Throughout its 131-year history, the British-born Wimbledon tennis championship has seen its share of thrills and excitement, such as when matches were televised for the first time in 1937, or when Wimbledon made television history in July 1967 as part of the first official color broadcast in the U.K.
(click thumbnail)But a new precipice is about to be crossed, as coverage of this championship tennis match traverses the pond for the first time in high-definition.
That’s no small feat for this sporting event—referred to often as simply “The Championship”—which has been so closely managed and organized by the parent All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Yet for the first time, the organization and its host broadcaster—the BBC—will allow a U.S. audience to see the event in HD by giving NBC the option to broadcast parts of the championship in high definition.
“NBC’s HD broadcast of Wimbledon will create pictures worthy of a Grand Slam event for U.S. viewers,” said Ken Goss, vice president of sports operations for NBC.
Marking the 40-year anniversary of working with the BBC on Wimbledon, this year NBC will pick up high-definition coverage of the action on Centre Court and Court 1, and will also showcase upconverted standard-definition coverage of the remaining matches, Goss said. The HD transmission will be sent over a 20 Mbps fiber link from Wimbledon, as well as via an HD uplink during the match finals.
ANYONE FOR SLO-MO?
To handle the new HD aspects of the event, as well as the standard-definition uplink, the Peacock network will also march out an arsenal of its own technology that includes eight Thomson LDK6000 cameras and a mixture of Canon HD/SD lenses, including the 5xHJ86x9.3 box lens, the 5xHJ22x7.6 lightweight HD/SD lens and the 4xHJ11x4.7 lightweight HD/SD model.
(click thumbnail)Wimbledon is undergoing a multimillion dollar three-year renovation that will culminate in the debut of a retractable roof over Centre Court in 2009.The network will also showcase its signature slow-motion coverage by using a Sony tri-motion camera and Canon box with built-in image stabilizer, which sits near the Royal Box, where members of the royal family watch matches, Goss said.
NBC will call on outside broadcast company NEP Visions, who will roll out the HD2 mobile unit as the network’s primary production facility. NBC will also use a separate tape truck, known as the HDR3, a full 1080i vehicle. Audio will be a stereo audio mix. For editing, the network will use an Avid Nitris. Other equipment will include the EVS XT2 production and play-out server, and the EVS IP Director integrated control system.
With those 40 years of experience in its back pocket, NBC has managed to create a smooth, well-rounded broadcast that melds well with the working styles of the BBC and the club itself. As such, NBC will rely on the understated graphics package that it used last year, with some updates created via Avid Deko and Quantel Paintbox systems.
CALL OF THE MARKET
Like other sporting events that have made the transition to HD, the decision to showcase pieces of the Wimbledon event in high definition came down to market demand.
“It was just time to bring that clarity to our viewers,” Goss said. “We’ve had great success with Wimbledon year after year,” he said, “and after transitions to do HD for the French Open and the U.S. Open” it seemed like now was the right time, he said.
And there is indeed much to see, even beyond the matches themselves. The Wimbledon Club spent millions of dollars in the last three years revamping the physical space of the venue itself. The most dramatic change is the makeover of the roof. The organization has been building a retractable roof, designed to best the often-unpredictable weather of British summers and ensure that rain delays are a thing of the past. This retractable roof will be completely ready for the 2009 tournament, and is designed to allow matches on Centre Court to continue regardless of weather, said Adrian Kingston, engineering manager for SIS Outside Broadcast, the OB production company hired by the BBC to cover the event.
“The roof will allow play on Centre Court during rain and bad light,” Kingston said. “While this won’t keep the tournament on schedule when there are 18 courts in play for eight hours of the day, it will keep a major show court match running through any rain break, providing the world TV audience with live tennis when otherwise they maybe watching reruns.
“Clearly toward the end of the event, when the numbers of matches decline, the ability to play in all weathers may well make the difference between finishing on time and not,” Kingston said.
While the match will be broadcast domestically by BBC Sport, SIS Outside Broadcast will physically capture all of the matches with its fleet of television production units, communications vehicles and specialty cameras. Earlier this year, the BBC’s former fleet of production vehicles—known as BBC Outside Broadcast—were purchased by Satellite Information Services (SIS).
The SIS Outside Broadcast’s master control truck will provide production space for the BBC Domestic operation with two supporting units, including a large 24-camera unit for Centre Court and a slightly smaller one for Court 1.
Sony cameras will be used throughout, including five Sony HD 3X speed slo-mo cameras, as well as four Thomson LDK23 cameras and a Panasonic high-motion hyper slo-mo camera, designed to offer six to 12 times slow-motion image analysis. Lenses will be a mix of Fujinon and Canon systems.
SIS is also introducing other changes such as new archiving on EVS XFile drives and utilizing the EVS IP Director. The company is also installing 50 miles of signal cable to deliver coverage.
“The Hi-Motion cameras will offer detailed slo-mo analysis of play with improved picture quality over other systems that have been used in the past,” Kingston said.
This is the third year that the BBC has made the Wimbledon championship available in HD, but the cost of acquiring equipment and the challenge of upgrading hasn’t always been easy to overcome, Kingston said.
“In previous years, there have been some issues around HD equipment availability during the tournament, plus the overall upgrade costs for clients,” he said.
The matches will also be repurposed and aired on-demand, via mobile, and through the BBC’s iPlayer technology, which will show key matches for up to seven days after the broadcast.
“[This] is proving competitive, and allowing more for less, [and is] especially important as interactive offerings expand and broadcasters need multiple routes out of the venue for the fortnight,” Kingston said.
Susan Ashworth is the former editor of TV Technology. In addition to her work covering the broadcast television industry, she has served as editor of two housing finance magazines and written about topics as varied as education, radio, chess, music and sports. Outside of her life as a writer, she recently served as president of a local nonprofit organization supporting girls in baseball.
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