San Francisco 49ers Adopt 8K Camera Array at Levi’s Stadium in Time for This Week’s Thursday Night Football
The five-camera setup will capture detailed shots around the field
Despite the limitations that COVID-19 has imposed on the sports-video–production industry, technological innovation knows no bounds. The San Francisco 49ers have adapted to live games without fans, and now the team has installed a new 8K camera system in Levi’s Stadium and will debut it this week for the Thursday Night Football game against the Green Bay Packers.
“We are going to roll out an array of five 8K, 120-fps cameras that will hit into our replay system,” says Aron Kennedy, VP, game day production and broadcast operations, San Francisco 49ers. “We’ll be pushing the envelope, and it’ll be a milestone in our industry.”
Mission 8K: Partnership With Foxconn Industrial Internet Sets the Pace
Like any other monumental achievement, implementation of 8K takes immense collaboration and thorough planning. In September 2019, the franchise embarked on a partnership with Foxconn Industrial Internet (Fii) to develop the use of 8K inside Levi’s Stadium. From the beginning, the crew drew inspiration for camera placement from high-profile professional and collegiate football events.
“When we started going down the path of implementing 8K cameras,” Kennedy explains, “I immediately went to the tried-and-true idea of having them on the sideline and goal line. You see that during a lot of marquee football events, like the Super Bowl, [NFC/AFC] Championship game, College Football Playoff, and Sunday Night Football.
Near the end of last year, two of these cameras were installed in the venue to run offline testing during a Week 15 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams. The complement was bumped up to its current total for another set of tests during three consecutive home games this season: the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 4, the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 11, and the Rams once again on Oct. 18.
Secret Weapon: Videoboard Replays Give Coaching Staff a Second Look
In-venue replays benefit fans during any other season, and this ultra-clear and precise camera system is able to show fine, minute details. With the signal from any of the five 8K cameras routed to the control room, the video can be sent to various LED displays in the stadium, especially the two main 48-ft.-high x 200-ft.-wide videoboards. With slow motion and zoom capabilities, the in-venue staff is able to be manipulate and control the image to match any scenario during the course of the game.
As Levi’s Stadium remains empty, the 8K system has become a tool for head coach Kyle Shanahan and his coaching staff. Using replays as a home-field advantage is not new in the NFL, but, where replay systems normally use 4K or a single 8K camera, this will be one of the first to use multiple devices of the 8K variety.
“It’s great for making a decision on the field,” Kennedy notes. “Each camera has 32 3G inputs, so, after our replay machines break down the footage, we can zoom in, pan, and scan anywhere that we want and get the detail out of something that might be happening 120 yards away.”
During tests over the past year, the staff has continued to learn how to integrate this new system into normal game-day routine. Along with Director, Game Day Presentation and Live Events, Laura Johnson, Kennedy and company are playing their part in helping the team win.
“When we need to take the time to zoom or key-frame in on an actual action or play on the field,” Kennedy adds, “it’s not going to be the first replay look. We’re going to have one or two looks that come out of our normal 3G-output replays first since we’ll want to identify what we want to show. During a non-COVID year, we want to show 70,000 fans at the same time, get their energy up, and overturn [an unfavorable] call.”
Technological Springboard: Commitment to Enhancing In-Venue Experience
The San Francisco 49ers have consistently ventured into new tech territory after opening Levi’s Stadium in 2014, and, after Thursday’s game, the organization can check 8K off its wish list. It’s a major accomplishment for an industry that has dealt with much adversity since March, but, if the franchise wants to continue its stellar reputation, there’s no opportunity to slow down.
“There’s the age-old saying of there being no dumb ideas, so my recommendation is to put ideas out there,” says Kennedy. “This kind of technology isn’t cheap, but, if you can get the support from a partner, you should certainly take advantage of it. The 49ers have always made [innovation] a priority ever since I stepped foot in the door in 2014. I was excited to be a part of it then, and I’m excited to be a part of it now.”