FutureSPORT: 4K Making Its Mark on Network Sports Broadcasts
By: Brandon Costa, Senior Editor
Friday, May 17, 2013 - 12:12 pm

Full 4K live sports productions can resemble a high school science-fair project these days, but that didn’t keep the exciting promise of the technology from being the topic of conversation throughout the day when more than 200 professionals gathered on Wednesday to network and discuss the future of sports-video technology at SVG’s FutureSPORT.

Turner Sports' Tom Sahara (left) with CBS Sports' Ken Aagaard. The two paired on a 4K test at this year's Final Four in Atlanta.

Turner Sports’ Tom Sahara (left) with CBS Sports’ Ken Aagaard. The two paired on a 4K test at this year’s Final Four in Atlanta.

In the opening discussion of the day-long event at the New York Hilton, network representatives discussed some of the successful and practical applications of 4K and lessons that have been learned in early testing on some major broadcasts.

“I think we [as an industry] are on to something,” said Ken Aagaard, EVP of Engineering, Operations, and Production Services at CBS Sports, who used 4K throughout last NFL season and during the Super Bowl in New Orleans. “For me, it’s not about using technology for technology’s sake; you want it to tell a story. I think this 4K technology in this specific application that we’re all trying to use is very effective.”

4K has found its most valuable production application as a replay tool in an HD show. During the NFL season, CBS, Aagaard, and VP of Engineering Bruce Goldfeder used FOR-A FT-ONE camera systems (60 frames per second), an Evertz Dreamcatcher replay system, and integration help from NEP Broadcasting to run tests during the regular season. They then used six Dreamcatchers and six FOR-A cameras at the Super Bowl.

Fox Sports' Jerry Steinberg noted that anywhere from four to six 4K cameras would be used during next year's Super Bowl broadcast.

Fox Sports’ Jerry Steinberg noted that from four to six 4K cameras would be used during next year’s Super Bowl broadcast.

Although they did not get as many opportunities to showcase the technology as they would have liked, Aagaard did recall a controversial play in an Indianapolis Colts game where 4K replay revealed that quarterback Andrew Luck’s knee was down before he threw an interception. The call on the field was overturned.

“When you get into these new technologies that are immature, you’re taking some risk,” he said, “but it was calculated, and I feel really good about the experience. I think that we are going to continue.”

Fox Sports has also been a pioneer in 4K replay technology, beginning as early as two years ago when it started using a Vision Research 2K camera on NFL games. This past football season, the production team made the jump to 4K with a Sony F65 used on every NFL A game each week.

“There’s Sundays where it just doesn’t make air because the story isn’t there. Then there’s Sundays when it makes air a lot,” said Jerry Steinberg, SVP, field operations, Fox Sports, who noted that the network could use as many as four to six 4K cameras on its coverage of next year’s Super Bowl. “To me, it’s a specialty device. Today, it’s about bringing clarity and resolution to replays.”

MLB Network's Mark Haden outlined his network's usage of 4K during the World Baseball Classic.

MLB Network’s Mark Haden outlined his network’s usage of 4K during the World Baseball Classic.

Some of the hesitancy that existed around 4K at last month’s NAB Show stemmed from the fear of whether 4K might be another 3D, which has turned out to be pretty much a gimmick in many people’s eyes.

“4K doesn’t feel like 3D. 3D had this big promise and very little to deliver, whereas, in 4K, we are seeing the benefit to the production using it right now,” said Turner Sports VP of Operations & Technology Tom Sahara, who headed up a successful 4K production at this year’s Final Four. “So is there traction? I think there is. Will 4K replace HD? Probably not in my lifetime, just because there is so much inertia in the existing distribution systems that we can barely do HD, much less anything better than HD. So we have to work on that first.”

MLB Network showed off some clips from this year’s World Baseball Classic, where the production team was able to use 4K technology on replays throughout the tournament. VP, Engineering and IT, Mark Haden outlined how the network used two Canon C500 cameras (one topped off with a regular photographic lens, the other with a cinema lens) tied to a Dreamcatcher system.

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