Blackmagic Design Router Streamlines Sportvision’s NASCAR RACEf/x

With 43 cars circling a track at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour, following a NASCAR race can be difficult enough. Broadcasters are tasked with not only following the action themselves but conveying driver progress to an at-home audience. Sportvision’s RACEf/x addresses this challenge by tracking each car five times per second using GPS coordinates to create a digital record of the race in real time. To handle the immense amount of information garnered from these 43 cars, Sportvision turned to Blackmagic Design’s Universal Videohub routers.

The RACEf/x system captures telemetry and positioning data from GPS transmitters installed in each car. GPS satellites pull this data — including acceleration/deceleration, time behind leader, and exact car position — and deliver it to broadcast production and Internet and wireless applications.

Sportvision travels its SV-3, a 53-ft. production truck, to each NASCAR broadcast, positioning it downstream in the broadcast workflow from the network televising the race. The dirty feed of the telecast travels through SV-3, where Sportvision’s crew adds RACEf/x over the top prior to distribution.

“We’ve got a lot of video coming into the truck, and, in the past, we’ve had to use bulk equipment, equipment that wasn’t as stable [and had] lots of parts, different power sources, and a lot of cabling — things that can fail over time,” says Jason Stromberg, technical operations manager of motorsports, Sportvision. “With all of that video coming into the truck, it was essential that we assign a piece of equipment to make this easier for everyone.”

Sportvision selected Blackmagic Design’s Universal Videohub 288 router to be that piece of equipment. Currently, the router is configured at 156×156, allowing interfaces to be added as needed.

“We needed a piece of equipment that was very reliable, very scalable, and would be able to get the job done every week no questions asked,” Stromberg explains. “The Blackmagic Universal Videohub router was able to do that for us and provided us the ability, functionality, [and] scalability. Every week, we come in, we plug in, we turn it on, and we know it’s going to work.”

The router features an 18RU frame and supports SD, HD, 4:4:4, and 2K video formats. Every interface module in it is card-based, with each card featuring four inputs and four outputs.

“The great thing about these [routers] is, they’re really flexible [and] they’re a smaller form factor, which [is essential] for guys like [Sportvision] that are going to be in a truck for broadcast,” says Blackmagic Design President Dan May, noting “the flexibility of being able to use different frame rates: sometimes, they need to be able to do 720p; sometimes, they need to be able to do 1080i.”

The ability to accommodate multiple formats is pivotal for Sportvision, since RACEf/x is used by the four networks that televise NASCAR: Fox, ESPN, TNT, and Speed. With Fox and ESPN broadcasting in 720p and TNT requiring 1080i, Sportvision needed a router that could interface with different formats simultaneously instead of having to manage multiple routers.

“The way our routers work is, they just take the data in and push the data out, so it’s not like you have to set up one [as] your HD router in 1080i and you need to buy a whole other 720p router, and you need a whole other router for SD,” May explains. “The router itself is pretty much agnostic [in terms of] frame rates and resolutions, as long as they’re the broadcast standard.”

Sportvision typically handles 20-40 feeds in and out of the truck and manages 25 computers and video- and audio-jack fields. According to Jason, anything that can help the seven- to nine-person crew be more organized on race days is key.

“Because [the Videohub] takes in both of those formats at the same time and it doesn’t matter if its 720p is on one side and 1080i is on another, it’s kind of, what you see is what you get: whatever comes in comes out wherever you tell it to,” says Stromberg. “Basically, we have two separate systems — one half is 720p and then one half is 1080i — and being able to use one piece of equipment like the Videohub to reroute the video wherever we need it makes it really simple.”

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