AVS Returns to Helicopters for Second HD Marathon Production

Aerial Video Systems (AVS) was the first company in the U.S. to use wireless-camera feeds to produce a marathon in HD and, on Sunday March 21, became the second as well. Building off the success of December’s Las Vegas Marathon production, AVS produced last week’s Los Angeles Marathon in HD, using helicopters instead of casino rooftops for receive points. The new straight-line course ran 26.2 miles from Dodger Stadium to the Santa Monica Pier and was broadcast for the first time by KTLA Los Angeles in HD.

AVS once again relied on technology from Link Research and MRC to get the HD signals from the pickup trucks following the lead runners and the motorcycle following the wheelchair racers. Link HD/SD L1500 and MRC PTX-Pro microwave systems transmitted both video and audio signals to three repeater-equipped helicopters hovering overhead, which was less expensive than attempting to re-create the building receive sites used in Las Vegas.

“We’ve traditionally done the marathon in Los Angeles with helicopters,” says AVS President Randy Hermes. “Because of the lay of the land there, with all the buildings, trees, and the way the course is laid out, it’s easier and less expensive to do it with helicopters. Helicopters always sound expensive, but, if you had to put enough receive sites to have all the coverage that we had in Vegas, it would be more costly.”

The signals were transmitted from the helicopters to a terrestrial receive site in the Hollywood Hills, where they were turned around and retransmitted to KTLA in Hollywood. In prior years, those signals had been sent via phone lines, but, this year, microwave paths were used.

“Because our main receive location was an ideal location to have line-of-site with KTLA and there were no phone circuits on the hill, we brought our truck up there with a generator, and we were completely self-contained,” Hermes says. “The mountaintop we used to be on has radio stations and repeaters on it, so infrastructure exists there already. This year, we were on a completely unimproved area.”

AVS also upgraded its proprietary GPS runner-tracking system for the L.A. Marathon to a computer-generated 3D presentation.

“It’s a completely interactive real-time GPS tracking system, and we just made all the graphics 3D,” Hermes says. “It’s similar to the weather maps they use at TV stations, but we created that ourselves for marathon coverage.”

The GPS-driven marathon-course map plots the exact locations of the lead female and male runners throughout the race, as well as their positions relative to each other.

“The added detail of the new 3D map really brings the map to life, showing the elevation changes that the runners have to contend with,” says Herb Chapin, the designer of the tracking program.

In addition to the live broadcast on KTLA, AVS’s hard work was seen on tape delay on Universal Sports.