Network brings back Eyevision
There's nothing ordinary about high-definition production, especially when it's the Super Bowl. The most-watched telecast in the nation, the Super Bowl typically raises the bar for everything associated with it. Even the commercials get national news coverage.
So it is that on Feb. 1, the biggest challenge facing CBS and its coverage of Super Bowl XXXVIII at Houston's Reliant Stadium will be doing it in HD.
Never mind that CBS carried the very first HD broadcast of an NFL game more than five years ago. Never mind that CBS did the Super Bowl in hi-def two years ago, or that it carried AFC play-off games in HD this year.
"Without any question, it overshadows everything CBS did in the first HD Super Bowl in Tampa in 2001," said Ken Aagaard, CBS senior vice president of operations and engineering.
For the Ravens-Giants match-up in Tampa two years ago, CBS had separate acquisition operations for its standard- and high-definition feeds.
"We don't do that anymore because it's just too cost prohibitive," Aagaard said. "We'll create one program and two feeds."
CBS will crop the 16:9 HD signal for the 4:3 SD feed. Eliminating dual acquisition certainly cuts down the number of cameras necessary to cover the game, but it creates its own set of challenges. For example, so complicated is it to incorporate historical 4:3 footage into newly created HD pieces that all features will be done in SD, said Arthur Harris, vice president of broadcast operations for CBS.
Fortunately that's not the case with immediate recording and playback, which will be handled with a bevy of 1080i EVS LSM-XTs.
"With the move to HD, it's really made a big difference for us," said Greg Macchia, general manager of operations for EVS. "In the past, a Super Bowl may have had two or three machines. Now we're looking at 12 to 13 systems."
Macchia said the LSM-XTs have an SD output, so no external equipment is necessary for downconversion.
Using a single acquisition source also calls for manipulating technologies that haven't yet achieved HD capability. Such is the case with the special effects of Eyevision and the six Super Slo Mos CBS plans to employ for the game.
The 90 frame-per-second Slo Mo cameras are 16:9, but the vertical resolution is about 45 percent that of HD.
As for Eyevision and its semi-circular view of the action, it's not yet graduated to HD, but it has been spiffed up, said Larry Barbatsoulis, CBS director of technical operations.
"We've improved the video quality and pointing accuracy," he said.
The network originally developed Eyevision for the 2001 Super Bowl in partnership with Core Digital Technologies, PVI, and more recently with German cable company Sat1, which uses the system for soccer.
Eyevision is essentially an array of robotic cameras placed intervals around the field and controlled so that a rotating perspective can be rendered.
In Tampa, the cameras were arranged to capture a 220-degree perspective at 12 degrees apart. In Houston, the cameras will be placed closer together-about five degrees apart for a 180 perspective-to create a smoother image.
Security concerns mean no Goodyear blimp at SuperBowl XXXVIII, so for those sweeping overhead shots, CBS has turned to Cablecam's Multi-V system. Also known as the "Flying Fox," the Multi-V is fitted with a Cineflex V14 gyro head, a Sony 950, 1080i camera and a fiber optic festooning system for delivering uncompressed HD video.
At press time, other standard-definition cameras in the CBS Super Bowl arsenal included at least four RF units. In all, CBS will use 26 HD and 10 SD cameras at the game, the majority of them from Sony. Sony will also provide the HD switchers as well as the HD sponsorship of the game.
GRAPHICS FOR 16:9
Graphics are another area where creating two formats from one feed becomes tricky. CBS will have one operator driving two SGI Onyx2 machines powered by vizrt software via a single keyboard. That operator will control statistics, names and CBS's signature clock-and-score "eyebox," which will be generated in both 4:3 and 16:9 and left on the screen for the duration of the game.
The virtual "First Down" line itself will be provided by Princeton Video Image. The company will take a mobile unit to the Super Bowl, even though it recently developed the technology to do the line from the studio, using a spotter in the field.
"We used to have to roll a truck and have three people to a game," said Sam McCleary, vice president of business development for PVI.
CBS now has a room below master control in New York where six PVI operators communicate with spotters at stadiums across the country.
The PVI system uses video from the network's cameras placed at the 50-yard line, and at both 25-yard lines. It reads the video in near real-time and places the line using pattern recognition. That, however, can be a problem if it snows.
Not that snow is a huge risk in Houston, especially at Reliant Stadium, the first NFL venue with a retractable roof. It's simply the Super Bowl.
PVI has enhanced the First Down line, with something called "shadow mode," that adjusts for half sun/shade situations. The company also provides the graphic that shows what a kicker's success rate is from a given yard line on the field. PVI introduced kick stats last fall.
PVI's truck will be among a convoy of approximately 14 production units, including, among others, four from NEP, two from All Mobile Video, two from Core Digital, and an NMT hi-def truck for the Janet Jackson half-time extravaganza that MTV is producing.
Because CBS is also doing its pre-game shows in HD this time around, placement of those trucks is even more crucial, said Barbatsoulis, because HD signals don't travel as far. Fortunately, Reliant Stadium is wired to the max, so drop availability won't be a factor in determining where the trucks can or can't be parked.
SURROUND SOUND XXXVIII
In addition to all the visual and graphic bells and whistles, Super Bowl XXXVIII will also be broadcast in 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound.
CP Communications will capture the audio using four Shure VP88s for crowd effects, several Sennheiser 816 shotguns on the cameras, and probably eight parabolics equipped with Sennheiser MKE IIs.
CP is also providing the CBS audio team with a high-powered Motorola radio communication system, rather than the tradition walkie-talkie system that relies on frequencies that are becoming more and more crowded.
Across the board, frequency coordination for all RF operations is becoming more difficult-so much so that CP has to reprogram standard Sennheiser frequencies every year, according to a CP spokesman.
There are no transmission problems inherent at Reliant, Barbatsoulis said, it's just that the number of RF devices such as baby monitors, garage door openers, and radios used by caterers and security teams has exploded. As a consequence, much of the production team will be using Nextel cell phones for field communications.
Crowded frequencies also limit the amount of RF acquisition equipment that can be used in the field. And even though some news operations are now using COFDM equipment to cope with ever-shrinking frequency paths, that won't happen at Super Bowl XXXVIII, said Barbatsoulis.
"The minute you start processing, you get delay issues," he said. "You're encoding and decoding, and that takes time."
Once the hassles of production are dealt with, CBS is taking no chances with backhaul. In all, six outbound and four inbound feeds will be in use. Vyvx will supply two-way fiber, CBN Satellite will provide C-Band connections and Ku-band will be used for redundancy, something CBS did not do for the 2001 coverage in Tampa.
After all, it is the most-watched telecast in the nation. Even the commercials get national news coverage.