All-Mobile Video, IMS Productions and ESPN on ABC bring HD to the Indy 500

By Ken Kerschbaumer

Over the years The Indianapolis 500 has been one of the true classic televised sporting events, dominating the Memorial Day weekend schedule and serving as one of the lynchpins of major sporting events. But despite its high profile, which usually demands HD, the sheer size of the track (which can hold 300,000 people and has an infield big enough to include a nine-hole golf course and then some) has prevented the event from making the leap to HD. In fact, according to a survey of HD owners by SVG and the CEA the Indy 500 topped the wish list of HD owners for the event they most wanted to see in HD.

This year they’ll get their chance.

“We’re excited to be able to offer the Indy 500 for the first time ever in HD,” says Rich Feinberg, ESPN senior coordinating producer.

The decision over the years to not do the race in HD was the result of a lot of factors, not the least of which was economics. But together ESPN, ABC, and IMS Productions, the TV production arm of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have worked together to make the switch.

In terms of numbers more than 200 technicians will use 44 Sony HDC-1500 cameras plus 8 in-car cameras (standard definition) will be connected to a production trailer built by All-Mobile Video (a YES Production truck will be home for ABC). The longest cable run will measure 7,800 feet.

John “Flash” Medaglia, an engineer with All-Mobile Video, finds himself at the center of the preparations as he is overseeing a double-trailer production center built with a Matrix flypack. Two 60-foot by 12-foot trailers have been put together to build a 60×24 room where the international feed is put together.

“The biggest challenge has been understanding the big picture when there are so many little pieces,” says Medaglia. While this is Medaglia’s first Indy 500 he finds himself working with people who have been on it for upwards of 20 years.

“They don’t have spreadsheets because everything is in their heads,” adds Medaglia who this week is querying everyone to build the spreadsheet.

At the center of the production room is a Sony 8000 production switcher coupled with a Sony router. A mixture of Ikegami and Sony monitors (with 40 Sony LCD panels mixed in with some 9-inch glass monitors), a tape room with EVS replay servers, and an audio room based around a Calrec 100 console and a Klotz audio router round out the offering.

The flypack is encased in a series of cubes that have interconnects on the back. A specially designed box called Crossfire (from PatchAmp), adds Medaglia, is helping ease interconnectivity. The system integrates tape, video, audio and production control connections to a core system so that up to 18 audio and video connections can be done with one cable. For example, if a tape machine requires video, audio and reference signals those signals can all be input on individual cables to the crossfire which can redirect and output those signals to the desired VTR via one cable connected to the other side of the crossfire.

“It makes everything modular and it’s easy to build the show out with very little changes,” says Medaglia. The system was designed by Lee Blanco and built by PatchAmp.

Medaglia says the additional room afforded by the double trailer is also making things easier as there is no need to constantly run up and down stairs from one trailer to the next. “No one is space confined,” he adds.

About 10 trailers total are located in the compound, including the YES Production truck for ABC, several trucks for IMS Productions, an archive trailer and an Avid editing trailer.

Fiber is also playing a bigger role than ever. “The move to HD forced a move to go fiber and we have a lot of fiber-to-triax converters,” says Medaglia. The Speedway has a single-mode fiber network but that infrastructure’s bandwidth was quickly used up, requiring additional cabling.

Feinberg says the only aspect of the production that won’t be HD will be the in-car camera. NASCAR made the move to HD in-car cameras earlier this year but the difference in the way the cars are built and the stress placed on the camera systems will require some more work.

“There’s a huge difference between going 200 mph and going 235 or 240,” he says. “In order to build reliable HD in-car cameras we would have needed a bit longer timeline and, given the stature of the race, we didn’t want to jeopardize the production,” he adds. High-def RF systems will be used in pit row with reporters.

ESPN on ABC will take the world feed and supplement it with their own cameras and pit row content. And like last year the race will be presented side-by-side with commercials during breaks.

“It’s the only racing series in the world that offers flag-to-flag coverage,” says Feinberg. “So if something happens on the track we can offer it to viewers, and that makes Indy racing special.”

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