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Hi-Def Golf Tees Off

CBS' big upgrade in golf coverage is being driven by a very big truck.

CBS has produced major tournaments, including the Masters and PGA Championship, in HDTV for years. This year, the network is upping the ante: It will broadcast all 19 regular PGA tournaments on its schedule in 1,080-line interlace (1080i) HD, starting with this past weekend's Buick Invitational in La Jolla, Calif.

To do so, it is relying on a new, $15 million high-definition "mega-truck," HD12, built by mobile-production vendor National Mobile Television of Torrance, Calif. NMT produces 750 HD sports events a year, out of an estimated 4,000 aired nationwide.

The truck is actually made up of three 53-foot "expando" units, each weighing 80,000 pounds, which are combined via fiber to create one massive mobile production center. "There is a lot of complexity to this truck," says NMT CEO Mark Howorth.

HD12 is loaded: It contains more than 600,000 feet of cable, terminated at more than 40,000 cable-ends. It has a Pesa Cheetah video router capable of 1,024 inputs and 1,344 outputs, the largest ever in a mobile truck. It took 16,000 worker-hours to complete its integration.

In addition to Sony monitors, other equipment in HD12 includes Sony cameras and production switchers, Fujinon lenses, Calrec digital audio consoles, VizRT graphics systems and a massive EVS server-based replay system. Some equipment, like the Fujinon lenses, was selected by NMT after "bake-offs" between rival manufacturers. CBS specified some gear, like VizRT graphics.

Audio-processing equipment comes from Dolby, Rane and Ross. Sound is a tricky part of HD golf telecasts. Because of the bandwidth HDTV eats up, video and audio delays occur when the signals get compressed, particularly from wireless HD cameras. And audio-synch is particularly important in the quiet sport of golf, where a delay in the "whack" sound of a golfer teeing off can be unsettling.

"It's a big problem," says Ken Aagaard, senior VP of operations and production services for CBS Sports. "Our golf coverage relies on a minimum of six wireless cameras, so, in a golf tournament, the audio-latency issue is a much bigger deal [than in other sports]. In essence, we're putting a delay in all our hard [wired] cameras to meet the three-frame delay coming from the handhelds."

Golf is no picnic to produce in any format, Howorth says. There are no pre-wired facilities, as in football or baseball. Producers need to grab footage from many sites on the course and yet deliver easy-to-understand coverage for viewers.

"The geography you have got to cover is immense," he says, "and you have action occurring simultaneously everywhere, which means a huge amount of graphics and replays."