The NASCAR race season has kicked off in the US and a number of new high-tech options are giving race fans there and around the globe a whole new view of motor racing, writes Ken Kerschbaumer.
Topping the list is the joint decision by both ESPN and Fox Sports to embrace wireless HD transmission for in-car cameras, giving viewers a chance to, more than ever, feel as if they're in the passenger seat.
"In-car cameras are probably the most dynamic facet of motorsports coverage and taking that into the high-def world is huge," said Rich Feinberg, senior coordinating producer for NASCAR on ESPN. The cameras themselves, the transmitters, and power sources all had to be upgraded by Broadcast Sports International, who also recently helped CBS Sports add wireless HD systems to its golf coverage.
Because both ESPN and Fox are involved with race coverage this year (ESPN handles the Saturday races and Fox Sports handles the Sunday races, but both will swap days later this season) the production for NASCAR is the largest weekly sports production in the world. Each week more than 30 OB trucks hit the road to criss-cross the continent and set up shop in roughly three days.
"This production is the size of a Super Bowl telecast and we'll have to tear it down and do it again every week," says Jerry Steinberg, Fox Sports SVP operations.
Mike Davies, Fox Sports director of remote operations, says 17 Sony HDC-1500 cameras (four with wireless HD transmission thanks to Broadcast Sports that also handled the 10 HD in-car cameras) formed the backbone of the recent Daytona 500 telecast along with two Sony HDC-3300 HD Super Slo-Mo units, nine robotic cameras and, two jib cameras, the blimp shots and several POV cameras.
ESPN's 2007 NASCAR coverage features new gadgets like HD in-car cameras from BSI and a new drafting graphic from Sportvision, but it's NEP's SS21 unit that is the most impressive new gadget, with four mobile units ensuring ESPN keeps up with the nation's fastest drivers.
Paul DiPietro, ESPN coordinating director, explains that SS21 is comprised of four units; an A, B, C and D trailer. The A unit handles the main production, graphics and engineering, with a Grass Valley Kalypso duo production vision mixer with 3.5 mix effects and six internal DVEs. Graphics include five Vizrt graphics stations and Sports Media Technology graphics for the banner that scrolls across the top with standings and timing. A Pesa Cheetah HD 200x400 router and Pesa DRS audio router are also on board with Evertz MVP MultiViewer Processors distributing up to 224 16:9 images across the panels.
The B unit handles tape and main audio mix, with a Calrec Alpha console complete with 76 faders, Bluefin DSP technology and Hydra fiber interfacing on board. Tape release also has a small Kalypso production switcher because there are so many cameras being recorded. The main switcher isn't big enough to handle all of the inputs so the switcher in tape release controls those sources and the two switchers are tied together so that when the TD wants to swipe to source A, tape release punches the right camera into source A.