MLB Network Bringing 4K to World Baseball Classic Broadcasts

It’s raining, and the roof is closed at Chase Field in Phoenix. It’s less than 24 hours prior to first pitch in the Canada-Italy game in Pool D of the 2013 World Baseball Classic (WBC), and Tom Guidice, director of remote operations, MLB Network, is on his hands and knees in the infield dirt, positioning a microphone beneath the first-base bag.

Here, it’s anything but Spring Training. At MLB Network, it may as well be October.

WBCImage1As the WBC rolls through Round Two, and the global event descends on Miami’s Marlins Park, MLB Network is cranking into high gear, giving the tournament a production treatment that would make an LCS game envious.

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“We are treating these games as if this is the World Series for us,” says Brad Cheney, director of engineering, MLB Network. “These are the most important games on our network right now, and we are providing the technical and operational firepower that proves it.”

At this tournament, MLB Network is making its first foray into 4K technologies, deploying two Canon EOS C500 4K cameras for the WBC semifinals and finals, which begin Sunday at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

The network ran trials last weekend in Phoenix during its game coverage of Pool D, and the cameras are en route to San Francisco on Game Creek Glory to prep for the semis and finals.

“Everyone has been able to see what’s been done with 4K in football,” says Cheney, referencing Fox Sports’ use of the Sony F65 for replay on selected NFL broadcasts this past season. “I think what you’re going to see in San Francisco is going to be quite outstanding. The stuff we are working in right now is pretty mind-blowing. I think 4K can add a lot to baseball.”

A-Game Treatment
MLB Network will deploy a whopping 22 cameras to cover the field for its broadcasts in Miami and San Francisco, even more than the network used for its two Division Series games it broadcast last October.

Two Canon EOS C500 cameras will capture 4K images for MLB Network during the World Baseball Classic semis and finals beginning Sunday. (Image courtesy Susan Stone, MLB Network)

Two Canon EOS C500 cameras will capture 4K images for MLB Network during the World Baseball Classic semis and finals beginning Sunday. (Image courtesy Susan Stone, MLB Network)

Included in the arsenal is a pair of high-speed Inertia Unlimited X-Mo cameras that were all the rage among viewers during last fall’s LCS and World Series on Fox. Fans got a peek at the cameras’ capabilities again this weekend when the network broadcast ultra-slow-motion replays of David Wright’s tie-breaking grand slam in the United States’ victory over Italy on Saturday night.

MLB Network uses Sony 2500 Series cameras at the traditional baseball positions, supplementing them with four robotic cameras from Fletcher. The network will also be sharing an RF camera with MLBI and using the feed from MLBI’s blimp camera in San Francisco.

As many cameras as will be covering the field, there will be even more microphones. Always a proponent of pushing the audio envelope, MLB Network is placing microphones essentially any place it can, including in the bases, down the foul lines, and in the outfield walls.

“We want you to feel the atmosphere that is there because the WBC is special,” says Cheney. “It’s not like watching a regular baseball game. There are lots of fans that are really, really invested in the game, and to be able not only to hear the players and the atmosphere in the field but also to hear the stands [adds a lot for the viewer].”

All in the Family
While MLB Network is the English-language home of the World Baseball Classic in the U.S., MLB International will also be on-site over the next week in Miami and San Francisco producing the world feed. Naturally, the two entities have been working in close coordination to make each other’s jobs a little easier.

MLB Network and MLB International collaborated to create a uniform graphics package to give every WBC game a similar look.

MLB Network and MLB International collaborated to create a uniform graphics package to give every WBC game a similar look.

In Phoenix, Miami, and San Francisco, they will produce side-by-side productions, enabling them to supplement each other’s coverage while also adding a level of redundancy.

The MLB Network production crews are connected with MLBI’s master-control center at Encompass’s Stamford, CT, facility. Even though MLB Network handles its own transmission on broadcasts, the hookup with the digital-media–services provider enables seamless data sharing among production facilities.

Also, for the games it covers, MLB Network is providing backup backhaul feeds for MLBI and its world feeds. This makes sure each side is protected, and that is, according to Cheney, a major bonus for being connected with the Encompass facility throughout the tournament.

“The check-in process has been outstanding so far,” he says. “The timing has been seamless, and it’s been a nice change of pace because, usually, we’re the centralized hub for them during the season, and now they’ve created their own centralized hub and are feeding out to everybody, including us. It’s gone off very well. They’ve done an amazing job. These are very tight deadlines with games around the world at very odd hours.”

MLB Network also has established a strong information-sharing workflow between the two mobile-production facilities used throughout its coverage of the tournament: Game Creek Glory [Phoenix, San Francisco] and Game Creek Pride [Miami].

“The setup Pride and Glory have with the ability to share information is really going to allow our crews traveling on the overnights to get to the next site prepped and ready to go before they walk in,” notes Cheney.

MLBI and MLB Network also worked together using a Chyron system to create a consistent graphic look. Certain enhancements are available only on MLB Network-produced games, however, such as PitchTrax and any Orad-generated overlay graphics.