Gamble on wireless HD for PGA coverage pays off for CBS Sports and BSI

By Ken Kerschbaumer

The daring decision by CBS Sports to rely on relatively new wireless HD microwave systems for coverage of PGA tour events paid off this weekend during coverage of the Buick Invitational from Torrey Pines golf course in La Jolla, CA. Not only did the technology meet expectations but it exceeded them, as transmission latency was nearly half of what it was in tests last summer.

“It worked very nicely and the ability to have HD handhelds is big for our golf coverage because our tape operators cut their own holes and segments,” says Bruce Goldfeder, CBS Sports director of engineering. “It gives us the ability to have more HD from hole to hole and respond to a director’s whim.”

Ken Aagard, CBS Sports VP of operations and production services, says wireless HD transmission from handheld cameras is a huge development for the network’s golf coverage.

CBS relies heavily on handheld cameras, typically having two to three times the number of handheld cameras on the course as other networks. Handheld cameras allow for camerapeople to more easily keep on top of the action, following a golfer into the woods following a duffed shot or simply getting images from directly behind the golfer as their next shot takes to the skies.

So when the decision was made to make the 2007 PGA coverage an all-HD affair CBS knew it would have its hands full to have the SD handhelds make the move to HD. The hunt began in earnest last year, concluding in a shootout of different systems at CBS Labs in New York.

The Right Link

The systems chosen are supplied by Broadcast Sports of Odenton, MD, and were manufactured by Link Research. Peter Larsson, Broadcast Sports general manager, says earlier tests showed a delay of 80 milliseconds but when genlocked to the track delay was only 68 milliseconds.

“That’s very usable for live golf,” he says of a delay that equals about two frames of video. “It’s only when you get to multiple frames of delay that golf becomes difficult.”

Sony HDC1500 handheld cameras were used with the system and Sony also stepped up, offering a software upgrade that allowed for return video to be sent through a BNC on the backpanel of the camera and into the viewfinder. “That saved a lot of surgery on the cameras,” says Larsson. New software was also developed for the camera control systems, allowing operators to control iris and other functions.

While the systems operated well there are still improvements to be made. Ideally transmitter antennas would be on the camera so a second person wouldn’t be needed to get the signal back to the receive antenna. But Broadcast Sports decided to go with a second person with a transmitter antenna who could then find higher ground and get a more robust signal back to one of five receive points.

Double Down

As if making the leap to HD wireless microwave transmission wasn’t enough of a gamble CBS Sports also had its hands full getting used to a new all-HD truck constructed by NMT.

Known as HD-12, the three-trailer unit features the largest routing switcher ever to hit the road. All the trailers are connected via fiber and all of the Pesa video and audio router units will be tied together as well giving the unit a massive 1,072×1,344 inputs on the video side and 1,472×1,728 on the audio side.

Units A and B are double expando with the A unit serving as the main production and graphics area while the B unit handles audio, replay, and main engineering. The C unit, a single expando, will have an edit room, a sub-mix room, maintenance and storage.

The main production area includes a Sony MVS-8000A production switcher with 170 Sony Luma nine-inch monitors and two 24-inch CRT monitors. Chyron Deko units currently handle graphics while the replay area while seven EVS servers, including two IP Directors and two xFile SQ database units, will handle replay and be complemented by two Sony SRW5500 decks and Digital Betacam machines for archive needs.

“We’ve fit the replay in just 12 racks of space,” says John Kemps NMT chief engineer. “With replay operators using EVS there just isn’t the need for as much space because there aren’t tape machines. So there are more channels but less operators.”

Proper Planning

For Goldfeder and the CBS crew the devil was in the details to make sure production personnel could easily make the transition to an all HD environment.

“Our pre-planning was done very well and everyone was able to just sit down in their positions and begin working,” says Goldfeder. “Everyone was able to do their jobs quite effectively.”

CBS also had to get used to working with a new partner, The Golf Channel, and also easily send HD signals back to the PGA Tour Productions facility in St. Augustine, FL, where the PGA readied the international feed. “Everything was pretty seamless,” says Goldfeder.

Having all of the trucks connected via fiber and CWDM and expanded beam connectors will reduced set-up time considerably. All of the signals out of the B truck can be distributed to routers in the A and B unit, giving personnel maximum access to signals and sources.

“Each fiber with the router has the ability to hold 64 HD resources, meaning we don’t have to run 64 coax cables or multi-pin connectors,” says Goldfeder. “And on the audio side we can connect the sub-mix and main mix via MADI interface, delivering 64 streams of audio over one coax.”

The B trailer features a Calrec Alpha as the main desk with Telex Adam intercom communications, the Pesa router, and Aja distribution gear also on hand. NVision embedding and proc-amp gear, a Harris transmission package, Leader T&M scopes and more Sony monitoring gear are also in the B unit.