Swingvision Shines Bright For CBS Sports’ PGA Championship Coverage

By Ken Kerschbaumer

When the PGA Championship took place two weeks ago at Southern Hills Country Club in Oklahoma the high temperatures and undying sun was a constant source of consternation for everyone. But CBS Sports, BSI and Tech Imaging Services managed to find a bright spot, literally, as the ample sunshine allowed a new portable version of Swingvision to shine in all of its super, duper slow-mo glory.

The Swingvision system, which shoots images at 1,000 frames per second and allows viewers to see all the intricacies of a golf swing, has been in use for four years but it wasn’t until the PGA Championship that it as able to be untethered from a hard camera location on a tee box.

“The big issue was fiber connectivity to the truck, which sometimes could mean a mile-long run of fiber, and the need for a power generator to power to camera and various converters,” says Matt Kearney of Tech Imaging Services. “But once we went wireless all we need is one video cable to the antenna and power is handled with batteries.”

With BSI providing wireless signal transmission the new system was able to move around the course, capturing shots from bunkers, sand traps, on the fairway, off the fairway…namely, anywhere.

As mentioned earlier, however, it was the bright skies that really helped the images pop. “The key to a camera shooting at 1,000 frames per second is it needs a light level that we’ll be hard pressed to after the PGA Championship,” says Ken Aagaard CBS Sports senior vice president of operations and production services. “We’ll be hard pressed to duplicate those conditions. The weather allowed us to get some awesome stuff.”

The SwingVision system consists of Photron’s advanced high-speed APX digital camera, customized broadcast optics developed by Tech Imaging Services, a fiber optic output and proprietary software. A second APX camera images close-up action at 12,500 fps of the impact of the club on the golf ball, revealing precisely where the face of the club strikes the ball and the actual compression of the golf ball as it is struck. Photron’s APX high-speed imager has a remarkable shutter speed of 1/50,000 of a second (20 µs) to provide clear images with no blurring at the moment of impact. The footage is used for immediate live transmission and instant replay in super slow-motion for swing analysis.

Kearney says the Photron camera stores two seconds worth of frames on an 8 GB hard drive that is played back from the camera.

While the heat helped get great shots from the course it put an extra challenge on the blimp. Because of the heat the blimp could only fly for four hours, forcing CBS to decide which four hours were the most important. And, of course, the heat was a constant concern for CBS Sports staff.

“We couldn’t believe how much Gatorade and water we went through,” says Aagaard. Small tent cities were built around the course to allow crew to get ice and find some shade. Signs with heat stroke symptoms were also posted and crew looked out for each other.

“People had to be smart,” adds Aagaard. “If you weren’t hydrated the day before you would be hydrated the next day.”