Indy 500 Goes HD


After years of anticipation, the Indy 500 finally went HD this year.

“Indianapolis Motor Speedway wanted to do hi def for many years,” said Rich Feinberg, senior coordinating producer for ESPN and ABC. “Once there were enough funds to upgrade the technology, the production, operations and engineering personnel were able to dive in.”

The plunge was huge.

“Everything was completely different from what we’ve done previously,” said Dave Gass, senior director of field operations and engineering for IMS Productions, the production arm of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “We don’t own hi-def facilities, so we had to rent. All Mobile Video provided the world feed facilities for us, and Yes Productions provided the ABC feed.”

The result was breathtaking from the start.

“One of the most dramatic shots was at the beginning of the race, when you had all 33 cars coming down the straightaway,” said Gass. “All the people in the pits and stands, all the cars, color and action [was there]; the grandeur of the event that wasn’t there previously.”


More than 40 cameras—SD and HD—were used.

All Mobile Video used five Sony HDC1000s and six HDC1500s for the pool feed, according to Lee Blanco, director of mobile operations for AMV.

(click thumbnail)The CableCam Accelerator System in HD made its first appearance at the Indy 500.Yes Productions used nine Ikegami HDK-79EX cameras: five handheld configurations and four studio cameras with SE-H700 extension adapters, according to Dave Kennedy, manager, technical operations for Yes Productions.

“These cameras used a combination of Fuji 101 and 87x lenses—the handhelds used Fuji 22x and 4.8x ENG lenses,” he said. “Some of the cameras were operated on fiber, others on triax.”

Kennedy noted that his crew also took in 25 RF camera feeds from in-car cameras, handhelds, and specialty cameras positioned around the track. The BSI in-car cameras used a standard-definition format, as time constraints ruled out an HD alternative.

“These feeds were handled by 18 FortelDTV UDC-550-CC up-down cross converters, which gave us color correction as well as conversion capability,” he said. “The distribution was handled by 90 Evertz Microsystems’ 500DCDA-HD down-converter cards, which allowed for down-converted distribution to SDI and analog signals all in one card with minimal delay.”

Specialty cameras played a big role.

“It was the first time ever in the history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway that the sanctioning body of the IRL approved use of Cablecam literally flying over the track,” said ABC’s Feinberg. “It really offered spectacular shots.”

The system’s 1,800-foot trajectory started 200 feet behind the pagoda atop the Media Center, flew over the pits as it “threaded the needle between the pagoda and the scoring tower,” then crossed the track diagonally to Turn One, where it was attached to the grandstand, according to Cablecam President Jim Rodnunsky, president of Cablecam International in Chatsworth, Calif.

“It was our longest run to date using fiber as the ‘pull line’ [to achieve] speeds in excess of 80 mph,” he said, noting the company’s longest run to date not over fiber was 4,000 feet. ABC made the call to use fiber instead of a wireless connection.

(click thumbnail)Winner Dario Franchitti with his wife, Ashley Judd.“Using wireless gear opens the possibility of interference from other RF gear, including other TV equipment and telemetry from the race cars,” said Paul DiPietro, coordinating operations director for ESPN Remote Productions.

The system was equipped with a Panasonic AK-HC1500 camera with a Fujinon 13x4.7 HD lens mounted on the company’s new Pinpoint gyro-stabilized head, according to Rodnunsky. A Sennheiser MKH-816 shotgun mic captured distinct sounds.

Cablecam also debuted its new Cablecam Accelerator-projected A-to-B high-speed dolly along with a special system that takes up cable slack when the dolly is driven 1,800 feet away from its start point, said Rodnunsky. NASCAR plans to use it henceforth.

In addition, nine Iconix RH-1 HD mini-cameras were strategically placed along the outside wall to get come and go shots in the backstretch; one equipped with a shutter was placed at the finish line. Indy’s Gass gave high marks to the technology’s ability to capture the flagstand shot and illustrate how fast the cars were going.

Robo-Vision in-stalled nine remote-controlled Ikegami HDL-50 cameras at the pit entrance, in no-man’s land (between the pits and main part of the track), on the scoring pylon, and in turns and short shoots.


Gass said this was the first Indy 500 to use 5.1 surround sound and EVS technology.

Yes Productions audio came through an SSL MT+ console, and used SRS Circle surround encoding transported through eight channels of Dolby E, according to Kennedy. The crew networked six EVS XT2 machines to handle replay effects and move backgrounds for its fully equipped Grass Valley Kalypso switcher and two Panasonic DVCPRO HD recorders to ingest from Avid editing and archiving systems.

ABC’s Feinberg also noted that the graphics package built for Indy used a new system run on a different platform: Vizrt’s Viz|Engine render with Viz|Artist 2.8 design software and Viz|Trio CG. The new setup offered real-time 3D animation, which enabled last minute rendering of title cards, a particularly helpful feature when covering car racing, a sport known for new entrants.