UF’s GatorVision Teams With WUFT-TV, Beck Associates on Centralized Control Room

Even a school like the University of Florida, which boasts a powerhouse budget to match its storied athletics program, is always looking for the most cost-effective, efficient solutions to produce video, while also maintaining the highest possible quality. So when the school’s GatorVision sports-production department began looking to build a new centralized control room on campus, it teamed up with the on-campus PBS station, WUFT-TV (part of the College of Journalism and Communications), to pool resources.

“[GatorVision was] doing their thing, and we were doing ours, but we got together and said, what if you move into our building and we start sharing resources,” says Brad Noblitt, director of media services, College of Journalism and Communications and WUFT-TV. “They wanted to do all of these new things and [upgrade to] HD so we suggested using some of our existing infrastructure to get started. We were both TV people: they just did sports and we did news. We wanted to create an environment where we utilize the same assets and existing base infrastructure and then build from there.”

Connecting the Campus: The Fiber Network
Once Noblitt and the GatorVision team were on the same page, they brought in Beck Associates as the primary integrator on the new HD control room and campus-wide fiber network. Then, they had to get the university (and its existing fiber infrastructure) on board in order to build out the fiber connectivity between the control room and the school’s six on-campus athletics facilities.

“UF had some of the fiber infrastructure, so we reached out to them and laid out how we wanted to get fiber to all these different venues,” says Noblitt. “We asked if we could [utilize] their conduits to make that happen. They were amazing about helping us locate those things and helping us use existing pathways to build [our own fiber network].”

All six venues — the football stadium, O’Connell Center arena (basketball, volleyball, gymnastics), baseball stadium, soccer stadium (also the track), softball stadium, and lacrosse stadium — and the control room are now fully connected via a Telecast Fiber backbone, allowing GatorVision to control all video-board operations and online-streaming productions from a central location.

In all, the new video infrastructure lands 144 fiber connections into the campus’s spinal core, 96 of which are terminated. The remaining dark fiber allows for potential future growth and expansion of the network.

“Those first four spots — football, the arena, baseball, and soccer — are very close to each other,” says Jon Rubin, director of multimedia operations, GatorVision. “But softball and lacrosse were a different story. They are more than 14,000 ft. away [from the control room], so that [fiber run] was no small task.”

Fiber work at the various venues is still under way but is on schedule for completion by the end of May, according to Rubin.

In the Center: The Control Room
The control room itself is located at WUFT in the College of Journalism and Communications building right across from the football stadium — lovingly referred to as “the Swamp” by Gator fans. It is a dedicated GatorVision facility one floor above WUFT’s existing HD control room, which the college uses to produce the station’s live programming (including a weekday newscast).

Integrated by Beck Associations, the GatorVision control room is equipped with a Grass Valley Kayak 2.5 M/E HD switcher, two Tightrope Media Systems Zeplay replay systems (both 4-in/4-out), Chyron graphics, Harris Platinum routers and Harris multiviewers, and ViewCast digital encoders. The GatorVision team also deploys an arsenal of Sony PDW700 camcorders with Telecast Copperhead transceivers to shoot action at all six venues.

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“The unique part is that these two control rooms are their own separate entities but they are sharing a whole lot of sources, so you can actually bounce back and forth if you need to,” says Fred Wright, director of central region sales, Beck Associates. “There had to be that synergy between WUFT and the athletic department, so, when they reached out to Beck to help with the whole design and build process, we had to listen. It wasn’t just a normal buildout.”

Ready for Football Season
Beck Associates’ first phase of the control-room installation took place in February, and phase two is currently under way, with phase three planned for later this month, after which the facility will be fully operational.

In the past, GatorVision rolled out a mobile-production truck to produce its football and basketball video-board shows at the Swamp and O’Connell Center. Now the department plans to use the central control room to produce 60-70 scoreboard shows (football, men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, and gymnastics) per year and stream nearly every home event that is not televised (including baseball, softball, lacrosse, and soccer).

Although the control room has yet to go live, GatorVision successfully brought feeds back from the production truck at the stadium and live-tested the Kayak switcher during the annual Orange & Blue spring football game on April 7. The room is expected to debut in late August for volleyball or on Sept. 1 for the football opener against Bowling Green.

“It’s been a long time coming for us do something like this,” says Rubin. “But we never imagined that we could do it to this level technologically and, at the same time, incorporate the students and educational side to this level.”

As if a brand-new HD control room weren’t enough, GatorVision has also purchased a NewTek TriCaster 850 Extreme and a collection of Sony PMW-EX3 HD camcorders to produce and stream second-tier events when the primary control room is being used for another sport.

A Two-Tiered Approach: The Main Show and Education
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of UF’s dual-control-room setup is the potential it creates for real-world education. Given the interoperability of the two facilities, the WUFT control room can serve as a “shadow” control room for students while the pros in GatorVision control room run the actual video-board/streaming show.

“The dream is the GatorVision crew doing a football game upstairs while students shadow-switch in the downstairs control room,” says Noblitt. “We just let students listen to the director on the intercom and shadow-switch. It’s not going anywhere, but we can record it, and it’s a tremendous teaching device with no risk.

“The next step would be to turn that intercom off and have that shadow TD start directing,” he continues. “Then, the next student becomes the TD. You can flip-flop the students and see how they each do on the other side of it as a director or TD. That’s where we really start to give kids hands-on experience and show them how a game is done.”

The Key Ingredient: Beck Associates
This new framework was years in the making and, according to Noblitt, would not have been possible without a systems integrator like Beck.

“To try to write an RFP for something like this would have been almost impossible,” he says. “Beck didn’t require that; they helped us to problem-solve to make it happen. Beck allowed us to tell them where we wanted to get and how much money we had to get there. When we couldn’t achieve something, they told us it was not possible and came up with alternatives that allowed us to accomplish it in another way without going over budget.”

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