PGA Tour Productions ready for HD

By Ken Kerschbaumer

PGA Tour Productions this weekend officially continues its march towards high-definition as it fires up a variety of new HD decoding, Dolby E hardware and HD signal distribution gear that will help it ensure that every HD shot CBS and NBC Sports capture in the field during the new season will arrive with every pixel intact at the PGA Tour Productions facility in St. Augustine, FL.

“It’s exciting to be starting a new era in PGA Golf,” says Chuck Scoggins, PGA Tour Productions VP, operations. “Our sport offers a better HD experience than a lot of others.”

The infrastructure is in place to downlink the HD backhaul and downconvert it to SD for the International feed that is sent to PGA Tour broadcast partners around the world. It also allows for more pre-packaged HD material to be created.

The PGA Tour facility now features upgraded satellite capabilities as well as Harris, Tandberg and Tiernan HD decoders with redundant backups. A new Utah-Scientific 64×64 HD router was also installed.

“We need to be able to bring in four simultaneous backhauls from the different PGA events going on,” adds Scoggins. “And then we need at least one outbound signal to feed international clients.”

The move to HD went a lot more easily than Scoggins originally expected. For example, the ability to pull out audio stems from the incoming Dolby E CBS 5.1 Surround Sound signals makes it easy to turn around mono or stereo feeds for international needs.

“We were concerned about how it would impact our infrastructure to have more audio channels than in the past but it went very smoothly,” explains Scoggins. “CBS was very helpful in getting us to the point where we could do some testing and lay out the 563 stems. And everything worked as expected.”

The steps taken this off-season were part of a larger multi-year strategy to migrate the entire facility to HD.

“Last year we worked closely with NBC, CBS and The Golf Channel to migrate our clean feed, dirty feed and other recordings that take place in the network mobile unit away from videotape to an EVS XT2 platform,” says Scoggins. “Combining that with our shift to HD acquisition of material by our field production crews, we began to integrate EVS XT2 Servers with IP Directors.”

The move to EVS drives is cutting down on the cost of videotapes while also moving PGA Tour Productions squarely into a nonlinear environment. The facility has six edit suites and is phasing out two of its linear edit bays. In December an HD Avid Adrenaline system was installed.

“Our multi-year plan is to replace all our SD linear editing systems with HD nonlinear systems,” says Scoggins. In fact, that work is already paying off as it allowed PGA Tour Production to deliver its first HD network special of 2007 to NBC last week. Scoggins says “On The Brink” is a 90-minute documentary highlighting the excitement, emotion and competitive spirit of the six-round 2006 PGA TOUR Qualifying Tournament.

Tape, of course, still has a role. Twelve HD VTRs, in both HDCAM-SR and DVCPRO HD, are on hand. “We find that different formats have advantages depending on what you want to accomplish,” says Scoggins. “For example, DVCPRO has an advantage for documentary-style programs because of its variable-speed frame rate.”

The five-year conversion plan runs through 2012, with HD VTRs and more edit upgrades on the books for 2007 and 2008. Standard-definition Avid Deko systems will also be upgraded and producer screening stations will also make the HD jump.

The end goal, however, is having a facility that can not only pull in HD production feeds but will be able to serve out HD content on a global basis.

“We know that down the road we will need to flip the switch on an HD PGA Tour feed,” says Scoggins. If all goes as planned expect the St. Augustine facility to offer up a live HD control room ensuring golf fans around the world see every blade of grass and ball dimple with stunning clarity.

“We’re excited to migrating the international feeds to HD as demand increases,” says Scoggins.

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