Golf Channel shoots high (def) for newly upgraded facility

The live coverage of golf tournaments has always been distinguished by the numerous camera angles used and the pristine quality of the televised signal. Viewers like looking at beautiful golf courses, and there’s no denying that the sport in HD — and more recently in 3-D — looks stunning.

Understanding this, Golf Channel, owned by Comcast, has upgraded its main production facility in Orlando, FL, in a multistage move to HD operations. The entire facility is now HD though the channel continues to deliver HD and SD signals to distributors.

Seen by more than 120 million households worldwide, Golf Channel produces more than 1000 hours of original golf entertainment programming as well as live coverage of golf (PGA Tour, European Tour, LPGA Tour, Champions Tour and Nationwide Tour) and “Golf Central,” a daily half-hour news program. Highlights are often turned around within three minutes or less from when they actually happen on the golf course. The facility also supports Golf Channel’s Web and mobile video services.

The newly upgraded Orlando facility includes three full HD production control rooms, a digital media center (which houses most of the channel’s XDCAM HD and legacy formats, as well as two EVS workstations and an Avid ingest system), a technical operations center, four HD/SD master control facilities, a digital transfer center and ingest along with a digital media asset management center.

Making the move

In overseeing the move from SD to HD, Ken Botelho, senior director of engineering, said he wanted to improve image quality, but he was also tasked with moving the network’s production activities away from a predominantly tape-based workflow (from the Betacam SP to DigiBeta, IMX and HDCAM formats) to an environment that takes advantage of digital video and audio as files that can be easily handled and shared among the production staff. There was also a huge legacy of existing videotapes that had to be leveraged in the most efficient way.

Before 2009, the year Botelho joined the channel, the facility’s workflow was convoluted, he said, but it now has a consistent, cohesive engineering and production strategy within one of the most sophisticated HD facilities in the country. The facility is now “truly tapeless,” from acquisition to deep archive and the many steps in between.

Now that a file-based architecture has been implemented — which proved to be a challenge to streamline operations by getting systems to work together and recognize XDCAM 50Mb/s HD files natively — the staff is capable of producing more content in much higher quality and getting it to air faster than ever before. Thanks to the latest networking tools, they are also much more efficient in how resources are used on a daily basis.

Golf Channel operations executives have committed to the Sony XDCAM HD platform because they think it’s easy to drag and drop HD files, and the physical optical disc format lends itself to better organization in the near term. If it’s on your desk, you know where the footage is.

The XDCAM HD codec’s file-based capabilities help Golf Channel crews deal with the massive amount of footage gathered during a particular event. For example, when a crew is out covering a tour on a given weekend, it may come back with upwards of 600 XDCAM HD discs full of footage that not only needs to be edited and aired, but also ingested, stored and archived. Several XDCAM EX recorders are also used in a pinch.

They use more than 65 Sony XDCAM HD optical decks for program mastering and archiving. When XDCAM HD camera operators come in from the field, they hand a disc over to a producer for ingest (using Dixon Sports logging software), and that disc is then held nearby when a program is being produced. In addition, at 50Mb/s, the picture quality is outstanding and the file size is manageable, Botelho said.

Multilevel storage strategy

Once material is ingested into the system, editors work on 13 Avid Nitris HD systems, pulling clips from an Avid ISIS shared storage system. The integration of Avid Interplay, Transfer Manager, Archive and iNEWS systems provide flexibility in the movement of content. (The facility also has about 20 Apple Final Cut Pro systems in the creative services department, which also use the ISIS.) This allows them to search and retrieve the most desired clips of the day and then move the finished clips over to workstations running NL Technology AutoIngest software.

This software acts as a traffic cop and automatically sends files to where they have to go without human intervention. This destination could be the Sony PetaSite archive or XDCAM automated multidisc cart system for long-term storage. It could also be a Front Porch Digital DIVArchive system, which is being used with a SAMMA Systems robot system to help transfer the material on videotape to the PetaSite digital archive.

Overall, the streamlined HD post-production environment gives journalists and producers full access to the same clips from their desktops, which has fostered strong collaboration.

Archiving and repurposing

The third aspect to the Golf Channel’s HD upgrade was to begin the process of digitizing more than 100,000 hours of videotape material and moving it to a centralized storage library (“deep archive”), in this case the PetaSite library system with about 12PB of capacity stored on LTO data tape. This was critically important as the Golf Channel repurposes a lot of material, so having footage readily available saves a lot of time and frustration.

An Evertz EQX 576 x 576 HD video router handles all of the incoming digital signals and distributes them as necessary. Audio is routed as embedded signals with an Evertz EMR 288 x 288 audio router. There is some 5.1 surround sound audio mixed at the facility, but all of the Golf Channel programming is delivered in stereo.

Outgoing signals are sent via a massive digital teleport on the Orlando campus, as well as a dedicated Level 3 fiber Ethernet private line service. The current capacity is 600Mb/s, and it is connected to the Comcast Digital Media Center in Denver. The Level 3 fiber is currently being upgraded to a GigE virtual private line that will provide the campus with complete redundancy. The teleport is capable of sending and receiving signals all over the world.

HD studio production

There are three new HD control rooms, and the larger production control rooms, PCR1 and PCR2, are identical. Both have Sony MVS-8000G video production switchers and several Panasonic plasma and TVLogic LCD monitors on the front wall running Evertz MVP multiviewer and VIP multiviewer. EVS XT[2]+ HD servers and Chyron HyperX3 and Vizrt Trio graphics systems are also employed for live-to-tape and other broadcasts. The rooms can be operated independently or used in tandem for larger projects. Recently, the channel was able to simultaneously handle both a “Grey Goose 19th Hole” show live from PCR2 and “Golf Central” live, as well as “The Golf Fix” with Michael Breed live from PCR1.

PCR2 has an adjacent audio mixing room with a 32-fader Solid State Logic C100 HD-S console. The facility operates two SSL boards, which can serve the main control rooms or be routed to other post-production areas within the building. An SSL MORSE router was purchased with the new console to enhance the C100 HD-S console’s compatibility with this studio design and to further integrate the existing MORSE Stagebox. The MORSE Stagebox is fitted with 14 HD-SDI I/O cards that can be configured for use as embedders, de-embedders or various combinations of embedding and de-embedding. Audio is carried by MADI to the router.

PCR3 is a smaller control room that includes a Yamaha DM-1000 audio mixing board but still features a Sony MVS-8000G switcher and most of the HD-compatible equipment found in the other two control rooms.

A new 4700sq-ft Studio A, designed by Jack Morton of PDG New York, went live Jan. 4 and includes six different production areas. Both Studios A and B feature Sony HDC-1500 HD cameras, Canon HD lenses and LED lighting to create different atmospheres for the various shows produced there. Nearly 40 Panasonic plasma and Sony LCD monitors adorn the walls at strategic locations for the best on-camera views.

The clean difference

Botelho said the staff went the extra mile to make sure that the new facility is the cleanest anyone will ever see. The broadcast team integrated 45mi of video, 18mi of audio and 13mi of Cat 5 cable into its new HD facility. A remarkable achievement of the new HD studio facility is that even with all of the miles of broadcast and IP cabling and intercom communications links, it is all hidden and installed under the studio floors. The talent can report a story from literally anywhere, and you won’t see a piece of cable on-air. There are eight bulkheads throughout the facility that provide SMPTE fiber connectivity for cameras and other equipment. Every monitor cable is carefully built and routed into a set piece.

Perhaps the biggest achievement at Golf Channel is that all of the systems integration work and the physical installation of the equipment was completed by in-house staff and some freelancers. The staff is particularly proud of the way the equipment has been implemented so that they could do their jobs better and faster. It was a chance for them to build their dream facility and, according to Botelho, they did. BE

Michael Grotticelli regularly reports on the professional video and broadcast technology industries.