Michael Grotticelli /
04.10.2009
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
MLB Network’s IP ‘look-ins’ go the distance

Taking advantage of new technology that leverages fiber-optic and IP connectivity over long distances, the recently launched MLB Network has begun installing remotely controlled camera systems in all 30 MLB stadiums that will provide fans with unprecedented views of live camera shots.

The “Ballpark Cam” systems were designed and are now being installed by CBT Systems, of San Diego, based on technologies provided by eight key equipment manufacturers — but that's only part of this HD file transfer story.

From each of the 30 ballparks — using NTT’s MPEG-4 compression technology to transfer compressed signals at 38Mb/s — up to three HD signals can be transferred over a single OC-3 (145Mb/s) data circuit. In addition, an 18Mb/s feed from an Evertz 16 x 1 multiviewer on site is sent from each park to allow the crew in New Jersey to see the available video and associated audio sources. Network bandwidth supplier HTM (located at Penn Station in Manhattan) is providing the OC-3 technology from all 30 parks and one OC-48 circuit into the New Jersey broadcast center.

The technology enables the network to present shows with a variety of live “look-ins” of all the games, complete with dugout interviews, select plays as they happen and other field shots. These are captured with both the Canon BU-45 H and Panasonic AK-HC1500G HD point-of-view cameras, one each at a park, mounted on Telemetrics pan/tilt and elevator systems located in strategic locations.

Making sense of the chaos

“The IP technology related to remote production has been tried by the national football and hockey leagues before, but this implementation has been taken it to a whole new level,” said Darrell Wenhardt, president of CBT Systems, whose company helped set up the original “TeamCam” concept for the NFL Network several years ago. “We're actually pushing and pulling high-definition broadcast signals between the ball parks and MLB Network headquarters as if the two locations were the same.”

To handle all of the sources, each ballpark includes a Matrix 24 x 16 SDI video router and 32 x 48 AES audio routers, Evertz signal conversion gear and in-park fiber cabling, and a Grass Valley K2 four-channel video server.

“We've developed a system that allows all of these various audio and video feeds from around a particular ballpark to come into a common point where we can then direct those feds back to the network,” Wenhardt said. In addition, there are about 40 different audio feeds from every ballpark. This variety allows the MLB Network to use radio commentary and match it to video replays. The capability used to take MLB several weeks to marry this information. Now, it can be done within a matter of minutes.

Ballpark cam view

On top of the fiber network, the Ballpark Cam systems are providing unique, HD POV shots that are controlled remotely from MLB Network's headquarters in Secaucus, NJ. To date, fully operational systems have been completed in five parks, with all of the others to come online by the beginning of the 2010 season.

For games in Boston’s Fenway Park, for example, encoded signals are being sent using HV9100 Series HD (MPEG-4) encoders/decoders from NTT Electronics over a fiber-optic network to HTM’s network distribution center, then on to MLB Network headquarters in New Jersey.

Each Ballpark Cam system at the parks is based on a Canon BU-45H remote-control pan-tilt HD camera system (able to pan 340 degrees and tilt 30 degrees up and 50 down) mounted on a Telemetrics Televator robotic system that can be raised from 4ft to 12ft. This allows the camera to be adjusted for field-level interviews and above the lip of the dugout for seating-area shots. Telemetrics also created interface and custom software for MLB's Canon BU-45H implementation.

The Canon BU-45H camera system consists of a Canon HD camera equipped with three 1/3-inch CCDs, a 20X HD zoom lens and a remote-control ND (neutral density) filter, encased inside a weather-proof housing (complete with a “windshield-wiper” blade). The Canon remote-control pan-tilt HD camera system is powered by 12V DC current and includes Auto Focus and Image Stabilizer technology. It also has HD-SDI and SD-SDI outputs with embedded audio (it can output HD-SDI and NTSC for simultaneous HD recording and SD monitoring) and genlock inputs for synchronizing the different video sources within the park.

Flexible Control System

A great deal of effort has gone into the development of the camera control system. Telemetrics customized its RCP control panel to add a networked multipanel server that is used to synchronize the various camera and robotics settings. Control for any camera at any ballpark can be taken from multiple panels on the network from Secaucus.

A dual customized touch-screen GUI with ball club logos is used to select and route the video feeds from all the ballparks, interfacing to an NVISION router.

Telemetrics' DS-4 device servers are used as the stadium interfaces to provide camera and ballpark identification back to Secaucus along with complete camera setup, pan/tilt/zoom/focus controls, elevation, tally light and activation of the weatherproof housing wiper.

Keeping the crews in constant communication, the MLB Network has also purchased 32 Artist digital matrix intercom systems from Riedel Communications that will be installed at all 30 MLB ballparks and a few other locations. These remote intercom systems, each equipped with VoIP cards, will be intelligently trunked back to the MLB Network over an IP connection.

Intercom keeps the crew connected

At MLB Network's headquarters in New Jersey, a large IP-based intercom system made up of four Artist 128 frames linked via fiber has been installed. The Secaucus system includes more than 160 intercom control panels plus interface equipment for VoIP, analog telephone lines and digital party lines. The Systems Group, in Hoboken, NJ, is installing all of the intercom systems.

“Our ability to trunk the ballparks via IP has given us unparalleled connectivity to all Major League Baseball teams,” said Mark Haden, VP of engineering and IT at the MLB Network. “That allows us to operate more efficiently and effectively.” The Riedel intercom system's intelligent trunking allows operators to tap into the system without having to ask someone else to open up a communication path for them.

Intercom panel types at MLB Network include both Riedel's 1000 series LED display panels along with 2000 series panels with LCD displays. All panels are connected to the matrix digitally via either Cat 5 or coax cabling using AES audio. Some locations will also be equipped with keypad expansion panels to provide extra programmable keys and enable direct dialing of phone lines from intercom workstations.

In addition to panels, the system includes Connect Solo dual telephone hybrids for the interfacing of analog telephone lines, VoIP matrix client cards, C44 digital party line interfaces, C3 digital belt packs and 80 headsets.

Coordination is key

The end goal for the all-baseball HD cable network, launched in about 50 million homes at the first of the year, is to provide die-hard baseball fans with a more in-depth game viewing experience. By all accounts, the CBT Systems team, working with the various vendors, has accomplished that.


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