Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium keeps fans in seats with HD technology

To keep fans off the couch, today's in-stadium entertainment systems are getting more sophisticated, offering exclusive audio and video fare that's produced inside the stadium, many times within minutes.

As one of the latest examples, systems integration firm Diversified Systems (DSI), based in Virginia, has completed work on a new HD control room and routing system at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, to entertain fans in attendance. The project also included outfitting a newly constructed equipment room, a wireless camera system and an upgrade of the internal SMTV system to packet-based IP capability.

Working with Larry Rosen, vice president of broadcasting for the Baltimore Ravens (along with consulting firm VPC in Reisterstown Maryland), DSI designed and integrated the technical infrastructure after construction crews demolished the old control and expanded it. DSI got the contract at the end of January of this year and was finished by the first preseason game in August.

The production control room, which has its own cooling system and power supplies, includes a Harris (128x128 matrix) Platinum router with Nucleus control panels to switch/push video and audio to two large Daktronics Large Screen Displays at either end zone. Signals are monitored using a Harris Centrio multiviewer, with Harris NEO gear handling the video and audio signal processing, as well as master timing/synchronization of the entire system.

The Ravens were very enthusiastic about giving fans in the stadium entertainment elements they can't get at home, as well as a few things they can. For example, the Daktronics displays are used to show highlights of other games around the league via DirecTV's "NFL Red Zone" channel. Real-time statistics from those games are displayed along with the HD video. Signals from most of the NFL teams are sent to the control room and captured on a dedicated four-channel server (with a Harris MVP multiviewer) inside M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens likewise send highlights of their games, edited in the new control room, to other teams around the league within minutes after a touchdown or field goal is scored.

The project also reflects a stadium trend that shows the move to HD production is no longer a luxury. Every piece of production gear DSI installed was HD-capable, including EVS slow-motion servers (for in-stadium replays), Chyron HyperX3 graphics platform, a Ross Video Soft Metal Server, five Sony HSC300K HD cameras, Canon HD lenses and a Sony 8000 production switcher. They also mounted two Sony POV cameras inside the pressrooms of the home and visiting teams, which are controlled via a small panel inside the new control room.

One unique request from the Ravens was the desire to capture the team coming through the tunnel and onto the field via a wireless transmission the entire way. This was an NFL first, according to Shawn Samii, who served as project manager for DSI, as most wireless camera applications have to hand off to several camera operators to get a "continuous" shot. The COFDM transmission system was supplied by RF Central and features a camera-mounted transmitter (on a handheld SteadiCam rig) and a series of antennas mounted along the hallway. Samii said it was working better than expected. "The first time I saw it, I got goose bumps," he said.

Samii also cited IPTV as an increasing trend as a way to move video and audio content around in the most efficient way. The system at M&T Bank Stadium feeds hundreds of flat-screen monitors throughout the venue.

A dozen new fiber and triax cable runs for outside production companies were also installed to allow them to hook up their trucks to produce the live HD broadcasts.

DSI has designed similar systems for the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys and most recently for the New York Jets and New York Giants within the New Meadowlands stadium, in New Jersey.