Fox Sports Ready to Innovate for U.S. Open with Tee Cams, Hole Mics, and More

Fox Sports this week took the wraps off its plans for the network’s first broadcast of the U.S. Open golf championship from the Chambers Bay links course near Tacoma, WA. And from the looks of it the production team will be all-in as they attempt to bring golf fans closer than ever to the event.

John Entz, Fox Sports, president, production, says Fox has a long tradition of aggressively exploring and implementing next-generation technical innovations. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the plans call for the use of aerial drones, 4K cameras, virtual reality cameras across the course, POV tee cams, and, given the network’s love of audio innovation, microphones in all the holes.

“With the U.S. Open we have the opportunity to deliver golf coverage in new and exciting ways,” he says. “Viewers expect it from us.”

Drones, for example, will be used for early morning course flyovers, scenic shots, and hole mapping. There is also a remote-controlled car that is equipped with a camera and can walk viewers along the course for a ground-level perspective.

And then there is the Fox Sports Rangefinder, a Tower Cam rig with the ability to extend from eight to 21 feet, delivering a unique perspective from the fairway. The camera is equipped with augmented reality graphics along with a ball tracer to help viewers see what the golfer is facing. Drop-down robotic cameras controlled from the Fox Sports TV compound bring viewers closer to the golfers than ever before.

“We are going to try and do a lot of things there to make the viewer feel like they are playing the golf course right in front of them,” says Mark Loomis, Fox Sports, coordinating producer. “We’re trying to get some dimensions to the greens, increase the audio from the course, and give you a better look of what the shot looks like to the golfer from the golfer’s view. The technology is part of the experience. It’s not the experience.”

Multiple POV cameras placed around tee boxes on the course, including cameras placed in front of the tee box and facing the golfers, while also bring viewers closer to the game than ever.

Mike Davies, Fox Sports, SVP of field operations, also points to a “4K Flex” high-speed camera system from Inertia Unlimited that can shoot more than 1,000 frames per second.

“It achieves crisp, clear, almost cinematic video that can then be magnified many times to highlight an area of interest,” he says. “The spin of the ball landing on the green, the nudge of a putted ball and the tight reaction of a golfer are all things that can be captured with this important camera.”

Those tools will be used to bring a new energy to traditional golf broadcasting but they network’s plans are also bringing new energy to a non-traditional form of broadcasting: virtual reality. Multiple virtual reality cameras will be on the course and select hospitality areas on the course will give fans a chance to pop on a pair of virtual reality goggles and, thanks to production partner NEXTVR, experience a 360-degree view from multiple locations on the course.

The main production area inside Game Creek Video's Encore A unit will be busy with excitement during the U.S. Open next week.

The main production area inside Game Creek Video’s Encore A unit will be busy with excitement during the U.S. Open next week.

All of the on-course innovations will be tied to a massive off-course innovation: Game Creek Video’s Encore production unit. The massive unit comprises three 53-ft. trailers providing nearly 2,400 sq. ft. of production space when the sides are expanded: 720 sq. ft. in the A unit, 905 sq. ft. in the B unit, and 675 sq. ft. in the C unit.

“When we design a truck, we look to get eight years out of it, and we knew that a baseband routing design would not get us through the next eight years, even at 3 Gbps,” says Game Creek Video President Pat Sullivan. “Also, with monitoring demands for the U.S. Open topping 1,200 images, we knew we couldn’t hit that number with baseband routing. A key ingredient was, we want a lot of headroom [because] the shows grow; they don’t contract.”

Although the physical size of the unit is definitely a newsworthy feature, the real accomplishment is the move to an uncompressed 10 Gigabit Ethernet infrastructure, thanks to an Evertz EXE video-service router, a Magnum SDVN controller, Evertz 570IPG high-density IP gateways, and the 3067VIP10G 10GbE multiviewer system that can drive 140 displays can route up to 23 terabits per second of data. That 23 Tbps of data translates into as many as 6,900 uncompressed HD-SDI signals and also accommodates 4K/Ultra HD services.

“What Game Creek is doing is very unique, and it has been a development project between Evertz and Game Creek that has had up to 50 people [at Evertz in Toronto] banging away on this,” says Davies. “And, when we get to the U.S. Open, this facility will eliminate trucks and, in the end, reduce costs.”

Jason Taubman with the IP-based Evertz router inside Game Creek Video’s Encore production unit. - See more at: http://sportsvideo.org/main/blog/2015/03/game-creek-encore-unit-shines-shows-off-ip-tech-at-big-east-tourney/#sthash.8Mzxg0cM.dpuf

Jason Taubman with the IP-based Evertz router inside Game Creek Video’s Encore production unit.

Jason Taubman, VP, design and new technology, Game Creek Video, says the move to IP routing was one of necessity, given the large monitoring needs for the U.S. Open, and it was Evertz that stepped up and had the pieces in place to do uncompressed routing over IP.

“It was kind of scary,” he says, “but they demonstrated it, and we took a deep breath and pulled the trigger. “We had complete confidence that Evertz could deliver the full-scale system in our time frame. There was an incredible amount of development work to do, but Evertz pulled it off.”

The IP infrastructure does more than just solve bandwidth and latency issues. It also creates a new philosophy when it comes to how the physical spaces within a truck are managed. For example, the A unit has space for 25 EVS XT3 servers that will each handle up to 12 channels. But, thanks to the 320-port cascaded IHSE KVM switch connecting the A, B, and C units, it is conceivable that an EVS operator can sit down at nearly any keyboard and monitor workspace within the truck and immediately connect not only to the EVS network but also to graphics engines. And the B unit is set to accept up to 24 graphics devices so that the production team can have access to 24 key/fill pairs of graphics for golf. “The ultimate goal is that someone can sit down at a workstation and call up anything in the truck,” adds Taubman.

Fox Sports coverage of the U.S. Open gets underway on June 18 at 10:59 a.m. EST with all Fox Networks simultaneously showing a featured group of golfers hitting their first tee shots to begin the tournament. An hour later full coverage will begin and, over the following four days, more than 38 hours of live coverage will be delivered to viewers via Fox Sports 1, Fox, and Fox Deportes.

Fox Sports lead play-by-play announcer Joe Buck talked about the Fox Sports approach during a conference call with the media.

“What a boring world it would be if changing things up was so frowned upon that they were scared to do it,” he said. “In 1994, everyone freaked out about Fox putting the score in the corner of the screen. If we are going to go into this event worrying what the traditional golf fan thinks, we’re dead. Fresh eyes, a fresh perspective, a little energy and looking at the same format for a different angle are good things.”