Sports Venue Technology Summit: 4K Is First Step in Long Transition to Hi-Res Operations

There seem to be two certainties when it comes to the future of in-venue scoreboards and productions. First, scoreboards are going to continue to get larger in both physical size and pixel count. And, second, those boards will increasingly need to be fed with 4K images and, most likely, even higher-resolution images.

“Larger displays are not going away, and the pixel pitch is getting tighter, so resolutions are growing exponentially,” said Tony Viola, director, product development and quality, Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Co., during a session on 4K at last week’s SVG Venue Technology Summit.

From left: Multidyne’s Jim Hurwitz, Sony’s Mike DesRoches, Philadelphia Eagles’ Eric Long, WJHW’s Chris Williams, and Panasonic’s Tony Viola

From left: Multidyne’s Jim Hurwitz, Sony’s Mike DesRoches, Philadelphia Eagles’ Eric Long, WJHW’s Chris Williams, and Panasonic’s Tony Viola

WJHW VP Chris Williams cited an example: the recently revamped video experience at the Jacksonville Jaguars’ EverBank Field takes advantage of multiple 4K and 8K displays on two scoreboards to deliver a 16K image in width.

“We see a need for 8K playback in venues, and owners will pay for it,” he said, adding that a new videoboard on the drawing board for the New Atlanta Stadium, set to open in 2017, will feature a circumference of 1,100 sq. ft. and resolution of 11,000 pixels.

“In the past, we had to rely on specially built computers to get video to ultra-wide boards,” he pointed out, “but, in the last few years, the broadcast industry has caught up.”

The two new videoboards put in place at the Philadelphia Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field exemplify the new sizes and form factors.

“We started with a unique 32×9 display that was 10 years old, but it was SD. We cropped 720p images on it, and it looked horrible,” said Eric Long, event production manager, Philadelphia Eagles. “Now we have two main displays, one that is 192 ft. wide and another that is 160 ft. wide, but both are about 28 ft. tall.”

The challenge, he added, was that, because the videoboards are located low in each end zone, having plenty of resolution was a big goal, so surface-mount technology, via a Panasonic 10-mm board, was put to use.

Viola said that surface-mount displays (SMDs) offer beautiful images on bigger boards for the same budget as previous technologies.

“That means a bigger board for the same budget or freeing up budget to do other things,” he added. “The use of SMD for outdoor is more gradual, but it’s here.”

Long said that the use of SMD allows not only improved viewing angles but also a better viewing experience for fans sitting closer to the videoboard.

“The control room is 1080p now, and we got to the point where we were working with 10 Sony F55 4K cameras, eight of which were hardwired and used baseband processors to take in 4K and push 1080i out,” he explained. “Both would hit the router, and then we would punch the show in 1080i with 4K passing through an Evertz DreamCatcher.”

Long advocates extracting an HD image from the 4K image via pan and scan because it can give fans in the stadium closeups of incidents on the field. His team is currently working on how to incorporate a panoramic shot captured by four 720p cameras into the production.

Mike DesRoches, senior sales support engineer, Sony, said the key with any 4K deployment is ensuring that the equipment is used to maximize return on investment. For example, the San Francisco 49ers are using a total of 10 4K cameras, seven for the live in-venue production and then an additional three Sony F55 4K cameras that can be used for other projects, including high-frame-rate HD acquisition.

“When you can repurpose the tools,” he observed, “it makes sense to buy 4K.”

Acquisition and display are only part of the challenge, according to Jim Hurwitz, VP of business development, MultiDyne. Live 4K requires a lot of fiber-optic infrastructure, which gets more complicated when a single control room handles multiple venues.

“Because 4K is moved as four separate 3H signals, you need to quadruple the bandwidth and quadruple the amount of equipment to move it over fiber,” he explained. “And one thing we are seeing is a move towards true optical routers, where you route an optical beam between ports and have up to 36 Gbps per strand. That reduces the infrastructure by not having to go back to electrical.”

Even before venues get into the issues of optical vs. electrical routing, they have to grapple with what is the current premium to go to 4K today? Williams pointed out that 1080p will increase a budget by 20%-40% whereas 4K is twice as costly as 1080/60p.

“But,” he added, “we need to think of it as a transitory production format as we move to higher resolutions, and that move is happening much more quickly.”

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