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Inside NESN's 4K HDR Workflow: The RSN's Red Sox Production Team Shows Off Fenway Like Never Before

25/07/2022

Inside NESN's 4K HDR Workflow: The RSN's Red Sox Production Team Shows Off Fenway Like Never Before Home games are produced in native 4K HDR By Jason Dachman, Chief Editor

Monday, July 25, 2022 - 12:50 pm

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NESN has a long history of technological firsts. It was the first RSN to deliver all its MLB and NHL games in HD, in 2006; the first to fully automate studio production, in 2015; and, this year, the first to launch a direct-to-consumer streaming service. However, the New England-based RSN's biggest technological leap to date may be its decision to produce all Boston Red Sox home games in native 4K HDR throughout this season - confronting a challenge no U.S.-based RSN has ever faced.

We are proud to be able to provide our production folks with a platform to keep driving the innovative mentality that NESN has always had, says NESN Executive Producer Howard Zalkowitz. What's amazing to me is that we have been able to do this while we're still in a pandemic, which has challenged our production team and partners like never before in the last couple years. For all of us to come together on this project has been just incredible.

Challenge of Native 4K HDR: Upgrading NESN's Facilities, Training the Crew NESN made the bold decision to build out a native-4K-HDR production and distribution ecosystem, rather than upconverting its existing HD broadcast feed to 4K HDR. All Red Sox games this season in Fenway Park have been produced in 4K HDR, and NESN plans to do the same in the fall for the Bruins at TD Garden.

To pull it off, NESN teamed up with two of its longtime partners: remote-facilities provider Game Creek Video and production-labor-services provider Program Production Inc. (PPI). Game Creek upgraded NESN 94 mobile unit to be 4K HDR-capable, and PPI has provided the 4K HDR-trained technicians that work each Red Sox home game in the truck.

Game Creek upgraded NESN 94 mobile unit to be 4K HDR-capable.

This is a true partnership between NESN, Game Creek, and PPI, says Zalkowitz. We're absolutely working in concert. It's a perfect combination of the engineering expertise of Game Creek, the skill level of our PPI technicians, and the approach of our NESN production team. It's an absolute communal effort to get this executed each game, and one piece would not work without the other.

Game Creek had upgraded its Riverhawk truck to 4K HDR for MLB Network in 2016 and took a similar approach to bringing 94 (its name refers to Ted Williams's 9 and Bobby Orr's 4) up to 4K HDR levels.

94 is a sister to Riverhawk, notes Jason Taubman, SVP, technology, Game Creek Video. We basically took the design template and applied that to 94, and we were off and running.

Game Creek brought in Sony HDC-4300 cameras and HDC-P50 robos so that acquisition would be in native 4K HDR. In addition, it upgraded all the monitoring and QC to HDR, added Cobalt Digital up/down/crossconverters for the portions of the production that would remain in HD (including replay and graphics), and expanded 94's existing Evertz SDI router to accommodate the quad-3G setup needed for 4K.

In 94, there was a chunk of router real estate that wasn't being used [in HD], Taubman explains. We were able to put that into service to accommodate the 4K operation. Obviously, a lot of [our customers] have opted to go with an IP router for 4K, but, in this case, 94's [existing router] already had the capacity we needed to do it.

PPI has provided the 4K HDR-trained technicians that work each Red Sox home game from the truck.

In addition to the truck, in early 2021, NESN unveiled a brand-new studio space that is fully optimized for 4K HDR production. Currently, all Red Sox pre/postgame shows are in 4K HDR, with other studio content remaining in 1080p60 for now.

Inside the Workflow: 4K Cameras With HD Replay and Graphics Currently, NESN has six live cameras operating in 4K HDR mode - and plans to have 10 later this season once the necessary equipment becomes available (given supply-chain issues) - and three cameras running in 1080p60 HDR.

Four Sony HDC-4300's are shooting in 4K HDR mode: (centerfield, high-home, left field, and low first). In addition, two Sony HDC-P50 robos (at mid-home and right field) are in 4K HDR mode.

When you see Fenway in UHD HDR and compare it to the current HD, there is just no going back, says Kenny Elcock, VP, engineering, NESN. There is no ballpark quite like Fenway, and our goal is to bring that feeling of being at the ballpark to the fans at home.

NESN's productions at Fenway Park feature Sony HDC-4300 cameras and HDC-P50 robos so that acquisition can be in native 4K HDR.

Three Panasonic AW-UE150 PTZ cameras are also 4K HDR-capable (in both dugouts and inside the Green Monster in left field) as is a wireless Sony HDC-3500 roving unit equipped with Wave Central RF transmissions. But those cameras are currently running in 1080p HDR until supply-chain delay allows NESN and Game Creek to convert 12g fiber to Quad 3g SDI.

Since 4K replay would create a major capacity issue in the truck, NESN has opted to keep its EVS replay operation in 1080p60 (as has been the case for industry live 4K productions thus far). With that in mind, three manned Sony 5500 cameras (tight center, low third, high first) showing key 6X-slo-mo replays during the broadcast will remain in 1080p HDR for the foreseeable future.

The technology's just not quite there for 4K replay right now because you would need a whole C unit and a lot more equipment to make it work, says Zalkowitz. And you still need to be able to show the spin of the ball on that tight-center replay and shots of those close calls on the basepaths - not just for our viewers but for the integrity of gameplay. We decided to run those [three
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2022/07/25/inside-nesns-4k-hdr-workflow-th...
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