No Trick Plays

Although the biggest NFL game of the year is often a place for networks to introduce the latest production gizmos, for Super Bowl XLI, CBS is keeping it simple.

That is, if deploying some 500 staffers, positioning 47 HD cameras and replacing the lights at Miami's Dolphin Stadium is keeping it simple.

To be sure, the scope of CBS' Super Bowl production in Miami on Feb. 4 is typically immense—evidenced by multiple production trucks provided by vendors NEP, Coreplex and New Century Productions with sophisticated replay, graphics and audio units. But there won't be anything radically new for the matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears—just a lot of state-of-the-art equipment, all in one place.

"We want to make sure we're putting the game first," says Tony Petitti, executive VP/executive producer, CBS Sports. "It's not about using any one camera or how many replays you do. It's really about letting the game happen and not trying to force any plan you have onto the game."

For example, he says, CBS may be forced to use fewer replays than usual when the Colts are on offense because quarterback Peyton Manning often uses a no-huddle attack that speeds the pace of the game.

One gizmo that won't be seen is the CBS Eye Vision system that gives viewers a 360-degree look at replays. CBS used it in 2001 and 2004 but decided it was prohibitively expensive to do in standard-definition, much less HD.

"That technology is old, but it never really matured just because of the flat-out cost," explains Ken Aagaard, senior VP of operations and production services for CBS Sports. "The system costs over $2 million to build and $400,000-$500,000 to move." It wasn't hi-def, and he decided it wasn't worth it.

This year, CBS will deploy the latest super-slow-motion technology. That includes three ultra-high-frame-rate cameras capable of capturing hundreds of frames per second: two NAC Image Technology units that shoot at 300 frames per second and a Phantom camera that can capture 2,000 frames per second, manufactured by Vision Research Inc.

Such "overcranking" by the camera allows a slo-mo replay that can document a player's motion in pain-staking detail. It was good to have in CBS' playoff coverage, used to replay a critical third-down catch in the Colts' divisional win over the Baltimore Ravens.

CBS will also use six of Sony's latest-generation super-slo-mo camera systems, four hard-wired units and two handhelds, a technology it used successfully during the regular season.

Aagaard has been planning the Super Bowl XLI production for a year and a half, holding weekly meetings for the past year. CBS wants to be prepared. Aagaard wants no surprises come Super Sunday, when more than 90 million viewers are likely to be watching.

"We made the determination early on that whatever we were going to introduce in the Super Bowl was something we were going to introduce in the season," says Aagaard. "We've probably added five or six more camera positions than before, for angles down the end-zone lines and sidelines. We have various angles, so we don't miss a guy stepping out of bounds. There are going to be lot of cameras that will never get on the air; you just don't know which cameras they will be."

A huge stockpile of gear

The nine cameras dedicated to slow-motion replay applications are just a start.

CBS will have 21 hard (or wired) cameras, three cabled handheld cameras, two wireless handheld cameras, one wireless Steadycam camera, one CableCam camera, two robotic goalpost cameras, two robotic "coaches' cameras," two talent-booth cameras, one unmanned camera for inside beauty shots, one robotic camera atop a tower at CBS-owned WFOR Miami for outside shots, two clock cameras and a spare hard camera.

CBS will also use seven cameras to calibrate the virtual–first-down technology provided by Princeton Video Image, compared with the usual three.

Other key equipment for the game includes two Chapman sideline vehicles, six HD videotape decks, 18 EVS multi-camera edit/replay devices, six EVS super-slow-motion replay devices, one tape-based linear edit suite, three VizRT graphics systems, and eight parabolic wireless microphones.

Because signal interference is always a problem at massive sports events like the Super Bowl, CBS tries to keep the use of wireless camera units to a minimum. That explains the high percentage of cabled units.

"If I could use no wireless, I would," says Aagaard, "but you need to give the guys some freedom."

In pure tonnage, the equipment CBS devotes to this game is mind-boggling. For example, just for the Super Bowl Today pregame show, which will use an outside set and a main set inside the stadium, CBS will dedicate 21 cameras. In addition, the pregame show will utilize seven HD tape decks, seven EVS replay units, two linear edit suites, five Avid nonlinear editing suites, five VizRT graphics systems, and two roving satellite newsgathering (SNG) trucks.

The camera count at Dolphin Stadium includes two cabled cameras on jibs, one fixed-wing–aircraft camera and four robotic cameras in the hallways leading to the team's locker rooms.

"We're plastered [with cameras]," says Aagaard.

Adequate light is critical to the performance of the ultra-high-frame-rate cameras. So CBS technicians got to work replacing the existing lighting configuration at Dolphin Stadium with a more powerful one.

"We're relighting it with a different scheme," says Aagaard. "The existing lights were an older system, and they weren't giving us the foot-candles [a lighting metric] that we needed."

That attention to detail extends to processing the 5.1-channel Dolby Digital audio, which remains intact for HD viewers and is down-mixed to stereo for analog viewers.

A new development for CBS' high-definition NFL coverage this season was that, in addition to producing everything on-site in HD, it also relied on a single high-definition transmission path back to the CBS Broadcast Center in New York, where the signal is then downconverted to support standard-definition analog broadcasts. The network will employ the same approach for the Super Bowl, although, of course, it will have multiple satellite and fiber paths (four outbound and two returns) for redundancy.

"It's the Super Bowl, so there is no stone unturned," says Aagaard.

This is the 18th Super Bowl for Aagaard, who worked at NBC and as an independent consultant before joining CBS. Surprisingly, he says, "It's not necessarily the biggest event we do. From an operation and technical point of view, nothing is bigger than the NCAA tournament."

But, he adds, "every time the Super Bowl happens, it's the largest audience for a single event, every year. The most important thing is to try to handle the pressure in a constructive way. You've got 400-500 people, and you've got to keep everybody calm. At the end, it's still a game."