Live From the U.S. Open: Massive Fox Sports Effort Is Under Way
Fox Sports coverage of the U.S. Open golf championship from Chambers Bay Golf Course near Tacoma, WA, officially took flight yesterday in a massive way that is, arguably, the largest single-network golf production: more than 115 cameras on the course and even more channels of replay pumping through the new Encore production unit from Game Creek Video.
“We are going to try and do a lot of things there to make the viewer feel like they are playing the golf course right in front of them,” says Mark Loomis, coordinating producer, Fox Sports. “We’re trying to get some dimensions to the greens, increase the audio from the course, and give you a better look of what the shot looks like to the golfer. The technology is part of the experience. It’s not the experience.”
The coverage features 118 cameras, including 20 RF cameras, 35 hard cameras, and a rail camera providing a steady tracking shot along a portion of the 18th fairway. Eleven audio mixers are handling the wealth of audio sources coming in via 202 microphones. And the Game Creek Encore unit houses 29 EVS XT3 replay servers, providing more than 150 channels of recording.
A first for the tournament is the use of multiple channels of the EVS MultiReview system. Four systems allow EVS operators to create templates for different holes so that they can call up all of the relevant sources for the hole at the push of a button. The operator can see all the synched sources on a multiviewer, browse recorded feeds, and even add and recall markers.
John Entz, president, production, Fox Sports, says Fox has a long tradition of aggressively exploring and implementing next-generation technical innovations. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the plans call for the use of aerial drones, 4K cameras, virtual-reality cameras across the course, POV tee cams, and, given the network’s love of audio innovation, microphones in all the holes.
“With the U.S. Open, we have the opportunity to deliver golf coverage in new and exciting ways,” he says. “Viewers expect it from us.”
One new way is the patent-pending Shaded Green system, which can allow the viewer to see the undulations on the green in live video and while players are on the green. The result is a better understanding of where the ball not only should be played but will break as it rolls across the green.
Drones are being used for early-morning course flyovers, scenic shots, and hole mapping. There is also a remote-controlled car equipped with a camera and able to walk viewers along the course for a ground-level perspective. Located on the 18th fairway, it rolls alongside the golfer and provides a point of view that is similar to a camera operator’s walking alongside and holding the camera a foot off the ground.
And then there is the Fox Sports Rangefinder, a Tower Cam rig with the ability to extend from 8 to 21 ft., delivering a unique perspective from the fairway. The camera is equipped with augmented-reality graphics along with a ball tracer to help viewers see what the golfer is facing. Drop-down robotic cameras controlled from the Fox Sports TV compound bring viewers closer to the golfers than ever.
Mike Davies, SVP, field operations, Fox Sports, points to an Inertia Unlimited 4K Flex high-speed–camera system that can shoot more than 1,000 frames per second.
“It achieves crisp, clear, almost cinematic video that can then be magnified many times to highlight an area of interest,” he says. “The spin of the ball landing on the green, the nudge of a putted ball, and the tight reaction of a golfer are all things that can be captured with this important camera.”
Those tools will be used to bring a new energy to traditional golf broadcasting, but the network’s plans are also bringing new energy to a non-traditional form of broadcasting: virtual reality. Multiple virtual-reality cameras will be on the course, and selected hospitality areas on the course will give fans an opportunity to pop on a pair of virtual-reality goggles and, thanks to production partner NextVR, experience a 360-degree view from multiple locations on the course.
All the on-course innovations will be tied to an off-course innovation: Game Creek Video’s Encore production unit. The massive unit comprises three 53-ft. trailers providing nearly 2,400 sq. ft. of production space when the sides are expanded: 720 sq. ft. in the A unit, 905 sq. ft. in the B unit, and 675 sq. ft. in C.
“When we design a truck, we look to get eight years out of it, and we knew that a baseband-routing design would not get us through the next eight years, even at 3 Gbps,” says Game Creek Video President Pat Sullivan. “Also, with monitoring demands for the U.S. Open topping 1,200 images, we knew we couldn’t hit that number with baseband routing. A key ingredient was, we want a lot of headroom [because] the shows grow; they don’t contract.”
Although the physical size of the unit is definitely newsworthy, the real accomplishment is the move to an uncompressed 10 Gigabit Ethernet infrastructure, thanks to an Evertz EXE video-service router, a Magnum SDVN controller, Evertz 570IPG high-density IP gateways, and the 3067VIP10G 10GbE multiviewer system that can drive 140 displays and can route up to 23 terabits per second of data. That 23 Tbps of data translates into as many as 6,900 uncompressed HD-SDI signals and also accommodates 4K/UHD services.
“What Game Creek is doing is very unique, and it has been a development project between Evertz and Game Creek that has had up to 50 people [at Evertz in Toronto] banging away on this,” says Davies. “And, when we get to the U.S. Open, this facility will eliminate trucks and, in the end, reduce costs.”
According to Jason Taubman, VP, design and new technology, Game Creek Video, the move to IP routing was one of necessity given the large monitoring needs for the U.S. Open, and it was Evertz that stepped up and had the pieces in place to do uncompressed routing over IP.
“It was kind of scary,” he says, “but they demonstrated it, and we took a deep breath and pulled the trigger. We had complete confidence that Evertz could deliver the full-scale system in our time frame. There was an incredible amount of development work to do, but Evertz pulled it off.”
The IP infrastructure does more than just solve bandwidth and latency issues. It also creates a new philosophy when it comes to how the physical spaces within a truck are managed. For example, the A unit has space for 25 EVS XT3 servers, each capable of handling 12 channels. But, thanks to the 320-port cascaded IHSE KVM switch connecting the A, B, and C units, it is conceivable that an EVS operator can sit down at nearly any keyboard and monitor workspace within the truck and immediately connect not only to the EVS network but also to graphics engines. And the B unit is set to accept up to 24 graphics devices, giving the production team access to 24 key/fill pairs of graphics for golf.
“The ultimate goal,” adds Taubman,“is that someone can sit down at a workstation and call up anything in the truck.”
Fox Sports coverage of the U.S. Open got under way on June 18 at 10:59 a.m. ET, with all Fox Networks simultaneously showing a featured group of golfers hitting their first tee shots to begin the tournament. An hour later, full coverage began. Over the four days of the tournament, more than 38 hours of live coverage will be delivered to viewers via Fox Sports 1, Fox, and Fox Deportes.
Fox Sports lead play-by-play announcer Joe Buck talked about the Fox Sports approach during a conference call with the media.
“What a boring world it would be if changing things up was so frowned upon that they were scared to do it,” he said. “In 1994, everyone freaked out about Fox putting the score in the corner of the screen. If we are going to go into this event worrying what the traditional golf fan thinks, we’re dead. Fresh eyes, a fresh perspective, a little energy, and looking at the same format from different angle are good things.”