AVS Stays Dry, Provides RF for Newly HD Open Championship

Golf’s Open Championship has been played for more than a century, but, until this year, it had never been broadcast in HD. To support that broadcast-quality upgrade, ESPN and IMG turned to Aerial Video Systems (AVS) to provide an HD RF package that would allow fans to see the beauty of the greens — and the pelting of the rain — at this year’s golf tourney.

Double the Coverage
“This year, they really expanded the coverage,” says AVS President Randy Hermes. “We had seven wireless cameras: six regular handheld cameras, and we made the X-Mo wireless. We also provided the feed for the aerial coverage, which came from an airplane. Previously, they’d only had two or three wireless handhelds when the show was in SD, so this more than doubled the coverage.”

AVS has provided the equipment and crew for The Open’s RF audio package since 2005, but that crew consisted of just one person. This year, the company deployed five people to oversee the added equipment and responsibility, and everyone flew in a day earlier than in past years.

Three Sites, Eight Antennas
To cover the entirety of the Old Course at St. Andrew’s, AVS used three receive sites with full diversity with the help of Link’s L-1500 HD wireless transmitters. The company placed eight antennas around the course: four at the TV compound, two at the 18th hole, and two at the ninth hole.

“Those antennas were all brought back over our own RF-via-fiber system,” Hermes says. “All the receivers were in the TV compound so we could monitor everything.”

A total of eight paths of HD RF were used via Link’s L-1500 HD microwave system in the 1.4G Hz and 2 GHz bands. Six of the paths were dedicated to ground-based handheld cameras. The L-1500s were married to four Sony HDW 790 cameras with the other two on-board Sony HDC 1500s.

“We had full-diversity antenna switching between everything,” says Hermes. “Wherever the cameras went, the system picked the best antennas and, with no user intervention, gave us the best possible signal. It’s all automatic.”

The Debut of Silverback
AVS used the opportunity provided by the Open Championship to introduce its Silverback camera-control system, which provides control for virtually all HD cameras via the Link L-1500 microwave unit. With Silverback, the truck video engineer can control both cameras and transmitters, without camera-operator involvement. The new controller also provides the ability to remotely adjust transmitter-frequency and power-output levels from the truck.

“Silverback allows us to have full video control of the cameras,” Hermes says. “The big bonus is, it allows us to have full control of the transmitter, so we can adjust the power levels and the frequency, if need be, via remote control. That’s the key thing for golf.”

The weather in Scotland is always part of the story of the Open Championship, and this year’s event was no different. This time, though, Silverback was on hand to help. When 40-mph winds and sideways rain cancelled Wednesday’s schedule and briefly halted play on day two, AVS had to lower its main receive-site crane to half its normal height.

“Then, at the TV compound, we could just dial up and change our power settings to compensate for that change,” Hermes explains. “That’s a huge benefit. Normally, if you have a problem like that, you have to bring the crane all the way down, make the adjustments, and put it all the way back up, but that completely disrupts your show because all the antennas are up there. Silverback alleviates that whole problem.”

Although the howling winds and endless rain certainly posed a challenge for AVS, Hermes says the long hours are the company’s biggest challenge.

“We were on the air for 14 hours one day,” Hermes says. In all, AVS provided 47 hours of coverage over the course of four days. “That’s a big challenge when you’re talking about batteries. The other challenge is just how enormous the show is. It’s like a Super Bowl with all of the frequency usage.”