Northeastern University’s 101-Year-Old Arena, Live-Streaming Service Get HD Makeover

Plenty of schools have tradition-filled stadiums and arenas, but only Northeastern University in Boston can boast the world’s oldest multipurpose athletic building: Matthews Arena. For decades, the 101-year-old facility — home to NU’s men’s and women’s ice hockey and men’s basketball teams — was long on history but short on elegance. However, that all changed two years ago when Matthews received a multimillion-dollar renovation that included a new center-hung Daktronics video board and HD LCD televisions throughout the venue.

This year, Matthews took the next step, integrating a new HD control room based on the NewTek TriCaster 850 Extreme HD portable live-production system. For each hockey and basketball game, the control room produces both the in-venue show and the live stream that is available — for free this season — on GoNUxstream and the on-campus TV station.

“We now have an entirely HD production, from acquisition onward,” says Imry Halevi, video production manage for the athletics department. “That allows us to provide a much better product to our fans and stay on top of improvements in [the college market].”

It’s Not the Size That Counts; It’s the HD Power
Like many colleges, Northeastern was strapped not only for budget when designing its new HD control room but also for space. NU worked with systems integrator HB Communications to develop a TriCaster-based setup that could fit in the arena’s minuscule control-room area while still producing a broadcast-quality show.

“If you were to walk into the control room, you might think it was the closet for the actual control room,” Halevi jokes. “It was originally meant just to play music, so, when Matthews was renovated two years ago, space was very limited for the control room. But the university and the athletics department were very supportive because they wanted a production that looked great even though there wasn’t much space.”

After using a NewTek TriCaster Broadcast for two years, NU has made the jump to HD in time for hockey and basketball season by upgrading to the TriCaster 850 Extreme. For home games, Halevi and his 10- to 12-person crew (two co-op students and up to 10 NU students) will use four JVC GY-HM700 camcorders, a NewTek 3Play for instant replay, a NewTek LiveText CG for graphics, and an Allen & Heath MixWizard3 16:2 channel mixer for audio.

GoNUxstream Gets Extremely HD
Last year, Northeastern teamed with Stretch Internet to launch a new version of its live-streaming service, GoNUxstream. Using TriCaster Broadcasts, NU streamed every home game for every sport (with the exception of cross-country and track and field) on Stretch Internet’s Adobe Flash-based video player at an average of 550 kbps.

This year, NU is looking to increase that bitrate to allow viewers who have the appropriate broadband connection to view hockey and men’s basketball games in HD.

“The stream right now is not really HD; bitrates are very high for HD, so it’s a lot to ask for people to get that kind of connection,” says Halevi. “But we are working with Stretch Internet to do trial runs of HD [Webcasts] in parallel to our normal [550-kbps streams]. We are still working with them to figure out what the bitrate will be that will allow people to watch that full-HD production.”

The first of these tests is being conducted this week, and NU plans to hold public tests in the coming weeks.

In addition to GoNUxstream, every home game is available on NU’s closed-circuit on-campus TV station. Halevi is currently working with the university’s IT department to make games on the station available in HD. NU also provides HD game footage to local RSNs like NESN and Comcast SportsNet New England.

And Did They Mention It’s Free?
HD resolution will not be the only thing drawing Husky fans to GoNUxstream this season. The streaming service will also incorporate college students’ all-time favorite word: FREE. Last year, fans could purchase an individual game for $9.95, an individual-team season pass for $59.95, or the all-access pass for $79.95. This year, all live and on-demand content will be 100% free.

“The last two years, it was a revenue source for the department, but, this year, the department decided to pick up the cost as a means to extend the exposure for our teams,” says Halevi. “Obviously, we are not the only sports team in Boston; we have a lot of competition. We are very proud of our product — both the teams and the productions — and we want to make sure that people can see our games as much as possible.”

The Northeastern University men’s and women’s ice hockey teams kick off the 2011-12 season at Matthews Arena on Oct. 7 against the University of Massachusetts and Syracuse University, respectively. Both games will be available on GoNUxstream.