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HD All the Way

Fox Super Bowl agenda extends hi-def to specialty cameras
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Fox Super Bowl agenda extends hi-def to specialty cameras

LOS ANGELES

Having just finished its first full season of covering NFL games in 720p HD (and 5.1 audio), the Fox network is better prepared then ever for its hi-def broadcast of Super Bowl XXXIX on Feb. 6. But Fox Sports officials are quick to point out that this is not just any other game.

"HD has made our lives wonderfully rich with texture," said Jeff Court, vice president of field operations and site integrator. "But it ain't easy."

At press time, Court estimated coverage would involve 54 cameras, a slew of fiber, and handy integration software. Optimally, all cameras will be HD--from the three dozen or so Thomson LDK6000s to the six LDK6200 slo-mo models (Plan B would be LDK23s), to remote cameras.

That would be a first, said George Hoover, senior vice president of engineering at NEP Supershooters, which is supplying four production trucks and the two-truck Nova package. Nova, he said, will supplement the game trucks with "additional cameras, replay devices and pyrotechnics." NEP will also supply an engineering support unit, which Court dubbed "Fox NEO (Networks Engineering and Operations) in a box."

In addition, ATK Audiotek will provide its Westwood One truck (stadium mix) and All Mobile Video will deliver its Editour and Cinetour, Court said.

INTERNATIONAL HD

Fox's HD feeds will also be seen in Japan and Germany. According to Arne Malsch, head of Boxing/U.S. sports for Premiere Fernsehen GmbH, the German signal will be divided into two parts--SD and HD. The live HD feed will be sent directly to Berlin for a closed-circuit viewing by about 300 people for promotional purposes (Premiere plans to start originating HD next November, the first station in Germany to do so).

Specialty equipment provider Cablecam International now uses a Sony HDCF950 in its suspension system, according to founder and president, Jim Rodnunsky. The company also has used the Helinet/Cineflex HiDEF V14 aerial camera platform, a gimbal made by Helinet Aviation Services, for Fox broadcasts since the Sept. 12 Redskins season opener against the Buccaneers.

"It was all great before--it's kinda like you bought last year's Maserati, now you're buying this year's," said Rodnunsky, a 10-year customer. He was impressed with the improved ergonomics and tracking. "They closed the loop--the gimbal now sends information about where it is back to the desk."

That's because the communication channel on the V14 is now bidirectional, letting the operator know where the gimbal is pointed, said Cineflex President John Coyle. A feature in the laptop controller also allows the operator to adjust each control movement of the gimbal independently, and there's a finer adjustment for drift control.

In addition, Coyle said the system now includes an HD Fujinon 13x lens (the HA13x4.5 BERD), which enables perspectives from 4.5mm to 58.55mm; a flip-in lens doubler takes that to 117 mm for tighter shots.

Robo-Vision was planning to supply eight remote-controlled HD rigs (with probably two more for the half-time event) using Ikegami HDL40s, which the company has used since September, said CEO Jim Warden.

"The transmission part of the HD is a lot different than a Sony 950 or an Ikegami 357 with triax," said Warden. "We provide the HD cameras with Telecast Fiber Systems POV Viper II," transmit-and-send box.

AUDIO & INTEGRATION CHALLENGES

As for audio, the 5.1 mixes Fox has delivered since the beginning of the season are more challenging to do live than the 3.1 mixes, partially due to differences of opinion regarding the logic of Dolby automation between the manufacturer and Fox's crew, Court said.

Integration itself also is a challenge. The production director will inevitably redirect the workflow and use the newest equipment for replays, including the Dixon X-File Integration System (DXIS) used in conjunction with EVS HDSLMs.

Jim Hopkins, senior vice president of engineering in Fox Networks engineering and operations said the Dixon interface made it faster and easier to cull material.

"The control system provided by Dixon Sports Computing allows the operators to go in and choose the pieces off of those melt disks and dub them off onto high-definition videotapes so that we have an archive copy," Hopkins said. "It also generates metadata, so that we can go back and retrieve it later."

Fox has used DXIS all season, incorporating various Dixon products along the way. About eight weeks in, according to company President Michael Dixon, Fox bought an upgrade to send material from Fox NEO back to the trucks on the X-file drive. For the Super Bowl, a component will enable the crew to log the game at the truck instead of at the broadcast facility.

That, and shipping NEO's Dixon system and melted X-files to Jacksonville, Fla. is all part of Fox's grand plan to contain production "completely and totally" in the compound, said Richard Freidel, executive vice president and general manager of Fox Networks engineering and operations.

"The only thing that happens here at the network center is putting in the commercials," Freidel said.