Baseball's New Look

The World Series Champions Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves officially opened the 2009 baseball season, April 5 on ESPN2's Sunday Night Baseball. With the addition of newcomer MLB Network, coverage will be divvied up between the new all baseball channel and Fox, ESPN, Turner Broadcasting, and various regional networks.

And despite recessionary cautions, this season holds a few technology surprises.


FSN will broadcast the World Series, American League Championship Series, All Star Game, and Game of the Week. Jerry Steinberg, senior vice president of operations for FSN says the network is planning for upgraded high-speed and in-ground cameras from the mad scientists at Inertia Unlimited.

"We'll use in-ground cameras for the World Series and the ALCS and possibly the All Star Game, very similar technology to the in-track cameras in [NASCAR] racing," Steinberg said. "We'll be using [SportVision's] PITCHf/x [pitch tracking system] with any upgrades on the jubilee events."

The latest Phantom (the Fox-branded "Diamond Cam"), will have two HD outputs—live uninterrupted and relay—according to Inertia Unlimited founder Jeff Silverman.

"We've also added a traditional remote-control panel, which allows the video engineer to control the camera's shading," he said. A new controller will better enable an EVS operator to do replays.

FSN returns with its Diamond cam this year. As for the in-ground "Gopher Cam" featured at the 2008 All Star Game and World Series, Silverman said his crew is reducing the external part of the camera by about 30 percent and improving its resolution. At press time, it had not yet received final approval from the league; its use was under discussion.

While these cameras were being readied for primetime, was finessing its "destination viewing" initiative. Aimed at out of home viewers, the goal is to "push content out from many portals," according to Clark Pierce, vice president of Emerging Technologies.

The content bait to accomplish this consists of commentary logged in from Fox's talent pool, a strategy begun earlier with NASCAR on Fox. supplies each commentator with a laptop, Logitech Webcam, backdrop, instructions and tech support from its studio in Los Angeles. After the content is recorded onto the laptops, it is tweaked, saved and uploaded to an FTP site. From there the Webcast is downloaded to Los Angeles, where it is edited and posted to the Web site.

"Recording, uploading, downloading and then editing was not part of our original plan," said Pierce. "Ultimately, we'd like to get to the point where we use a point-to-point video live solution." Once this solution is found, the content menu can expand.

"We'd like to get a roundtable discussion at a designated time during the week," said Pierce.


The newest broadcaster on the block will install its trademarked "BallParkCam" system in all 30 stadiums.

MLB Network's "Dugout Cam" is a self-contained remote-control robotic pan-tilt Canon HD camera with a 20:1 built-in zoom lens mounted on a custom Telemetrics "televator." "We're putting a number of special HD POV cameras in the ballpark, which will all be controlled remotely from the facility in Secaucus," said Darrell Wenhardt, president of CBT Systems, a San Diego-based broadcast television design, engineering, and integration firm. CBT designed the system's file-based workflows in collaboration with a team from MLB Network. The equipment roster includes "Dugout," "Ballpark Overview" and "Bullpen" cameras.

The "Dugout Cam" is a self-contained Canon HD BU-45H remote-controlled robotic pan/tilt HD camera with a 20:1 built-in zoom lens, ND (neutral density) filters and a wiper blade (for rain and other hazards). It's mounted on a custom "televator" made by Telemetrics, which rises from a rest position four feet above the dugout to 12 feet at full extension for an "intimate look inside the bench" or into the crowd, according to Wenhardt.

Between innings, "look-ins" will capture "what's happening with the fans and mascot to give the people at home the added coverage you don't typically see," he said. Camera control (setup, color adjustment, iris control, pan/tilt, zoom, focus, televator controls and tally) are remotely controlled in Secaucus.

SportsNet New York is enhancing its graphics using technology from Orad Hi-Tec Systems' Motion Video Play. From top to bottom: "SNY Magnify" provides closeups on key plays; Pitch Differential provides replays highlighting the intended and actual pitch destination; Distance Tracker tracks key movers and moving objects on the field. The "Ballpark Overview" camera provides the typical over-the-pitcher's shoulder shot of the batter with an expansive overview of the ballpark, and sometimes local color beyond the stadium. At Petco Park, the televator-mounted Panasonic AK-HC1500G equipped with a Canon KJ16ex7.7 zoom lens and 2:1 extender will capture downtown San Diego.

This media gathering system will, according to Wenhardt, "bring in three high-definition feeds [16 channels of audio each, for a total of 48] all in real time." It will be supplemented by clean and "dirty" feeds from the home and away teams, scoreboard video, network coverage of games and press conferences, plus radio calls from the home and away teams in primary and alternate languages.

Signals will be compressed (MPEG-4) to three 38 Mbps streams for live telecasts. Archive-bound footage (MPEG-2) will be transmitted at 100 Mbps to Thomson Grass Valley K2 servers at each ballpark, then FTP'd back to Secaucus. HTN Communications provides an OC3 data circuit for each ballpark to bring back the live signals. It changes the encoded video bandwidth to a GigE capacity to transfer FTP files for archiving after the post-game conferences, (see "All Baseball, All the Time" in the Oct. 18, 2008 issue of TV Technology for details on receiving and processing the footage in Secaucus).


SportsNet New York, home to the New York Mets, New York Jets, and other New York-area sports franchises, will launch a tag team of graphic enhancements.

Orad Hi-Tec Systems' Motion Video Play (MVP) will enable game enhancement features like "Pitch Differential," replays highlighting the intended and actual pitch destination. Other branded features include "SNY Magnify" for close plays, "Flow Motion" to dissect a pitcher's arm or a batter's swing, and "Speed and Distance" trackers for key movers and moving objects on the field.

Curt Gowdy. Jr., senior vice president of production said the features looked good, aided play analysis, and made good sense financially.

"They're all done through our existing cameras," said Gowdy. "They also enable us to create new sponsorship opportunities." CableVision has already announced it will sponsor Pitch Differential.

SNY's in-house department, led by Art Director Mark Rusciano, and New York City-based Perception developed its new graphics package. Gowdy said the "bold, fresh, vibrant, very contemporary new inserts" will unify the Mets brand on SNY's various platforms.

"And the most important thing: it's very advertiser-friendly," he said.