NBC Sports Chicago Adds 4DReplay to Cubs, White Sox Coverage To Close Regular Season

The system will provide 360-degree replays throughout each game

Chicago baseball enters the fourth dimension this week. NBC Sports Chicago will deploy 4DReplay systems for the first time during its coverage of tonight’s White Sox–Indians game at Guaranteed Rate Field and Thursday’s Cubs–Pirates matchup at Wrigley Field. The 4DReplay system, which is currently installed at AT&T Ballpark in San Francisco and was used for the Home Run Derby at Nationals Park in July, will provide viewers with 360-degree replays throughout each game.

Approximately 100 4K cameras are deployed at Guaranteed Rate Field for the 4DReplay system being used by NBC Sports Chicago.

“I believe 4DReplay revolutionizes how we cover the game and, in this era of replay, gives you conclusive angles that you could have never had before,” says Jon Slobotkin, SVP, content and live programming, NBC Sports Regional Networks. “The great thing about 4D is, it can give you looks that were previously unimaginable around the infield bases because of its ability to rotate almost anywhere.

“Tag plays at the plate or safe/out plays,” he continues, “are hard to [capture] even with the high–frame-rate technology that is available today. When the ball hits the glove and the foot hits the bag at almost the same time, this gives you the ability to see that play from almost any angle imaginable.”

A Season in the Making: 4DReplay Makes Chicago Debut
The 4DReplay systems rely on approximately 100 4K cameras mounted on the concourse level throughout each venue. The cameras are tied together, and, for each play, the single operator selects the pivot point on which the camera axis turns. The operator can then manipulate the replay from side to side and can zoom in without losing resolution (thanks to 4K cameras).

Although the system took less than two days to set up at each park, according to 4DReplay COO Henry Chon, the project has been months in the making for NBC Sports Group.

“We’ve been discussing this with the 4DReplay folks for pretty much the entire baseball season, just trying to find the right place and the right time,” says Slobotkin. “There was interest on both sides to do this in Chicago because it’s a very important baseball market. And, of course, having [the rights to] two teams in Chicago gave us multiple choices. Ultimately, we were able to get it done for this week to close out the season.”

NBC Sports Chicago VP, Programming and Remote Events, Greg Bowman and Tech Manager Mark Harper helped lead the coordination efforts with 4DReplay.

In the Truck: Production Team Aims To ‘Illuminate the Story’
Since the system stitches together all the camera feeds and does not have to virtually create filler frames, no rendering is required, allowing clips to be ready in under 10 seconds. The replay will be sent via fiber to NBC Sports Chicago’s truck, where an EVS channel constantly records the feed and the production team has the option to take it whenever it wishes.

The 4DReplay system will make its Chicago debut at tonight’s White Sox–Indians game at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“Our [Cubs and White Sox] production teams are skilled veterans, so it’s really up to them how much they will use it,” says Slobotkin. “I never want technology to get in the way of the story. When it’s appropriate to use 4D to illuminate the story, they will use it. Otherwise, they don’t have to use it to prove that it’s there.

“That said,” he continues, “when something is new, I think it’s important that you run it through the paces and get comfortable with it. I think they will be a little more aggressive early on, but, once they are comfortable with the workflow and where it works best [in the telecast], then I fully expect them to use this at their discretion.”

4DReplay for Analysts, League-Wide Adoption a Must
The 4DReplay system — which has been used on events including NBC’s NHL All-Star Game, CBS Sports’ PGA Championship, and the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics — continues to evolve and cut down on how quickly it can turn around replays. The 4DReplay team is also working on a touchscreen app for tablets that will allow on-air analysts to create their own 4D replays to be integrated into the telecast. The new app made its debut at MLB All-Star.

“We always try to improve the system constantly in terms of speed of processing,” says Chon. “We are not using it at either of the ballparks this week, but we now have a function where the system can be used by commentators, so they can have telestration tools and find the right angle. We think it’s going to be a very important tool for broadcasters in the future.”

The 4DReplay operator (shown here at MLB All-Star in Washington, DC) can manipulate the replay from side to side and zoom in without losing resolution (thanks to 4K cameras).

Although Slobotkin considers 4DReplay among the most exciting production technologies he has seen in a long time (it’s also used for Giants games by NBC Sports Bay Area), he believes that it will not become a standard tool for baseball unless league-wide adoption becomes a reality.

“I see this as a tool that is illuminating for broadcasters, fans, and Major League Baseball,” he says. “Ultimately, if [4DReplay] is going to become more prominent, I think there needs to be a collaborative effort from the broadcasters, the clubs, and the league to make this thing work at scale.

This is truly a game-changer for baseball,” he adds, “but I think it makes sense only if it is installed in every ballpark and everybody has access to it. But we are thrilled to have the opportunity for the NBC Sports Group to be at the forefront and to see how this works.”

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