At The Ballpark: The Threefold Thinking Behind Minute Maid Park’s HD Upgrade

In anticipation of the first pitch of the 2011 Major League Baseball season, SVG will provide an in-depth look at the video-system makeovers at ballparks around the country, including Fenway Park, Minute Maid Park, Citizens Banks Ballpark, and Rangers Ballpark.

When the Houston Astros decided to revamp Minute Maid Park’s control room and video facilities following the 2010 campaign, the move was based on much more than just the need for an HD upgrade. There was, in fact, a trio of factors playing into the decision.

The first was the most obvious: a massive new HD LED video board scheduled for installation required a new HD control room to accompany it. Second, the team wanted to add a postproduction area adjacent to the control room, which would have been impossible at its former location. Finally, upper management saw the control-room location directly behind home plate as prime real estate for additional luxury suites.

“It was a three-way hit for them,” says Stuart Reynolds, who oversaw the project for systems integrator Diversified Systems, which was brought in by primary contractor Sony Electronics Solutions Group. “I think all three things gelled together: an HD room to match the HD board, a new [luxury] suite as a prime revenue generator, and a bigger room where they can have postproduction in the same footprint [as the control room].”

The Displays
The relocated and revamped control room powers two new Daktronics HD LED video boards as well as 1,185 ft. of ribbon displays. The larger of the two Daktronics boards is a 54-x 124-ft. LED display in right field, the third largest in the National League and the largest 1080i-capable board in all of baseball.

Sony was also contracted, along with wholly owned subsidiary Convergent Technologies, to design and integrate a digital-signage system featuring more than 500 Sony Bravia HD displays. This included Sony’s Ziris Professional system that allows channel insertion for advertising and Astros content.

“The Astros committed to upgrading the LED display first,” says Chris Sullivan, national sales manager, sport venues, Sony Electronics Inc.. “Daktronics won that bid, but they still needed a [control room] to power it. So we came in after that and won the bid for the control room, TVs, and digital signage separately.”

The Control Room
The new control room is now located off the third-base line, near the foul pole in left field. The room is built around a Sony MVS-8000X switcher and features Evertz routing and multiviewer systems, an EVS server for slow-motion replay, an Avid Deko character generator, and a Sony FWD series monitor wall.

“When they made the choice of how large a screen they were going with, it was obvious that their SD-production capabilities were not going to cut it to get quality images on that display,” says Reynolds. “The equipment that they had was in great shape, and the system was put together well, but they were in a dated situation and had to make a change. But this room is a full HD upgrade.”

The spacious new location also allowed the Astros to add four full editing rooms attached to the primary control room. Editors now can use fully equipped Avid editing suites, while also keeping in touch with the control-room staff.

“They had thought about going with [Apple] Final Cut Pro,” says Reynolds, “but, with some of the server changes in Apple’s world and a really good package deal from Avid, they chose to move to Avid.”

The Cameras
The control room feeds a septet of Sony cameras located throughout the ballpark: four Sony HSC-300Ks, one Sony BRC-H700, and two Sony PMW-EX1Rs. In addition, Astros Senior Director of Creative Services Kirby Kander and his staff will use five Canon BU-46H outdoor remote-control HD pan-tilt-zoom cameras in various locations, including the bullpens and interview rooms.

“The client is terming those BU-46H [remote-control cameras] ‘point-of-view’ cameras,” says Reynolds. “So we’re using them in certain key locations to capture some more intimate shots. They’re not being used as primary cameras but rather for tight shots like capturing a relief pitcher warming up in the bullpen.”

These POV cameras are a trend that Diversified Systems has seen increasingly since the installation of the BallPark Cam system at ballparks to feed video to MLB Network for its “live look-ins.”

“We are hearing more people talk about POV cameras, and I think MLB’s live look-ins have ushered that in,” says Reynolds. “Those look-ins have caused people to realize they can get some good small HD packages using [unmanned cameras]. I can see that getting very popular, and it is very easy to integrate it.”

The Infrastructure
The relocation of an entire control room was no small feat for Sony and Diversified Systems, which had to lay down an almost entirely rebuilt fiber and triax infrastructure.

“The infrastructure was all copper before this. When we got in there and saw some of the distances on the cable routes, we realized we were going to have a lot of work to do,” says Reynolds. “We put fiber in between the control room and the truck dock. Then there was also a large IP closet behind the old control so we joined the new control room to that IP closet with fiber. Then we also had to re-pull video lines and re-pull triax from each of the camera locations.”

The video displays and control room at “The Juice Box” will debut for the Astros spring-training finale against the Boston Red Sox on March 30. The team’s home opener is on April 6 against the Florida Marlins.

Click here for Part One of At The Ballpark, featuring Fenway Park.