Golf Channel Goes HD

Sports network replaces entire infrastructure
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Kelly Tilghman and Rich Lerner on Golf Channel’s new Golf Central set.
ORLANDO, FLA.

2010 marks the start of the final phase in Golf Channel’s three-year plan to transition to a full high-definition operation. The channel ushered in the new year by revealing a new studio makeover for the year’s first telecast of “Golf Central” on Jan. 4.

The studio redesign was completed by Jack Morton/PDG, which has been recognized for its studio design work for NBC, CBS and ESPN, among others. It reveals a very hi-tech look, complete with a custom PGA TOUR Simulator powered by aboutGolf’s proprietary 3Trak technology, as well as two SportsMedia-powered, multitouch screens (85-inch and 65-inch). The new sets will live in the same 4,700-square-foot space as before, but now will include four, separate “environments,” from which various studio shows will originate. The redesign is capped off with changes in lighting and new Sony HD cameras.

NO PART LEFT UNTOUCHED

This stunning set is just the most visible part of a unique transition that saw Golf Channel replace nearly every major working system within its infrastructure. The original plant was built in the late 1990s for 480i standard definition NTSC and wasn’t optimized for HD. The move was spearheaded by Dan Overleese, vice president of operations and Ken Botelho, senior director of engineering.

“This was like doing a heart-lung transplant!” exclaimed Botelho. “Normally you’d build up new HD control rooms in another building and then flip a switch from SD to HD. The unique aspect was that we have been changing systems in place, without ever shutting down the operation. Over two years, we have been actively replacing every major operational unit within the facility.” This includes not only the complete changeover of three production control rooms to HD using Sony 8000G switchers, but also router, master control, servers and automation systems. Golf Channel installed four separate Evertz master control workstations coupled to a robust Florical automation system. Three channels are currently in actual use: a domestic SD and HD feed and one international feed for Asia.

No area of the operation was left untouched. Golf Channel has standardized on Sony XDCAM-HD for field production and is moving to a complete file-based operation. Post production for news and programming has been upgraded from Avid Unity to Avid systems using Interplay and Isis, using state-of-the-art HD Multistream Airspeeds. A new SSL 100 board was installed in the audio control room. Chyron graphics received an HD upgrade to HyperX 3 and the department has also augmented these systems with Vizrt graphics. In addition, the creative services department uses Apple Final Cut Pro workstations connected to three Apple Xsan shared storage solutions.

PARTNERS

As part of this build-out, Overleese and Botelho give a large amount of credit to key vendors, including Sony, Evertz, Florical and Harris. “In addition to installation and workflow advice, there was also an extensive amount of operational training.” Golf Channel has settled on 1080i for its HD standard, with an eye towards 1080p in the future.

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Golf Channel’s golf simulator “We compared 720p and 1080i and felt that for golf, 1080i was simply better,” Overleese said. “It’s not football with a lot of fast lateral action. A lot of the tournament experience for the viewer is the beauty of the courses and the landscaping and design features of the holes. With 1080i you get a chance to really see every blade of grass and take it all in. Actual image resolution was very important to us in making this decision. Plus, the wider aspect of HD gives the viewer a look at these holes like they’ve never seen before. For example, in 16:9, you get to see the bunkers on either side of the green that you missed when the telecast was in the 4:3 aspect ratio.”

Golf Channel partners with NEP as the mobile vendor for covering PGA TOUR and LPGA events. Coverage ranges from 16:9 SD to full HD, depending on whether Golf Channel is covering all four rounds of an event or only the Thursday and Friday rounds, which is often the case when partnering with another network. “Our first PGA TOUR event in January was the SBS Championship in Maui,” Overleese said. “That was a complete HD production. It gave us a chance to showcase the new studio design, as well at to show off the beauty of this course as a stunning HD image.”

The hi-tech elements of the set are intended to enable better demonstration of aspects of the golf game and coverage of the tournament events. Key in the studio set design is a dedicated analysts’ area where each analyst can “telestrate” on demand. The Simulator uses high-definition 3D renderings of the 18th hole of each of the 2010 PGA TOUR scheduled courses. This system is a virtual golf course displayed as rear projection. Golf Channel analysts can use it for demonstrations and shot recreations and it will figure prominently in shows like “The Golf Fix,” hosted by Michael Breed.

During the last leg of this HD transition, plans for 2010 include the addition of a complete digital asset management system, centered in Golf Channel’s new Digital Transfer Center. Based on a Sony Petasite storage and carousel system, this part of the Golf Channel operation will be focused on moving and transferring media seamlessly among XDCAM-HD, Avid and Final Cut stations, as well as managing a database of archived, near-line and online media assets.