Bexel, Harris, NFL Huddle Up For HD Instant Replay
By Ken Kerschbaumer
It sounds like the ultimate NFL roadtrip: visiting 28 stadiums in 22 days. Unfortunately the goal wasn’t to catch every NFL team in action: instead it was to help transition the NFL to HD instant replay. That said, Scott Nardelli, Bexel director of fiber optic solutions, isn’t complaining. The stadiums may have been empty and quiet but for the task at hand those were the perfect conditions. “We had a lot to do in three months, from getting the material suppliers together, meeting deadlines and all with zero tolerance for error,” he says.
From August 1 to August 23 Nardelli criss-crossed the nation on a straightforward mission: transition the stadiums from an SD infrastructure that relied on coaxial cable to transmit signals from the production trucks to the replay booth and onto the field to fiber capable of handling uncompressed HD signals. In one year the NFL referees will go from one of the worst viewing experiences, standard definition, to one few outside of a production vehicle ever see: uncompressed HD.
Going HD is an important step. Yes, the pictures will have more detail but the real advantage will be the ability to see the full 16:9 widescreen image instead of 4:3 SD.
Approximately 45 subcontractors were involved in the project to ensure electricity would always be pumping to the viewing stations on the field and that wiring was laid properly. With some cable runs requiring upwards of 1,800 feet of cable copper wiring simply wouldn’t handle the 1.5 Gbps signal. Instead Belden Armored Interlock single-mode cable has been installed.
“The advantage is that the armor protects the cable so we could pull it without requiring any interduct,” says Nardelli.
The installation teams visited stadiums of every size, shape and age and Nardelli says most of them were in decent shape. “We were able to use a lot of existing cable trays and most had existing conduit paths all the way down to the field,” he says.
Mounting the electronic equipment boxes at the compound, field, and replay booth tended to be the biggest challenge. Older stadiums didn’t always have electrical circuits available nearby. Meanwhile some of the newer stadiums, in particular the domed stadiums, have a lot of the electrical recessed into the concrete so finding a place to mount the box was an issue.
The boxes are critical in the electrical/optical conversion process and some have been placed under the stands, some on the field, and others in service corridors. Nema enclosures that protect the gear also needed to meet different environmental demands.
“In Miami the concern is venting the heat out of the enclosure while in New England it will be keeping it in,” says Nardelli. “But the enclosures are great. In Denver the staff was power washing the seats and water was cascading over the Nema enclosure and there was no problem.”
Three teams were involved in the actual installs, terminating fiber and mounting and testing equipment to ensure it was ready to be connected to the instant replay system designed by Harris. Harris supplied the HD playback systems, as well as all the software and services to upgrade the instant replay systems. Each stadium will use Harris NEXIO HD servers, FORCE software (Football Officiating Replay Challenge Expeditor), and routing and distribution equipment.
Nardelli says three Harris 6800+ frames with optical conversion cards handle both HD video to and from the truck compound, to and from the field, and also Intercom. The new system will also clean up the audio quality of the Intercom. Each frame is 2RU in size with 16 slots and all feeds are redundant.
One of the reasons Harris was selected is the ability for Ethernet monitoring. The next phase of the project will involve connecting all stadiums via Web monitoring capability so that officials can show up on Sunday morning, go to a Web screen, and see the status of replay systems in all the stadiums. They will also be able to see if fiber is broken and download new software to equipment.
“Harris provides us a platform to do additional services,” adds Nardelli. “Harris, NFL and Bexel worked closely as a team do this in a short period of time and that level of dedication and follow through is rare.”