Supersizing Replays in Ultra HD

New playbacks will offer stunning images on disputed calls
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It may take many years before broadcasters start delivering much content to the new 4K TV sets that were stars of this year's 2013 International Consumer Electronic Show. But viewers will get a look at the power of 4K technologies, which offer four times the resolution of HD formats, at this year's Super Bowl.

Over the last 18 months, CBS has been working with NEP Broadcasting and a number of other vendors to apply those 4K, or Ultra HD, technologies to sports production. The result is a new 4K truck built by NEP where a separate crew will handle the images from six For-A FT One 4K cameras using Fujinon lenses. The resulting 4K replays will air using Evertz Corp.'s DreamCatcher servers and replay system.

The system will complement regular HD replays, notes Ken Aagaard, executive VP of engineering, operations and production services, CBS Sports. "The idea is to have those cameras shooting at a high frame rate so you avoid motion blur and use the 4K resolution to zoom in," on particular important aspects of a play, Aagaard says.

Because the 4K cameras offer much higher resolution, producers will be able to zoom in on part of the shot, adds George Hoover, CTO of NEP. "You can fill the screen with the foot and still see individual cleats," to show whether a player was inbounds when a pass was caught, Hoover says.

Adapting the technology to the rigors of live sports production has, however, not been easy. Hoover notes that NEP began exploring the idea about 18 months ago. The company first looked at the Sony F65 and then started testing with the For-A camera, which offered higher frame rates for slow motion replays. Evertz also worked with NEP to adapt its DreamCatcher product to the 4K cameras.

The ! rst tests were conducted prior to the start of the NFL season at New Jersey's MetLife Stadium. CBS Sports then took its first replay test to air in October in New Orleans, Hoover says. Since then, it has been quietly using two 4K cameras throughout the regular and postseason.

The For-A and other 4K cameras currently on the market were designed for digital cinema production, so NEP and CBS Sports had to make significant adaptations for use in live sports, Hoover adds. "We had to augment them with things like view- finders, intercoms and big lenses that aren't part of the feature set so they operate just like a regular camera," he explains.

The high-resolution images also required creating new fiber links and infrastructure for the truck and systems for tightly integrating the images into the traditional workflow. That led to the creation of a separate truck and crew to handle the images so the regular Super Bowl production team wouldn't be distracted by the new technology and processes.

During the Super Bowl, CBS Sports is expanding its number of 4K cameras to six to cover more of the field. "If you get the right moment, it will be an incredibly powerful tool for an important play," Aagaard notes.

Besides CBS, ESPN and Fox have also been trying out 4K technologies. Fox, for example, was testing a 4K replay system with the Sony F65 camera in the last half of the NFL season.

"It really makes such a huge difference that I think 4K replay will be the norm [in the future], at least for big events," Hoover says.

E-mail comments to gpwin@oregoncoast.com and follow him on Twitter: @GeorgeWinslow

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