DTAGS Pioneers 3D Transmission for ESPN’s HR Derby, X Games Coverage

There’s little common ground between the X Games (death-defying tricks) and the MLB Home Run Derby (gravity-defying long balls), but ESPN 3D’s two inaugural in-house productions did feature one constant: DTAGS on the transmission side.

“X Games 16 and the Derby were very similar in terms of [transmission],” says DTAGS President Mike Burk. “[3D transmission] actually fits nicely into what we would consider to be our traditional HD encoding. However, there were still a lot of unknowns going into this.”

DTAGS handled both the 2D and 3D transmission for the MLB Home Run Derby from Anaheim, CA (July 12), and X Games 16 in Los Angeles (July 29-Aug. 1). For the 3D side of both events, DTAGS transmitted discrete left-eye and right-eye feeds using MPEG-4 compression and Ericsson EN8090 encoders.

Distributing the Derby
The Home Run Derby represented the first-ever domestic 3D broadcast for DTAGS and ESPN. DTAGS sent the two discrete left-eye/right-eye streams directly back to the network’s headquarters in Bristol, CT, where ESPN distributed the feeds to its cable headends and domestic satellite partners. Although the 3D telecast used MPEG-4, the 2D side used MPEG-2. DTAGS sent a total of three feeds (one 2D, two 3D) back to Bristol via fiber, but only the 2D feed had a satellite backup besides the fiber.

“As we looked at this from a transmission standpoint, there were fewer challenges than there were on the production side as it relates to 3D,” says Burk. “It wasn’t that much of a leap, but, when you [transmit] the left eye and right eye, you have to maintain the eye synch. It’s imperative that those two feeds are in unison with no latency, or the 3D simply won’t perform properly. That was the challenge.”

X Games With an Extra Dimension
Less than three weeks after the Derby, Burk and company were at it again, this time in the heart of Los Angeles for X Games 16. Although the X Games 3D transmission was largely similar to that for the Derby, there were a few major modifications.

For one, instead of sending the left-eye/right-eye streams back to Bristol, DTAGS transmitted them  via fiber to ESPN’s Los Angeles facility, which was responsible for sending the signal on to Bristol.

“We did the left eye/right eye and transmitted that over fiber to the ESPN facility in L.A.,” says Burk. “Then, they basically just turned that stream to Bristol. Just an ASI turnaround is all they did. There was no re-encoding or anything like that.”

Unlike the Home Run Derby, both the 2D and 3D X Games shows used MPEG-4 and had full satellite backup on top of the primary fiber distribution line. DTAGS put both the 2D and the left-eye/right-eye feeds from the 3D up on one satellite with one uplink using DVB-S2 (Digital Video Broadcasting – Satellite Second Generation) 8PSK modulation.

Three Units Become One
DTAGS relied on Ericsson EN8090 encoders for both events, but Burk says the company has invested heavily in Ericsson’s new CE-XH42 contribution encoders and plans to use them for future 3D projects. Thus far, 3D transmissions have needed two encoders (one for each eye feed) and an external multiplexer to send out the signals. However, the CE-XH42 houses two encoders and a multiplexer in a 1RU chassis .

“[The CE-XH42] is pretty impressive,” says Burk. “For a 2D show, you have one encoder and then one backup encoder, so you have two encoders. With a 3D show, now you’re looking at four encoders total — a primary and a backup for both the left eye and right eye — as well as the multiplexers. So it’s more than double the equipment to be able to perform the 3D. We’ve made a significant investment in the Ericsson [CE-XH42] gear to be able to better support 3D.”

Only the Beginning
As the ESPN 3D slate of events continues to grow seemingly by the day, DTAGS is confident that the Derby and X Games are only the beginning. Although they have not booked any specific 3D events, Burk says this could change as ESPN fleshes out its 3D schedule.

“We probably won’t know [when our next 3D gig is] until a few weeks before the event,” he says. “Right now, the 3D schedule is still in the works. I’m hopeful that we will be involved with more as they come up. 3D is what this industry really needs to give it that extra push, and we’re excited to be a part of that.”

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Contact Mike Burk at mike.burk@dtags.tv for more information.