BSI Adds Perspective to Baltimore Grand Prix

A day at the races with wireless POV cameras
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BSI General Manager Peter Larsson spies video of a speeding IndyCar on a big screen in the company’s truck prior to the race.
BALTIMORE—While Hanover, Md.-based Broadcast Sports Inc. (BSI) frequently sends its crews to events all over the world and is expanding internationally, it's ironic that a recent gig was held practically in the company's backyard—or about as close as BSI gets to such a proverbial "lawnscape."

After all of the globetrotting that General Manager Peter Larsson and company have done since he co-founded the BSI more than 25 years ago, he reveled in working just a few miles from its 56,000-square-foot headquarters on the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, where the company accentuated the broadcast's efforts with its point-of-view (POV) RF camera technology.

The event, which took place over Labor Day weekend, included two races, one for the American LeMans Series, which aired on espn3.com; the other for the Izod Indy Racing League that aired on Versus. Highlight packages for both events aired on ESPN2.

15 POINTS OF VIEW

Combined, BSI supplied 15 of its on-board POV (or "lipstick") cameras (nine for the LeMans race that can pan 360 degrees and six for the IndyCars) within a technical setup that also included four RF handheld Sony HDC 1500 camera systems, five wireless announcer systems and one helicopter with a Cineflex mount for the event—including, in the case of the IndyCars, the only HD on-board camera systems for open wheel racing cars in the world.

For the broadcasts, BSI's infrastructure included a ground-based microwave system for the signals from the POV cameras that included 10 receive sites set up at various points around the track "to capture the video and audio signals transmitted from the cars, the helicopter and all other wireless systems," said Larsson.

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BSI Driver/Field Technician Chad Johnson and GM Peter Larsson check the installation of one of the company’s POV cameras mounted atop a Le Mans car. The equipment inside the BSI production truck included three EVS XT digital machines that were networked with the main broadcasters, UHF communications to pit talent and cameramen, microwave receivers and decoders, as well as joysticks to pan the cameras.

Fifteen BSI technical personnel were on site during the setup and the two days of competition to coordinate the incorporation of the cameras, which weigh about two pounds. Overall, the systems weigh six pounds and also include a fiber microwave receive box and a microphone.

The arrangement at the Baltimore Grand Prix was set up as follows: The POV cameras transmitted the RF signals to the 10 receive sites that were set up around the 2.4-mile track on buildings, bridges and wherever else BSI could effectively place one of the fiber microwave receive boxes for free; where that was not possible, the company rented cranes, such as one unit that was positioned just outside its trailer in the TV compound.

The cost of the cranes is related to their height. Renting a 100-foot crane costs about $6,000, while a 65-footer runs approximately $3,000; the overall receive effort was enabled by six miles of fiber-optic cable.

LIGHT BUT RUGGED

As noted, only some of the cars in the race employed the cameras; their use presents an interesting scenario for the team crews, Larsson said.

"Since the camera systems have to be strong enough to withstand the normal vibrations of the race and the possible impact with a wall or another car (as happened before the IndyCar race on Sunday morning, when the brakes on Tony Kanaan's car failed and it ran up behind Helio Castroneves' vehicle. A POV camera on Castroneves' vehicle captured the image of Kanaan's out-of-control IndyCar becoming airborne before crashing into a series of banded tires in a designated runoff area)," Larsson said. "However, the cameras also have to be light enough that the crew chiefs will allow us to place it on top of the car."

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A POV camera, installed in a Le Mans car. Note the camera, which is mounted on the white bar about 3 inches below the left side of the window; the mounted mic is approximately 18 inches down the bar. The rest of the necessary hardware is contained within the two silver boxes to the right.
So the IndyCars that opt against using the POV camera instead added a six-pound dummy weight atop the roll bar (unlike IndyCars, the Le Mans cars vary in weight, so no such measure is taken).

Another consideration for the crew chief is cost. The cost of the POV cameras range from $5,000 up to $25,000, with the increase in cost depending on such functions as pan and tilt. In addition, the more expensive models often require more maintenance.

With the initial Baltimore Grand Prix in the rear-view mirror, Larsson and company are on to the next race, the next game, the next event; but the latest twist is the move of BSI, which is owned by L-3 Communications, into international markets. Seeing "little possibility for growth" in the U.S. broadcasting market, Larsson said the company has opened a new office in London to serve the European market and is on the verge of doing likewise in Brazil.

"Opening overseas offices is a great opportunity to showcase our purpose-built technology on a much larger stage," he said, "and it will open up more applications than we can dream of. For example, our ground-based receive system is already being used to cover a surfing contest in Spain."