Tribe Makes HD Shine For Fans
Running out of hot dogs? Toilets backed up? Sure, those issues make stadium and arena managers cringe but there is one call they never want to get: the HD video feed in the luxury suites is way out of sync with actual game action. For Jim Folk, VP of ballpark operations for the Cleveland Indians it was the NCoder HD, from the DVEO division of Computer Modules that came to the rescue.
“When you are watching a ballgame on a high definition screen in one of our 130 luxury suites where you also have a great view of the field, reality should happen in real time,” says Folk. “But when we started to install HD screens in our luxury suites we found that when we took the off-the-air broadcast signals of the game back into our system there was a very bothersome delay. It was a five second lag at least, and that can be very annoying.”
It was even worse in some of the facility’s sports bars like the Club Lounge in Progressive Field, the Indian’s ballpark, where patrons watched the game on 42-inch Toshiba 42LX196 HDTV. To solve the problem the Tribe turned to Rex Rickly, WKYC-TV Cleveland director of special projects.
“We had been taking the 1080i HD broadcast feed from the regional network SportsTime Ohio,” Rickly recalls, “but by the time it got bounced up to the satellite and back to the local cable system that fed the ballpark screens the latency was so noticeable that our patrons were protesting. The problem was caused by a combination of the distance the signal had to travel and the MPEG pathways, frame syncs and encoding systems it encountered along the way, and had been bothersome on the HD screens in the ballpark ever since SportsTime Ohio began broadcasting the games in April of 2006.”
Rickly’s solution was to install an in-house HD channel that was backfed directly from the studio control room at WKYT-TV. They fed HD-SDI from the control room to the ballpark, ran it into an encoder, and then through a 64 QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) modulator into the cable system that runs throughout the ballpark.
A key component that Rickly had to choose for this new system was the encoder that would compress the high definition signal into MPEG-2 to be sent to the HD screens. After some searching, Rickly chose the NCoder HD made by the DVEO division of Computer Modules.
“At the time we were looking, about a year ago, the NCoder HD had the lowest latency in a cost-efficient encoder design,” Rickly explains. “It was also important to us that DVEO’s NCoder had been successfully deployed at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. We talked with the people in the Texas facility and their assurances gave us confidence that the NCoder would solve our problems.”
DVEO’s NCoder HD compresses HDSDI video, either 1080i, 1080p, or720P, in near real time. The NCoder HD’s normal latency mode is 120 milliseconds, and the low-delay mode is 60 milliseconds. The Linux-based NCoder HD encodes 1080i, 1080P, or 720p HD and can handle stereo audio bit rates to 384 Kbps.
The NCoder HD’s extremely low latency is the result of DVEO’s proprietary software algorithms, and in addition to the speed advantages of the slim Linux operating system it uses Flash memory to avoid the delay inherent in getting a signal onto and off of a hard drive. Thanks to its IP interface, the NCoder can be controlled through a browser from anywhere with Web access.
“DVEO was very good about working with us when I first set up the NCoder HD,” Rickly says. “They helped us figure out what bit rates to choose and where the sweet points were. These turned out to be 1920 x 1080i @ 29.97, Chroma = 4:2:2, a 19.4 mbps transport stream bitrate, and a GOP (Group of Pictures) length of 10.”
Rickly found this gave them the most efficient compression with a minimum of artifacts for the best overall performance.
“This gives us a much better presentation for our fans in the premium areas of the ballpark,” adds Folk. “After all, Indians’ management feels that a day at a ball game should be a total entertainment experience for our fans. It should be a total package that goes as much for our HD screens as it does for our famous stadium mustard.”