At Wimbledon, HD Coverage Extended to Nine Courts

By Kevin Hilton

Wimbledon began today with no Nadal, but Federer is there and back on form. Andy Murray, after his historic win at the AEGON Championships, is giving the British public the hope of a homegrown champion for the first time in 73 years. And the action on all the courts is in high-definition for the first time.

In previous years, only Centre Court and Court 1 have had the benefit of HD, but this year, the other seven have joined them as part of an upgrade by SIS LIVE, the outside-broadcast contractor to host broadcaster BBC Sport. SIS LIVE’s new HD truck, OB 7, is making its Wimbledon debut, supported by OB 3, which was launched in 2008; OB 12; and Unit 2.

Coverage is being shot on 53 main HD cameras: a mixture of Sony HDC-1500s and HDC-950s, plus eight HDC-3300 three-times SuperMotion slo-mo cameras, six HDC-950s in split-head operation, and two HD radio cameras, one hand-held and one mounted in a Steadicam rig.

Recording is on 31 HD VTR machines and 20 EVS media servers running on a network, giving any broadcast user access to all slow-motion replays. Four Final Cut Pro editing workstations are running on a 47-TB SAN server, with ingest facilities also provided. All of this is connected by 80 km of cabling around the southwest London venue.

This year’s Championships is the first proper competitive outing for the new roof on Centre Court and also sees the introduction of the refurbished Court 2. “BBC Sport is hugely excited to be offering the entire coverage of Wimbledon 2009 in HD,” says Paul Davies, executive producer at Wimbledon for BBC Sport. “As host broadcaster, we have offered Centre Court and Court 1 in HD in recent years, but, for the first time, we will be producing not only all nine courts but also our full BBC domestic output in hi-def. This is clearly a huge technical challenge, and much work has gone on behind the scenes with our partners at SIS LIVE to pull this project off.”

SIS LIVE Managing Director David Meynell calls the decision by the BBC and the All England Club to upgrade all the courts to HD a “landmark” in sports broadcasting.

Broadcast sound at Wimbledon has been 5.1 for several years, but this year marks the first time that all audio is embedded discretely around the site and goes into Dolby E only just before leaving the venue. SIS LIVE is also supplying eight outgoing circuits to BBC Television Centre for the domestic and interactive coverage, as well as international distribution. As a backup, there are two separate transmission links: one over microwave to the Crystal Palace transmitter in south London, the other using fibre connections.

In addition to BBC One, BBC Two, and the HD Channel, coverage is being streamed to the BBC Online Website, while the Red Button service offers a choice of five live matches, replays of big games, and a highlights package. Viewers also have the option to watch with or without commentary.

On the presentation and commentary team are John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Tracy Austin, Virginia Wade, Sue Barker, Tim Henman, Garry Richardson, Rishi Persad, and Jason Goodall, who is in charge of Hawkeye analysis.

There will also be live text commentaries to mobile services, and between two and four matches a day will be available on the iPlayer.

BBC Radio Five Live also offers full-match commentary and interviews. Listeners have a forum for their views on both Tuesdays of the fortnight. Six Love Six is presented by McEnroe, showing off his extensive knowledge of British geography and pronunciation of English place names.