Altitude Sports Launches 4K HDR Telecasts on DirecTV

All productions will be in 1080p HDR and upconverted to 4K HDR

Altitude Sports will make history tonight when it becomes the first regional sports network in the U.S. to produce all its home games in 1080p HDR and distribute them in 4K HDR. It all starts tonight when Altitude teams up with Mobile TV Group to produce a 1080p HDR feed of the Orlando Magic–Denver Nuggets NBA game, which will be upconverted to 4K HDR for distribution by AT&T’s DirecTV.

43 FLEX in the Mobile TV Group’s shop as it underwent upgrades for Altitude’s 1080p HDR productions

“We want to move Altitude into the future,” says Ken Miller, EVP and GM/executive producer, Altitude Sports. “We’ve seen how tremendous 1080p HDR and 4K HDR looks, and we want to serve both our viewers and our affiliate customers with the best possible product. We believe introducing this new technology is going to have a major impact.”

Although other U.S. RSNs have produced and distributed games in 4K and HDR, Altitude will be the first to produce all its home games (Nuggets, Avalanche, Mammoth NLL, and Rapids MLS games) in 1080p HDR and make them available for distribution in 4K HDR. It’s not the first time Altitude and MTVG have made a major technological leap forward, having teamed with NBA TV and DirecTV in 2016 to produce and deliver the first 4K coverage (in standard dynamic range) of an NBA game in the U.S.

Inside the Workflow: 1080p HDR in the Truck, 4K HDR to the Home
MTVG pulled Altitude’s 1080p-capable home mobile unit, 43FLEX, off the road last week to add the infrastructure for HDR. Numerous converters were needed to handle external sources, as well as to handle the requirements of non-HDR visitor shows for dual-feed productions. Altitude completed a successful test of its 1080p HDR workflow during last Friday’s Devils-Avalanche game.

“43FLEX was originally built in the spring of 2017 as a native-1080p truck even though it has been primarily used by us and others in 1080i,” says Tim De Lay, operations manager, Altitude Sports. “It already had the capacity for 1080p, and the heaviest lift is adding the HDR elements into the truck. I think we can all agree the integration of HDR is a phenomenal offering, and the look of our games is going to be better than anything we’ve ever seen.”

43FLEX’s 13 Grass Valley cameras (nine LDX82 Premier and four LDX86 universe super-slow-motion) will provide native 1080p HDR. MTVG has installed 14 four-port AJA FS-HDR conversion units in 43FLEX, which will allow Altitude to upconvert external SDR video signals to HDR. MTVG will also upconvert a handful of 1080i feeds to 1080p for the show, including POV cameras and the Pepsi Center videoboard feed. Graphics will remain in 1080i SDR natively and be upconverted to 1080p HDR.

“This is the first network to commit 100% to producing all its home games in 1080p HDR,” say Mobile TV Group CEO Philip Garvin. “While we have produced plenty of HDR shows over the last couple of years, the consistency will give us an opportunity to really refine the workflow with over 80 games per NBA/NHL season. And adding the visitor’s requirements for dual feeds increases the challenge.”

Altitude and the visiting RSN, working out of MTVG’s 43VMU (visitor mobile unit), will continue to deliver games in HD SDR to its cable partners, but a separate 1080p HDR feed will be delivered to DirecTV. This 1080p HDR signal will be transmitted via AT&T’s existing fiber link at Pepsi Center and delivered to DTAGS, which will upconvert it to 4K HDR at its facility in Oklahoma and pass it to DirecTV’s transmission center in El Segundo, CA, for transmission to homes with a DirecTV 4K HDR subscription.

Changes in the Truck: Minimal Impact on Production, Video-Shading Teams
One of Altitude’s top priorities was to avoid any major changes or impacts on the primary production because the HD SDR feed is where the majority of the eyeballs will continue to see its games.

“The good news is, there is very minimal impact to our production staff with the exception of the video[-shading] department,” says De Lay. “Our producer, director, graphics, and everyone else are pretty much untouched by this change.”

MTVG has added an HDR reference monitor in the video-shading area (in addition to the SDR monitors) for the V1 shader to paint the HDR feed. There will also be an LG OLED 55-in. 4K HDR display to show what the images will look like at home.

“What we’ve found from everyone that has done HDR so far is, you absolutely must have a good V1 shader,” says Miller. “And you definitely can’t shade just for the HDR show. You have to shade for the SDR show, which is your main bread and butter, and then adjust the HDR show [secondarily]. It’s going to take a bit of an education process for the crew.”

4K HDR Spots: Commercial Insertion a Work in Progress
Since 4K HDR programming is still scarce on linear television, the majority of other live 4K and HDR sports productions have cut to a wide shot or inserted a slate during commercial breaks. However, Altitude has opted to upconvert its commercial reel from the standard broadcast and integrate the content into the 4K HDR feed on DirecTV.

“We felt that we needed to come up with a solution, and we’ll continue to experiment with the best way to [insert] commercials,” says Miller. “Tonight, we’re going to hit the ground running with the absolute simplest way of doing it, which is just making the spot reel a source in the truck and dissolving to that source during breaks. We’re working on a better solution, but that is how we will start out.”

More on the Way: All Games To Be Available in 4K HDR
Altitudes efforts will tip off tonight at 7 p.m. MT/9 p.m. ET on DirecTV Channel 105 for fans with a 4K HDR-compatible equipment and necessary programming package (if 4K TV does not support HDR, content will be viewable in standard 4K). Altitude will produce all Avs and Nuggets home games using this 1080p HDR workflow and make them available for distribution for 4K HDR.

“We’re coming up on the Christmas season, and that means there are going to be a lot of HDR and 4K UHD TVs being sold,” says Miller. “Well, that’s great, but where’s the content for them going to come from? Right? Who’s going to take the plunge and create this content? We’re very excited take that plunge.”

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