This year's television coverage of Wimbledon will be notable for two reasons: the move to an all-HD feed and the new retractable roof on Centre Court.
NBC and ESPN will air tennis' most prestigious event June 22-July 5 in the United States. According to Adrian Kingston, senior engineering manager for SIS Live Outside Broadcast, which provides mobile OB coverage of the event, the team will be using a "whole new set of trucks."
Kingston acknowledged the additional requirements involved in covering the event entirely in hi-def.
"The biggest issue in HD is moving it around the place because it's such a heavyweight signal—it needs a lot of bandwidth," said Kingston.
SIS Live will provide all the signals to the onsite clients at the venue. Kingston said the BBC's International Unit will deliver some services offsite; London's IMG will deliver the world and European feeds.
"We'll also use fiber network as a reserve route from [New York-based] Genesis," he said.
SIS Live will deploy Sony HDC-1500s and HDC-950s for HD acquisition. Applications using very small, robotic heads will be used on the umpire's chairs and on tracking cameras at the north end of Centre Court. There will also be eight Sony HDC-3300 slo-mos. The signature Wescam (Cineflex) ball will be hoisted for a very high shot. A high-speed camera was also being considered at press time.
The new roof over Wimbledon's Centre Court was used for the first time at "A Centre Court Celebration," May 17. The event was designed to test the new roof and air management system with live tennis in front of a capacity crowd of 15,000. ©AELTC Heavy rain and high winds provided a perfect test for the new roof during "A Centre Court Celebration" exhibition matches on May 17, according to Kingston. The event—designed to showcase the facility's new cover—was the first time his crew had a full camera rig on the court with the roof closed and the crowd inside. In April, he said, the crew brought a single camera down for a test at night to see how the lighting worked.
Kingston estimated that the whole changeover process for the May 17 matches—closing the roof, drying out the surface, warming up the players—took about a half hour. He said the effect was different, but not bad.
Although you could hear the rain, he said, "It wasn't intrusive." Similarly, although "there was a lot more reflected sound" from players, fans and even bouncing balls, he said, "it wasn't objectionable." He said the lighting was "magical" and "charming"—"almost like a computer rendition"—because it was so even. Only the slo-mo cameras required adjustment, he said.
"The translucent roof lets in natural light," said Kingston. "It also has [soft , reflected] light bouncing onto it, and a direct scheme in which light shines directly on the field of play."
Getting the right atmosphere, temperature and lighting are paramount to keeping the players and fans happy and the grass green.
"Although it's got sheet material in it, [the roof] doesn't let in enough light, particularly on a grim day," Kingston said. "[Added] lighting generates heat that adds to the air conditioning issues around the court. We were involved in discussions about the lighting scheme to make sure it worked for HD television as well as for the Club's requirements."
NBC is using Orad's Hi-Tec Systems software to track the movements of the players and the ball. The Club contracted with Oskaloosa, Iowa-based Musco Lighting for a floodlighting system. The four-year collaboration resulted in "a system that moves on and off the floor with the roof," according to Jeff Rogers, Musco's vice president of sales.
"The system will provide lighting values in excess of 1,800 lux measured vertically and just over 3,000 lux measured horizontally on the court," he said. "Control of shadows was a critical part of our analysis as well as control of glare for players, officials and spectators."
ESPN Classic televised the event live and www.ESPN360.com provided broadband coverage. Jamie Reynolds, the network's vice president for event production, said the experience "truly marveled everybody."
"The lighting was terrific; acoustically [there 's] much more of a vibrant, live feeling," he said. "And during the closing they had a full entertainment show going on—videos on the screen, singers—so the fans in the stands lost track of the time."
DISTINGUISHING U.S. BROADCASTS
At press time, NBC and ESPN were still working out the details on camera placement and feed acquisition. As such, they noted how their pre-produced packages, in-house announcers and analysts, and replays and isolation shots would brand their respective American takes on the action.
Wimbledon's new retractable roof features about 5,200 square meters of very strong, flexible translucent waterproof material. ©AELTC Both broadcasters will supplement the official electronic line calling system provided by Hawkeye with options for uncontested calls.
ESPN has a dedicated line to Hawkeye for uncontested play, said Jamie Reynolds, vice president, Event Production. This could, for example, illustrate the placement and speed of serves and returns and the probability of successful forehands versus backhands via Hawkeye's graphical interpretation of historical data, he said.
NBC has contracted with Israel's Orad Hi-Tec Systems to illustrate "tracking distance to the players, service direction, speed of the ball and player, where the players are hitting the ball, and where they're finding the most success," said John McGuiness, NBC's coordinating producer for tennis coverage.
As for isolation shots, both NBC and ESPN typically take five low angle net shots from dedicated digital RF cameras (details were yet to be determined).
Beyond broadcast, FLO TV will carry NBC's coverage of Wimbledon from the network's mobile TV service "NBC2GO," which is offering the "NBC Sports Championship Season." The package ties together seven championships broadcast by NBC over a 65-day period between May 2 and July 5.
ESPN will deliver nearly double the hours of live broadband coverage on ESPN360.com from 2008, expand its live mobile streaming on ESPN Mobile TV by nearly 60 percent, and add additional highlights on ESPN.com and ESPNdeportes.com.