Live From PGA Championship: Inside CBS and DirecTV’s 4K Treatment of Baltusrol’s ‘Famous Fourth’
Mobile TV Group’s 39 Flex anchors six-camera UHD production of 4th hole
It’s another major golf tournament and another significant step forward in 4K production for CBS Sports. In partnership with DirecTV, CBS is producing five-camera 4K coverage of Baltusrol Golf Club’s signature par-three hole 4 at this weekend’s PGA Championship, airing it live to consumers on DirecTV.
It marks the fourth golf tournament this year that the two media companies have introduced some element of a 4K production, the most notable being the three-hole live coverage of Amen Corner at The Masters in April.
“We’re very comfortable with using 4K, and, as soon as it’s fully distributed, we’ll be way ahead of the game,” says Harold Bryant, executive producer/SVP, production, CBS Sports. “We have [4K] cameras on football games, golf events; we are using 4K and finding out its capabilities; on replays, the clarity that you can get out of it zooming in and keeping the crispness of a shot is fantastic. We’ll be ready to go when it’s fully distributed.
Of the five cameras deployed at hole 4 this weekend, two are unilateral; the other three are shared with the primary HD production. As was the case at The Masters golf tournament, the show is being acquired by Sony HDC4300 4K/HD/high-speed cameras outfitted with a mix of Fujinon 4K and HD lenses.
“At Augusta,” says John Ward, SVP, content operations, AT&T Entertainment Group, “there was certainly more nerves because we hadn’t done this before. Now, of course, you don’t take it any less seriously, but here we’ve got the building blocks in place, and you can ask, what else can we lay on top of it?”
CBS Sports and DirecTV are producing the 4K show from Mobile TV Group’s 39 Flex truck, which houses a 4K-capable 7M/E Grass Valley Kayenne K-Frame switcher (192 inputs in HD, 48 in 4K), Evertz hybrid SDI/IP router (which allows the mobile unit to route 4K as a quad-HD signal today and IP in the future), a Calrec Artemis audio console, and ChyronHego 4K graphics.
“We’re getting comfortable enough that we’re willing to start experimenting a bit and push the boundaries,” notes Dale Canino, director, technology, Mobile TV Group. “It’s nice to have clients that allow us to do that. CBS and DirecTV are very forward-thinking, and that’s ideal for an engineer.”
On the playback side, 39 Flex houses several 12-channel EVS XT3 replay systems, but, this weekend, the production crew is also trying out the new EVS XT4K, a dedicated four-channel 4K server, which is being used to record the cameras in 4K/UHD with sLog3 HDR.
One change that the engineering team at DirecTV has made for the PGA Championship is to incorporate a new set of encoders from ATEME. DirecTV has purchased four Ericsson Envivio encoders and four ATEME encoders, and engineers on the DirecTV team are going back and forth with both providers experimenting and testing the boxes.
Since launching 39 Flex as a 4K/HDR production facility in April, Mobile TV Group continues to learn lessons with each production. Among the many things Canino has learned is that timing is a critical element.
“We’ve learned how important timing is in the quad-link square-division world specifically, because the industry hasn’t gone to two-sample interleave yet,” he explains. “If you have any sort of timing error between quadrants, they’re going to be visible. Also, devices such as encoders are very strict, as far as timing goes. The encoders we use have something like a three-microsecond buffer, so we have to have all of our timing within that. Because of that, we have reorganized how we are feeding our replay and other timing-sensitive devices so that, instead of having to go into the timing plane of the router and adjust things, [everything is] there to start with. We are being proactive now, whereas, in the past, because we didn’t know, we were having to be reactive.”
CBS has been aggressive in its attempts to embrace 4K, integrating 4K elements into Thursday Night Football and Super Bowl 50 and doing full-fledged 4K productions at four golf tournaments. The network appears to be finding its 4K footing.
“We’re getting much more comfortable with [4K],” says Sean McManus, chairman, CBS Sports. “I think the production of 4K has been pretty seamless. It’s really a question of how much equipment will be 4K-capable in the future and how much distribution we can help generate with the carriers around the country. I think it’s a combination of ramping up the technical facilities so that more of the cameras and more of the [replay] machines are 4K-compatible and also driving the distribution.
“It’s very much like high-definition was when it first came in,” he continues. “At first, all of the HD broadcasts were separate broadcasts with side-by-side coverage with standard definition. Eventually, all the new trucks being built were HD-compatible, and people’s TV sets at home began to be able to receive the new HD; it was a seamless transition. I think it will be a little slower for 4K, but working as closely as we are with DirecTV and AT&T, I think we are going to keep pushing the envelope and, in not too many years, you are going to see 4K being a much more prominent part of our productions.”
DirecTV, meanwhile, has gained a lot of 4K experience this year. In addition to launching the first full-time 4K channel in the U.S. and a 4K pay-per-view movie service, it has offered many live 4K sports productions, including the four golf tournaments with CBS, MLB Network’s weekly Showcase games, and UFC 200.
Even more is in store. Just around the corner are the Rio Olympic Games, where DirecTV will work with NBC to air 4K presentations of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and such events as basketball, swimming, and judo.
“As we do more and more of these events and look ahead at what’s coming, I just want to increase the amount of native 4K that we are doing,” says Ward. “To get to an all-native 4K show, I think, is a totally attainable objective. I just think it’s going to be a while. As long as we’re improving, if it’s on the encoding side, the graphics side, the replay, I’m happy, and AT&T is happy.”
The live 4K feed airs from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. ET on Thursday and Friday and from 12:30 p.m. until approximately 3:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and can be viewed by DirecTV Ultimate or Premier subscribers with an authorized 4K-customer account, the latest Genie HD DVR (HR54), and either a DirecTV 4K-ready TV or a compatible 4K/60-fps TV connected to the latest 4K Genie Mini (4K/UHD content on a non-DirecTV 4K-ready TV requires a TV with an HDMI 2.0-compliant interface and HDCP 2.2 content security and a 4K Genie Mini). Fans can also watch via supported internet-connected Samsung or Sony 4K Smart TV with at least 25-Mbps download speed.