MINNEAPOLIS—Opened on July 22, 2016, the Minnesota Vikings’ new U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis represents the state-of-the-art in NFL facilities. With a capacity of 65,400—expandable to 72,000 seats for a Super Bowl—and including 116 suites and 8,000 premium club seats, the Vikings’ new roofed stadium is a sports showcase where 4K video production comes standard.
“We have designed U.S. Bank Stadium’s production facilities to provide full 4K video for the stadium’s in-house displays, which include the 8,100 square-foot main video board in the west end, the east end video scoreboard, ribbon boards, and over 800 HD monitors,” said Ben Cating, senior consultant/vice president with Idibri, the Dallas-based consulting firm in charge of the stadium’s in-stadium/broadcast production design.
“The broadcast control room includes a sophisticated stadium master control that handles feeds between nine 4K cameras, seven 1080p PTZ cameras and two wireless cameras, produces both 1080p and 4K slo-motion replays, feeds content to the displays, and shares 4K content back and forth with the NFL broadcast trucks.” (U.S. Bank Stadium has 25,000 square feet of video display space in all.)
Bryan Harper, vice president of content and production for the Minnesota Vikings, noted that the stadium video infrastructure was designed with the changing media landscape in mind.
“We know that we have to compete with the at-home experience and also support the broadcasters as best we can,” he said. “The 4K infrastructure and what it will mean for the in-venue viewing experience should be second to none.” He added that “we will archive in 4K which should pay dividends for years to come—including as we move into our new team headquarters in Eagan in 2018.”
U.S. Bank Stadium has a capacity of 65,400—expandable to 72,000 seats for a Super Bowl—and includes 116 suites and 8,000 premium club seats.
As an experienced AV consulting firm whose credits include both professional and college-level stadiums and arenas, Idibri has kept a close eye on 4K’s progress. “One of our corporate clients invested on the cutting edge with a 4K system a few years ago,” Cating said.
“So we are very familiar with this technology, and what it requires to function properly.”
At U.S. Bank Stadium, this translates to the camera system including nine Sony 4K cameras. There is a huge beam above the field over the 50-yard line, under which Alpha Video Sports & Entertainment Group—the Eden Prairie, Minn.-based AV and broadcast integrator for the project—has installed a remotely-controlled Sony PMW-F55 with a pan-tilt-zoom head. From this bird’s eye position, the Vikings’ production staff—and by extension, TV viewers—can see what is happening anywhere on the field in 4K clarity.
The other eight 4K cameras are all Sony HDC-4300s, manned and mounted on tripods around the stadium. Meanwhile, the 1080p PTZ cameras are Sony SRG-300Hs, while the 1080p wireless cameras are Sony PMW-X500s, using Vislink Wireless.
The fixed camera positions are connected to either SMPTE or single-mode fiber-optic cable, according to Cating. “All of the cameras output 4K signals converted for IP transport that live inside a hybrid 4K/1080p production plant,” he said. “Working in IP eliminates the problems associated with sending 4K signals over copper, where you need four separate copper cables with BNC connectors to carry a single 4K video feed. Since there is not yet a ratified 4K transport standard yet, working in IP was a strategic decision.”
The Vikings’ master control room on the stadium’s upper level is equipped with a Ross Acuity video switcher and Evertz eQX router. This is where all of the in-stadium display feeds, streaming video feeds and social media live content are produced.
These 4K feeds are delivered to the Viking’s master control room on the stadium’s upper level, which is equipped with a Ross Acuity video switcher and Evertz EQX router. This is where all of the in-stadium display feeds, streaming video feeds, and social media live content are produced. The control room is also equipped with four EVS XT3 instant replay stations; three in 1080p and one in 4K. All four can access, record and playback content sourced from the stadium’s 18 Sony cameras.
“It is the 4K instant replay system that provides real value for the Vikings,” Cating said. “Using the ‘region of interest’ feature, we can zoom in on any part of the picture and review the play. This can be particularly vital during contested calls, when the referees, teams, and fans want to see what happened on the big screen.”
Again, this content is shared with the Viking’s NFL broadcast partners via cabled connections. “We have been careful to plan for future demand by installing an Evertz router that has room for additional 4K and 1080p signal paths,” Cating said. “Right now we have three 4K paths and 12 1080p paths in each direction between master control and the truck bay, but there is room for expansion as the needs grow.”
The Vikings’ master control room also provides 1080p content that is vitally important to the team. “For instance, the main LED game board is served in 1080p, which is natively produced in that format,” said Jeffrey Volk, vice president for Alpha Video Sports & Entertainment Group. “Meanwhile, we are shooting and producing content in native 4K for the broadcast production trucks, and for mobile content delivery.
“That’s where the real challenge lies,” Volk said. “This facility has to work comfortably in 4K and 1080p, mixing 3G baseband and fiber transports along with Aspen-based IP transports to move content throughout the facility.”
BONUS FOR SPECTATORS
Some of U.S. Bank Stadium’s more dazzling features are the six club areas between the 20 yard lines. Located at the stadium’s mid-level, these clubs feature premium seating overlooking the field plus access to spacious full-service bars and lounges in the areas behind the seats.
“Two of the clubs feature three side-by-side 28-by-9-foot video display walls,” Cating said. “In addition to the nine broadcast 4K cameras, there are three fixed F55s located at each 25-yard line and the 50-yard line. When the three camera feeds are projected side-by-side, the result is an end-to-end ‘virtual window’ view of the entire field live.” This visual is created using 12 Barco edge-blended RLM W12 projectors. In addition, some of the 116 private suites are equipped with 4K monitors.
All told, U.S. Bank Stadium is a 4K showplace, and one where the technology has been fully embraced. “The Vikings’ production staff are very skilled and progressive,” Cating said. “We can’t wait to see how far they take the system in terms of fan engagement.”
Added Volk, “the Vikings’ master control room with its 4K and 1080p facilities, and their ability to work with each other, is a leading light for NFL stadiums in terms of video production capability and horsepower.”
James Careless is an award-winning journalist who has written for TV Technology since the 1990s. He has covered HDTV from the days of the six competing HDTV formats that led to the 1993 Grand Alliance, and onwards through ATSC 3.0 and OTT. He also writes for Radio World, along with other publications in aerospace, defense, public safety, streaming media, plus the amusement park industry for something different.
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