When tonight’s HD telecast of the 78th MLB All-Star Game begins, it will be business as usual for FOX Sports, says Jerry Steinberg, the network’s VP of field operations.
According to Steinberg, HD has come of age. Only a few years ago, FOX Sports and other broadcasters were scrambling to put the tools and technology in place to produce a live game in HD, especially one that delivered the viewer experience fans have come to expect on television.
Today, live HD production has in a sense become standard operating procedure. This week, HD Technology Update talks to Steinberg about the HD production of tonight’s game from AT&T Park in San Francisco.
HD Technology Update: What’s the lay of the land for HD production of the All-Star Game?
Jerry Steinberg: The truck we are using is the same truck that does football and NASCAR for us. It’s a Game Creek truck. It doesn’t have a name like a lot of trucks. It’s just called the Fox truck.
It’s state of the art. We’re using 14 cameras, three RF minis and server-based recording.
The thing is that it’s not so much that we’re doing HD that’s unusual. We’re doing TV like we’ve always done it. It just has more pixels and better audio. What was a science project three years ago is pretty standard today. All of the tools and all of the technology — whether it was analog or SD — are now available to us in HD.
We approach it now not like it’s something unusual. What we do behind he scenes is TV. You know, everybody has gotten comfortable with the new equipment. The camera we operate is just a camera. The Kalypso switcher in the truck is pretty much the same as the Kalypso SD version. The EVSes in the truck are pretty much the same from an operational front end as the EVSes were when they were SD.
Super slow-mos are pretty much the same. It’s become a transparent transition at this point. We started off doing two trucks, an SD truck and an HD truck. Now, all you do is if you need an SD output, you plug it into the truck and send it down one line. Your HD outbounds you plug into the HD output of the truck and you send it down a 270Mb/s pipe, and you’re broadcasting HD.
HD Technology Update: You’ve mentioned that you’ll be using three RF cameras. What’s been your experience to date with encoding latency and how will that be accommodated in the show?
Jerry Steinberg: Well, what we do is use a separate microphone and we eliminate the lip sync delay.
HD Technology Update: It’s not like an auto race that’s so fast that switching between a hard camera and an RF camera might make the viewer perceive jumping back in time with the switch.
Jerry Steinberg: No, the only time we would have a delay issue is if we were doing a multicamera interview on the field — one wired and one RF. If you were doing a postgame sound byte and you had Jeanne Zelasko and Barry Bonds, if we shot it only with the RF camera, it wouldn’t be an issue. If we shot it with two cameras, one being a wired camera and one being an RF camera, we’d have sync issues.
HD Technology Update: A few years ago, FOX Sports was out on the edge of HD production, using one of the first AJA HD KONA boards in a Mac to supplement graphics for the Super Bowl production. Are you pushing the HD production envelope elsewhere for this year’s All-Star Game?
Jerry Steinberg: Not really. What we did a couple of years ago that was leading edge, taking a Final Cut Pro, which was at the time the prototype HD AJA video card, was taking what essentially was an editing device and turning it into a live event tool. That’s pretty much a standard operating procedure for us and other networks at this point.
This year, we are not doing a lot of pioneering. What we are doing aside from the All-Star Game telecast is streaming batting practice live from FoxSports.com and MajorLeagueBaseball.com. We are using a combination of truck cameras and an outboard switcher. We’ll also be doing the behind-the-scenes thing to the Internet where we’ll have cameras in the truck — in production and in tape that will be streaming to the Internet. That’s not HD, but it will be kind of a leading edge thing.
HD Technology Update: So, you are saying that visitors to the site will be able to view the production of the game?
Jerry Steinberg: It will be delayed. What we’ll do during the webcast is a behind-the-scenes and walk you through the truck, but it won’t be live during the game.
HD Technology Update: Are you using any very long lenses — such as in center field? Are they equipped with technology to assist in acquiring and holding focus? What’s been your experience so far?
Jerry Steinberg: Yeah, 100:1s. I think some of the 100:1s have stabilizer electronics. We’ve got an entire football season and an entire racing season under our belts with this truck. It’s been very successful.
HD Technology Update: How does preparation of this event in HD compare to similar projects last year? In other words, is doing HD easier now?
Jerry Steinberg: The reality is that almost everything we do — I would say 85 to 90 percent of what we do — is HD. So, if we do a Sunday football game, whether it’s nine cameras or 12 cameras — the big difference is that football is on on a Sunday afternoon and this is on in primetime. There’s not a big difference.
HD Technology Update: In the past you’ve had specialty cameras that pop up from the turf. Will you have those again this year for the All-Star Game?
Jerry Steinberg: Yes, we will.
HD Technology Update: Are those native HD cameras?
Jerry Steinberg: Those are SD. There will be one at first base and one at home plate.
HD Technology Update: What are the plans for HD backhaul — fiber, C-band and Ku-band? What feeds will originate from AT&T Park?
Jerry Steinberg: We’ll be doing two outbounds on fiber and a third backup via C-band satellite.
HD Technology Update: What are your 5.1 surround plans?
Jerry Steinberg: It’s always been my feeling that when people talk about HD, they talk about more pixels. What we’ve tried to do here since the beginning is not only HD video, but HD audio as well. For every sport that we cover at FOX, our audio coverage has pretty much been our signature. If we have 60 to 70 microphones — mics in bases, umpires’ mics and the best audio people in the business — that’s what we do.
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