DNF's shotbox at New York's Shea Stadium

Server-based playout technologies are changing the way viewers experience televised sports events. The addition of a multitude of animated graphics and special effects, replays from virtually any angle and at any speed, and smooth graphical transitions in and out of live action have established a new standard for sports broadcast production.

Control room technicians at Shea Stadium create live big-screen shows for as many as 55,300 baseball fans. Photo courtesy Marc S. Levine/ NY Mets.

As audiences come to expect this visual spectacle as part of televised sports, production crews find themselves facing the challenge of providing an equally streamlined and stimulating experience for the thousands of sports fans within the stadium, arena or other live sports venue.

At the New York Mets’ Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadows, Queens, the team’s home-game production crew creates live big-screen shows for as many as 55,300 baseball fans at each home game. Control room technicians operate the video display screen and the scoreboard, and the technical director for the big-screen show works with up to 19 sources to insert content into the game and build a mini story around each play.

To create the drama that heightens the experience of the moment for the fans and players, the technical director needs a responsive system that provides immediate control over content playout. Prior to the 2002 season, the Mets production crew relied on a linear system in which clips were queued into one of the two available playout channels of an older, laser disc-based playout system. Without a better way to access the replay effects or other animated responses to a home run or great play, crew members were forced to keep one particular effect in line at all times, tying up half of the clip system’s output capacity.

To overcome this bottleneck between the clip system and switcher, and also to free up the control room’s other operators – including an Inscriber CG Supreme character generator operator, an Avid editing system operator and a video engineer – the Mets upgraded their existing DNF 4000CL system to a 2034CL-O-PBIO from DNF Controls.

The instant access clip management system includes DNF’s full-featured ST300 controller and ST420 Shotbox. Relegendable keys on the ST420 display clip allows the Mets crew to have one-key access to single video clips or to fill clip/key clip combinations. Pre-recorded video – recorded on the fly or prepared in advance – is an integral component of virtually every broadcast.

The special transitions and replay effects, played out instantly, have brought the visual impact of the big-screen show closer to a television-broadcast look and feel.

Within the composite analog control room at Shea Stadium, the technical director uses the unit’s remote panel to call up video clips and insert them live during the game. The box is linked to Fast Forward Video’s Omega Deck digital disk recorder, which allows the TD to record clips on the fly in case he needs them on hand for immediate playout.

Through the Omega interface with the Shotbox, the TD has access to as many as 270 clips at the push of a button. The TD inputs new clips into the clip controller, assigning each clip to a particular bank and button. The unit also allows the TD to set the in-point at which he wants the clip to start.

Material from the Omega Deck goes out to the TD’s Thomson Grass Valley 200 switcher in composite form. The DNF unit serves as a keyable source, as well as a direct source, for the switcher. As a direct source, the unit is used for interstitials, bumpers and features that are of a longer duration. At the downstream keyer, it is also available for animated transitions that wipe over line sources.

Video is delivered to the unit via Betacam component inputs. Delivering material as a component source allows the crew to feed the unit the component outputs of nonlinear sources in addition to outputs from tape. As a result, they get the best visual quality for any motion graphics or animations they capture and playback.

The switcher’s auxiliary bus also serves as a composite router. The auxiliary bus has all of the sources that appear in the switcher’s M/E buses, giving the TD the option to record anything during the game – including still stores and material from tape machines, the character generator and any of the 10 live cameras – while he’s switching just by punching it up on the auxiliary bus.

For the 2003 baseball season, the Mets plan to implement another powerful feature of the Shotbox control system – the PBIO option – which allows clips to be cued and triggered by the Thomson Grass Valley switcher E-Mem. This will enable the technical director to build multi-layered transitions incorporating animated graphics and DVE moves that can be triggered from a single switcher button.

The story of the game

DNF’s control solution is put to work throughout the entire production. Ten cameras located around the ballpark feed video to the control room. The big screen cannot display any of that live video when the batter is in the batter’s box, so it pauses on a still image. If the batter hits a home run, the TD uses the Shotbox to run the fly-and-replay effect, which leads into the home run replay.

Additional graphics leading into and out of player graphics and statistics may follow until the next at-bat. The whole process happens at an incredible speed to keep up with the flow of the game.

During the course of a New York Mets game, the graphics played out to Shea Stadium’s big screen are a combination of pre-made graphics and new graphics with compositing. When there is time and the production team can anticipate a home stand with a big rival, Shea Stadium’s graphics department will develop custom images in advance.

Animated replay effects and pre-edited features that last anywhere from one to three minutes are loaded onto the Shotbox before the game.

In a live situation, when a play happens and the production team needs to build a clip quickly, the character generator operator uses the CG Supreme to build video on the spot. An Inscriber CG Supreme character generator and an Avid editing system together provide the show with high-quality picture and audio editing, compositing, paint, animation and character generation.

Live shots that are recorded while the game is in progress are also recorded into the DNF box for later playout. All of this material comes together on the big screen, bringing the audience into the game’s unfolding story.

Harry Garcia is technical director for the New York Mets, and Dan Fogel is president of DNF Controls.

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