two AG-HPX170 P2 HD camcorders. The HPX2000 P2 HD camcorders are paired with Telecast fiber, which record footage and deliver the video to the control room switching equipment. The HC1500G cameras are used as remote control “slam cams” at basketball and volleyball games, and the remaining P2 cameras are used to gather isolation footage at home and away sporting events.

The NFL’s Arizona Cardinals also brought on two Panasonic AJ-HPX2000 2/3-inch 3-CCD P2 HD camcorders, which they’re using along with an AG-HPG20 P2 portable recorder. The camcorders replaced tape-based digital cameras that were close to 10 years old. The Cardinals use the HPX2000s with the DVSport GameDay editing and data analysis software, and exchange game videos over the NFL’s file-based CGE Exchange network.

 Ikegami HD GFcam photo courtesy of KGEB-TVl Oral Roberts University

Ikegami cameras are also used in sports acquisition. NEP’s Hoover reports that the Super Bowl pre-game show will be acquired with Ikegami’s HK-79EC cameras. And Boston College recently chose an Ikegami GF CAM HDS-V10 Flash RAM HD camcorder and two Ikegami HDK-77EC native multi-format HD CMOS field cameras. The 77EC cameras will be used as the main HD game cameras, outfitted with the 9-inch Ikegami LCD color viewfinders, Canon 40X telephoto HD zoom lenses and Ikegami CCU-890M camera control units operating with fiber connectivity. The HDS-V10 Flash RAM HD camcorder will be used as a handheld unit to shoot games and as a stand-alone tapeless HD camcorder for interviews with coaches and players.

Sports organizations have been quick to adopt new technologies that provide more capabilities and efficiencies. Given the handful of experiments with sporting events in 3D, it seems likely that these same organizations will choose the right time and place to take that technology to a new level. In the meantime, high-definition sports have arrived and everyone — coaches, players and fans — enjoy the higher-resolution view.

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