TNT Brings New Tech Tricks to NBA All-Star

TNT’s production of the NBA All-Star Weekend from the Amway Center in Orlando featured new toys, enhancements to old favorites, and core production techniques that the network has refined over the years. And all from a relatively new arena that was designed with events the size of the weekend’s festivities in mind.

“It’s a great arena,” says Tom Sahara, VP of operations and technology, Turner Sports. “It’s well planned out, well outfitted, and staff has been great. And connectivity and the in-house video support are very good.”

TNT and NBA Entertainment took the arena’s fiber infrastructure to the next level with the use of a Stagetec NEXUS router and AURUS digital audio consoles. TNT’s AURUS was supplied by CP Communications, while NBA Entertainment’s console was provided by Wireless First/Clair Global.

The NEXUS is the backbone of the distributive-audio architecture, carrying all audio and communications signals from the RF racks, main announce booth, courtside effects mics, and loading-dock input/outputs. All signals are distributed via fiber in multiple formats, including MADI, AES, analog audio, and 485 data.

“The NEXUS Star router connects directly to the main production truck via MADI, and all other base devices, whether it is the announce-booth kit or RF rack, are via fiber,” says CP Communications SVP Kurt Heitmann. “Any signal from any device is available to any or all devices. That is the beauty of this system.”

The two NEXUS systems — one for NBA Entertainment for the front-of-house mix and one for Turner Sports — were connected via a MADI bridge with 128 bidirectional channels, according to Stagetec USA President Rusty Waite. All the courtside and arena effects mics were submixed in the AURUS audio console, and that mix was sent to NEP’s ESU unit, which, in turn, made it available to the final mixdown console within Turner’s production unit.  Any audio mixer on the world feed or the arena show and entertainment programs who wanted the mix (or a portion of it) could simply tap into the MADI stream.

“The beauty is, you can mirror everything and see all the points going in and even instigate audio splits, if needed,” adds Waite. The system also streamlines the entire patch process and removes buzzes, hums, and bad lines, thanks to the fiber connections.

The system also helped with intercom management.

“We can carry RTS ADAM [intercom] data and distribute it to any device, giving us complete flexibility,” explains Heitmann. “We can also take four wire ports and multiply and sum them back, creating virtual RTS ADAM ports. And that certainly helps with the RTS ADAM port count on a large show like this.”

While the use of the NEXUS system provided tangible benefits to the audio portion of the production, three developments improved the visual experience.

A LiberoVision graphics system, for example, was used to provide a 360-degree panoramic sweep during the skills, three-point shooting, and slam dunk contests on All-Star Saturday Night. The system works by stitching together shots from different cameras and allowing the user of the system to freeze the frame and then swing around the shot to show a different angle.

“It gives us some nice views for [All-Star Saturday Night] and is a nice addition,” says Sahara. “We can freeze a moment in time and take a different look at it.”

There were also a couple of changes in the camera complement. A Steadicam, for example, was used during the actual All-Star game on Sunday night. An important tool during All-Star Saturday Night, it brought fans closer to the main event.

“We’re using it for the game when the players walk on and off the court and during breaks in play,” said Sahara before the broadcast. “It’s a nice treat for viewers because we can get up close and personal.”

Also on hand was the new NAC/Ikegami super-slow-motion camera system, which features three CCD sensors to improve picture performance.

“The colorimetry matches well with our normal coverage cameras so it improves the look of the images,” says Sahara, adding, “There is still some work that needs to be done in terms of workflow. But it’s moving in the right direction.”

A new piece of whiz-bang technology was Dunk Force, developed by engineers at MIT. Sensors within the basketball net detected the amount of energy in the ball as it passed through the net during the slam-dunk contest. The higher the number, the higher the force.

“It’s never been done before so we’re excited about it,” said Sahara before the broadcast.

Because the flow of the event is very different from a regular game, NBA All-Star Weekend required Turner Sports to split its two trucks. One handled the games played on Friday and Sunday night; the second, All-Star Saturday Night. The NCP XI production unit was on hand for the studio show.

“The game productions cover the entire court with resources distributed evenly around it, while the Saturday-night show is on one side of the court,” Sahara points out. “So we have to arrange the cameras differently and set up the tape areas differently.”

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