Comcast Gets Creative With Abekas Mira

Comcast is a dominating presence throughout the Chicagoland area, especially when it comes to sports production. In addition to its full-time Comcast SportsNet channel, featuring professional teams, the company runs a regional network, CN100, which highlights high school sports. For those field productions, the network operates a mobile-production unit recently enhanced with an Abekas Mira eight-channel Instant Replay server, which operates as a replay, slow-motion, and highlight-reel playback system, allowing Comcast far more production creativity than ever before.

“We operate a small mobile-production unit and pride ourselves on being able to do high-quality work on a small budget,” says Richard Foresman, studio operations and programming manager for Comcast in the Greater Chicago region. “While there are a lot of replay systems on the market with lots of bells and whistles, one of those systems can also run the price of basically our entire capital budget. The Mira allowed us to expand our options greatly, do a lot more in production, and not break the bank in the process.”

Before installing the Abekas Mira, Foresman’s team used a two-channel analog system. Although it had served the production team well in the past, its capabilities were decidedly limited by today’s standards: it could record only two channels, it did not allow simultaneous record and playback, its small hard drives translated into limited storage space, and it did not have the capability to create clip sequences or highlight reels for in-game use.

When Foresman began looking to replace the truck replay system, he already had some familiarity with Abekas products, so, when a sales rep from Roscor recommended that he look into the Mira, he was happy to oblige. After a demo at NAB in 2010, the Comcast team took the Mira back to Chicago to put it to the test.

“Our staff and end users certainly put the system through its paces,” Foresman explains. “After several comparative sessions with other products, the Abekas Mira was the best fit for our needs and our budget.”

First and foremost, Mira has alleviated the technical limitations of CN100’s former analog system. The Instant Replay server with a DMAT-AB control panel has been configured for CN100 as a six-input/two-output system, providing the production with six replay sources. Second, though equally important, the Mira has allowed Foresman’s team to spread its creative wings.

“Essentially, the Mira has allowed us to be a lot more creative during production,” he says. “Having six replay sources to choose from, as opposed to two, greatly expands our choices for angles of replay and also allows us to dedicate cameras to a certain player or part of the field in anticipation of plays, where previously we couldn’t afford to take those cameras out of a standard game-action configuration.”

Although the analog system did not allow for simultaneous record and playback, Mira’s continuous recording negates that issue.

“Continuous recording eliminates the worry of missing a play while cueing a previous play, creating player sequences, or highlighting how a series of plays unfolded during the course of a game,” Foresman says. “Because our shot options have greatly expanded [with six replay sources], we’ve been able to get a lot more creative with the in-game sequences for player highlights and for break roll-outs.”

During sports productions, Mira serves as the primary replay, slo-mo, and highlight-reel playback system, but the system is also used for other productions, including a live-to-tape studio program featuring live theater productions.

“While we do a live cut of the program, the Mira allows us to iso all the cameras used in production and export the footage with timecode to clean up the program in postproduction,” Foresman says. “That allows for a tightly edited, slick final product.”

His team also uses Mira in its postgame workflow. The team can pull clips off the replay system for quick turnaround to the Web and for its “On Demand” highlight segments.

“Being able to export file-based melts and also video clips to hard drive and tape has cut down our turnaround time dramatically,” Foresman explains. “Overall, I think that the greater creativity allowed by the additional controls and the more sophisticated options of the Mira have been the best part of having Mira in our workflow. After a short learning period, our replay operators have really been able to spread their wings on this system and tell a better story as the drama of the game unfolds on-screen.”

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