CBS' Super Bowl Replay

CBS isn't unveiling any radical new schemes for its coverage of Super Bowl XLIV from Sun Life Stadium in Miami on Feb. 7. Instead, the network is making incremental improvements to the production setup it used to cover its last Super Bowl in 2007, which was held in the same venue (then called Dolphin Stadium). Between the pre-game show and the actual game, CBS will use about the same number of people as it did for Super Bowl XLI—roughly 500 staffers—and employ many of the same production trucks.

“When you look at the overall scheme of things, it's eerily similar to what we did three years ago,” says Ken Aagaard, executive VP of engineering, operations and production services for CBS Sports.

The biggest change is that for the first time in history, the National Football League is conducting its annual Pro Bowl game the week before the Super Bowl on the same field. The timing of the Pro Bowl game, which will be televised by ESPN on Jan. 31, has created logistical challenges for CBS. Personnel have had to do some setup earlier than normal, before the Pro Bowl, while other preparations have been delayed compared to the normal Super Bowl schedule.

No major headaches

While Aagaard originally expected that working around the Pro Bowl game would cause major headaches, he says, “In the end, it's going to work out fine.” There are some operational savings, too. For example, the Skycam robotic overhead camera system that CBS will use for the Super Bowl will already be in place from the Pro Bowl, since ESPN leases the same system from Broken Arrow, Okla.-based Skycam for its NFL coverage.

The range of production technology will be similar to 2007, though there will be a few more high-definition cameras for the game—50 compared to 48. They include 21 hard (stationary) cameras, four hard super-slo-mo cameras, three cabled handheld cameras, two handheld super-slo-mo cameras, two RF handheld cameras, one RF Steadicam camera, one Skycam camera, six ultra-high-frame-rate cameras, two robotic goal-post cameras, two robotic coach's cameras, two booth-talent cameras (one robotic), one unmanned camera (for inside beauty shots), two clock cameras, and one robotic camera for outside beauty shots mounted on a nearby tower.

Other key gear includes four Chapman sideline vehicles, two HD videotape machines, 22 EVS multi-camera edit/replay servers with 61 output replay channels, one linear editing suite, two Vizrt graphics engines and eight parabolic microphones.

Once again, CBS' main game truck will be NEP Supershooters' SS-24 unit, which is comprised of two 53-foot double-expando trailers and features a Sony MVS-8000A switcher, Sony HDC-1500 cameras with Canon lenses and a Calrec Alpha 5.1 digital audio console. It will be supported by NEP's SS-9 “tape release” unit and All Mobile Video's Cinetour for game editing, as well as RF wireless camera systems from BSI.

Producing a single game like the Super Bowl allows CBS to bulk up on ultra-high-frame-rate cameras, replay servers and graphic enhancements that it can't afford for its regular-season NFL coverage, when the network broadcasts up to eight games on any given Sunday.

“We never can afford to have gear like Monday Night Football and Sunday Night Football, which are doing just a single game,” Aagaard notes. “The economics don't work like that for us.”

Incremental improvements

The biggest improvements are the six ultra-high-frame-rate cameras and the mass of networked EVS replay servers to record feeds from them and every other game camera. The modified Vision Research Phantom V640 cameras, provided by high-speed specialist Inertia Unlimited, will be used by CBS to capture images at 480 to 540 frames per second and generate the most dramatic replays.

Another replay tool CBS will employ is Orad's MVP (Motion Video Play) graphics tracking system and its HyperZoom feature, which can create a magnifying-glass effect over a portion of the screen. “It helps us zoom in very quickly to catch whether a player's foot was in-bounds or out-of-bounds,” Aagaard says.

CBS will also use a new tracking system from Sportvision, which provides the ubiquitous virtual first-down line, to analyze close field goals. The system draws a virtual line extending up from each goalpost and provides a vertical look of whether the football crossed the plane of the goal post itself. “If a ball is kicked right over the goal post, you can see if it is really in or not,” Aagaard says.

CBS is pushing the networking capabilities of EVS' popular replay servers to its limits for Super Bowl XLIV to connect EVS units in different pre-game and game trucks to handle both in-game replays and edited clips. CBS will employ both 1.5 gigabit-per-second HD-SDTI (Serial Data Transport Interface) and Gigabit Ethernet (Gig-E) networking technology.

“We'll have 37 servers, and the limit is 29 on an EVS SDTI network,” explains CBS Sports Director of Engineering Bruce Goldfeder. “So, we've had to break it up into two different networks. We've also added a layer of Gig-E.”

The Gig-E networking allows the EVS systems to connect to two separate Avid Unity storage systems and receive edited packages as files at a data rate of 100 megabits per second, using Avid's DNxHD mezzanine compression system. That keeps the SDTI network open for in-game replays, and lets CBS uses the same workflow with its Avid editing systems that it is accustomed to using at the CBS Broadcast Center in New York.

“It lets us bridge the two networks so we don't waste bandwidth,” Goldfeder says. “We want to try to keep the SDTI network for live on-air use.”