MLB All-Star Roundup: Cutting-Edge Cameras, Sets, and More
Tech highlights from a variety of vendors new and old
The MLB All-Star Game show is always a showcase for cutting-edge production tools and new workflows. This year, tech vendors new to All-Star and plenty of All-Star veterans turned out at Marlins Park in Miami with a host of specialty cameras, unique studio-set designs, virtual-graphics tools, and much more to serve the needs of Fox Sports, ESPN, MLB Network, and other broadcasters. Here is a brief look at some of the tech highlights at MLB All-Star 2015.
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C360’s ‘Hemispherical’ 6K Video Gives Fox Fresh Perspective
After first using C360 Technologies’ “hemispherical” camera system at Super Bowl LI, Fox Sports brought in two of the 6K cameras to cover the All-Star Game: one in the American League dugout on the first-base line and another up high behind home plate. The 5½-lb. camera features a single panomorph lens that captures 6K images and allows the production team to zoom into the frame up to 2X without affecting resolution.
The C360 API is integrated into an EVS replay server to not only enable playback but also allow the user to manipulate the clip to capture different parts of the frame after the fact. The user can dive into the image virtually with full pan/tilt/zoom capability and extract a flattened and normalized image for integration into the linear telecast.
“C360 is hemispherical video in which we’re actually able to control the PTZ digitally in real time or [in replay],” said Joe Tomko, co-founder/VP/COO, C360. “You can move around in that space just like you would with a robo cam, but it’s all digital, so you’re never losing any of that image. You can actually go back in time using our interface with EVS and reframe a replay if you missed something outside the frame. You can go back and adjust to look at something else or push in further. You have the ability to recraft the replay in a much more dramatic fashion.”
Fox deployed C360 within its linear telecast, but the system also has the capability to simultaneously deliver a VR experience.
“At the same time this camera is creating live feeds and pushing to EVS,” says Evan Wimer, co-founder/chairman/CEO, C360, “we can push out a VR experience to OTT for consumption — with one camera producing everything. In that scenario, you would get the first-person point of view in the dugout as if you’re a player on the bench. And we integrated our API with Fox’s array of about 40 microphones, and we muxed the game audio with Joe Buck. So you get the full [3D] audio experience.”
CP Communications Takes Care of RF Audio, Video
The MLB All-Star festivities are always heavy on RF, and CP Communications was in Miami to handle it, providing a cavalcade of RF cameras, microphones, and more, as well as RF coordination for the entire event and 60,000 ft. of fiber for Fox, MLB Network, and MLBAM.
“We had a very successful set of Home Run Derby and All-Star Game shows,” says CP Communications President Michael Mason. “There is no way we could have done them without the crew we had onsite and the prep and support we get from our teams in the shop. I would stack the CP crew and staff up against anyone else’s.”
CP provided three wireless cameras to Fox (one MōVI, two handhelds), three to ESPN (one Steadicam, two handhelds), and four for MLB Network (two handhelds, two POVs on the batting cages).
CP worked closely with MLB Network on converting the fiber cart that services its onfield set to Dante-based IP audio. CP provided Dante PL, Dante talent packs, and wireless mics, IFB, PL, as well as Dante audio, PL, and IFB for MLBN’s second set on the Marlins Park promenade.
“[Account Executive/Systems Engineer] Brian Ready and our staff were integral in getting the Dante system going for [MLB Network],” says Mason. “We’ve done that for several events for them. and it’s worked very well. It’s really cool to be able to take a new technology like that and kind of push it out there.”
In addition, MLBN used RF monitors, five high-power PLs, and RF mics for the players during Sunday’s All-Star Futures Game. In addition, CP provided Riedel connectivity to MLBN headquarters in Secaucus, NJ.
CP also played a key role in Fox’s comprehensive onfield audio coverage, providing 14 in-ground RF mics, as well as player mics for in-game interviews with Joe Buck and John Smoltz in the booth. In addition, it supplied microphones on the bases, RF reporter mics and IFBs, RF PLs, and a complete submix package, including a Calrec Brio audio console.
ESPN’s Home Run Derby show featured four in-ground RF mics around home plate, courtesy of CP, as well as player mics, RF reporter mics and IFBs, and RF PLs. ESPN Radio deployed four CP wireless mics and three wireless IFBs.
A team of six CP RF coordinators covered three posted entrances and roamed around to all field and set positions and interview rooms to oversee RF frequency coordination. CP also rolled out high-power PLs servicing Fox, ESPN, MLBN, and MLBI — totaling 14 channels.
Fletcher Supplies Sony HDC-4800’s for Fox, Army of Robos for Media Day
Fletcher was once again on hand with an army of robos for three of the primary broadcasters, but the real headline for the specialty-camera provider was on the high-speed side. Fletcher provided Fox Sports with pair of Sony HDC-4800 cameras (at mid-first and mid-third) running at 16X slo-mo for its All-Star Game coverage, marking the camera’s second All-Star appearance.
“We are very excited to have two Sony 4800 camera systems on the All-Star Game coverage,” says Gabe Aguirre, senior account manager, Fletcher. “We provided a Sony 4800 camera on the World Series last year. and it is great to have the camera on the All-Star Game.”
In addition, Fletcher provided six robos for Fox: a Grass Valley high-speed camera at mid-home and Sony P1’s in the booth, in both dugouts, mounted on the scoreboard, and mounted on the roof camera.
Fletcher also supplied eight Panasonic AW-HE130K robos for MLB Network’s coverage of All-Star Media Day, which took place at Marlins Park (instead of at an offsite hotel as in years past). One robo was positioned at each player-interview stand for MLB Network’s live coverage on Monday (the feeds were also made available to ESPN and Fox Sports).
“It was great working with Jason Hedgcock and the MLB network crew on the Media Day show,” says Aguirre. “It was a team effort between the MLB network crew and the Fletcher robo crew.”
Fletcher deployed a total of six robos for ESPN’s Home Run Derby production on Monday night: an I-MOVIX Phantom 4K ultra-slo-mo, Sony P1 systems at mid-home and near the right- and left-field foul poles, and two Grass Valley high-speed robos on the first- and third-base lines. The first-base robo was hit during practice, but, luckily, Fletcher had come prepared with a spare.
Filmwerks Goes Over the Edge for Fox Sports Studio Set
Filmwerks sets were used once again for MLB All-Star, with the company providing two onsite studio sets for Fox Sports and three for MLB Network. In addition, it constructed 200 ft. worth of ModTruss-based cable bridges over the active NW 14th Ave. street that separated the primary truck compound at the ballpark’s truck dock from ancillary compounds in Parking Lots E1, E2, and E3.
“Back in March. we came for the full scout with all the networks and with the league to go through all their needs,” says Filmwerks Sales Manager/Project Manager Dave Fioravanti. “The league and networks came to us for cable bridges because they know that we’ve done them well in the past. Now they’ve become more of a regular thing at big events like All-Star and World Series. But this one in particular is quite a good size. We came in at the end of June and were able to build it overnight, which was nice because of the Miami heat. I think [the league and networks] have been really happy with it.”
Fox Sports’ primary pregame set in the centerfield promenade replaced Fox Sports Florida’s existing set. The new structure featured ModTruss and was built with a 4-ft. overhang 60 ft. off the ground to accommodate the larger footprint and desk that Fox Sports requested.
“Fox challenged us to create a bigger set without taking up more space because we had to keep a 15-ft. fire lane for emergency access,” says Fioravanti. “The only option was to go out over the wall. Our ModTruss product lends itself well to be able to do those kinds of [designs]. We’ve done them before, including in Toronto, where the set is 80 ft. up in the air. So it quickly became the obvious choice.”
Just a few feet away from the primary set, Filmwerks designed a unique set for FS1’s The Herd, which aired live from Marlins Park on Monday and Tuesday. The set was designed as a four-piece rolling platform that came apart so that Fox and Filmwerks could strike it and have it out to the parking lot in 40 minutes or less.
Filmwerks’ automated set was back in action for MLB Network on the third-base line this year, rolling off the field in a matter of minutes just before first pitch on Monday and Tuesday. In addition, the vendor once again delivered MLBN’s secondary set on the promenade at Marlins Park, as well as the Z-stage set at the Red Carpet Show at American Airlines Arena on Tuesday afternoon (Filmwerks also provided power for the production).
SMT Virtual Signage Catches the Batter’s Eye
Although the SMT trucks were new to the MLB All-Star compound, the team inside them comprised a group of vets. This year’s All-Star Game marked SMT’s first since acquiring Sportvision, which handled virtual signage for Fox for 13 years and MLB International for the past seven, in October.
In addition to inserting virtual signage for the standard behind-the-plate locations, SMT also inserted elements into the batter’s eye in centerfield at Marlins Park for Fox Sports’ All-Star Game telecast. This marked the second consecutive MLB All-Star game for which SMT has supplied its instrumented sensor-based system on the high-home camera to deliver virtual signage on the batter’s eye for Fox.
“The batter’s eye is great real estate, and it’s absolutely begging for [virtual signage],” says Andrew Lorenz, director, broadcast production and operations, SMT. “We did Camera 2 [high-home] at All-Star last year, but [Fox] hasn’t been using it on the regular season, so this is the second time it’s ever been done, and it’s something that we hope to continue doing in the postseason. Last year, we weren’t using any chroma-key information; this year, we are able to, which we’re very excited about.”
In addition to Fox, SMT provided virtual-signage insertion on five feeds for MLB International — Asia, Canada, Curacao, the Dominican Republic, Latin America — all off the same camera.
“Our instrumented sensor-based system allows us to do tight center ads as well as [the wide shot] because, unlike an optical system, it’s only using the video to track things,” says Lorenz. “Once you go in tight on certain areas, you lose perspective of where you’re looking. And so, to be able to enhance those tight cameras, the sensor-based system is hands down the way to go.”
Written by: Jason Dachman, Chief Editor