MLB Network Readies for First Pitch on New Year’s Day

By Ken Kerschbaumer

On January 1, 2009, baseball fans will ring in more than just the New Year as the MLB Network will fire up a new facility in Secaucus, NJ that will give fans tons of highlights, profiles and, of course, live game action.

Mark Haden, MLB Network, VP, engineering and IT, has led a team through a fast-paced overhaul of what was MSNBC’s old facility. The existing infrastructure gave the integration team a head start that proved valuable given the tight schedule.

“Whoever came up with the saying that ‘patience was a virtue’ was right on the money,” says Haden. “We’ve been able to do a lot in a short amount of time thanks to dividing, conquering, and having a good, optimistic approach.”

The facility, slated to be home to the network and MLB Productions (which moves into the facility in December) includes two large studios, two control rooms, and has room for additional expansion.

“The use of a previously built facility, especially one built by people who know engineering, has given us a big boost,” says Haden. “Running wires and power is a piece of cake because of the raised floor and we walked into a great situation that only required some minor building modifications.”

The heart of the facility will be a Thomson Grass Valley K2 server SAN system that will record incoming feeds of MLB games and related events. Approximately 25 Thomson Grass Valley Aurora HD editing systems with Aurora Browse will also be installed. The workstations, tied into an AP ENPS newsroom system for production and scripting, will allow users to tap into the SAN and access both proxy and high-res nearline storage and an archive that will be based on LTO4 drives. MLB Productions will use 13 Apple Final Cut Pro systems for long-form content creation.

“The K2 servers and the Aurora systems have all the applications we’ll need, like browsing, logging, and library functions, as well as a plug-in that allows for HD editing, offline editing, and use of thirteen Apple Final Cut Pro editing systems,” says Haden.

In recent weeks the staff has been getting the ingest and editing environment up and running. Before next season some additional developments, like special “Ballpark Cams” at each MLB stadium and a new system from HTN that connects each stadium to each other and the MLB Network facility via terrestrial systems will also come online.

Home and away backhaul feeds from each game will be brought into the facility and recorded onto the SAN. “The network, to some degree, is going to be a highlights factory with feeds coming in dirty and being edited for air with a ticker providing scoring updates,” adds Haden.

The control rooms will include Sony MVS-8000G production switchers and Sony HDC-1500 cameras with Canon XJ27 lenses will be used in the studio. “Studios are now blocking and rehearsing,” says Haden.

Vizrt gear will be used to build most of the graphics with an Inferno and HAL system on hand for additional work. An NVision NV8576 router and Miranda Kaleido-X multiviewer will also be installed.

With the new system, the MLB Network will be able to monitor in excess of 500 video inputs across more than 60 high quality multi-image display outputs. The monitoring displays will be installed in a number of areas at the new facility, including the Master Control, QC, and ingest rooms, as well as two large production control rooms.

“ We’ll be handling many more signals than people might think, in all flavors and formats,” explains Haden. “ With a vast number and range of signals to manage, we needed a large, reliable monitoring system that could be easily configured.”

Haden says the Kaleido-X’s on-screen mouse operation and powerful layout software allows direct source assignment from the NVISION router.

“Our operators will quickly be able to assign any source to any destination on the monitor wall,” he says. “What’s more, by recalling a layout, the router will be instantly reconfigured.”

With a range of expansion options, the NVision NV8576 router and Miranda Kaleido-X multi-viewer enables highly reliable routing of up to 1152 video inputs and 128 multi-image display outputs, without impacting the signal flexibility or quality.

For Haden, who, previously worked in ABC broadcast operations and engineering, the project taps into the skill set he acquired while helping Times Square Studios make the conversion to HD.

“There is a sense of burden and pride in building something like this but projects like this don’t come along very often,” he says. “It’s great to get back into sports which, like news, is immediate and topical. So now it’s about making this place work ergonomically for the staff.”

The systems integrator on the project is The Systems Group, based in Hoboken, NJ and CBT Systems is the consultant on the project. The facility will open for testing and rehearsing beginning on November 1.

Along with getting the network up and running there is the secondary challenge of building out an archive for MLB Productions. With more than 100,000 hours of assets, a long-term, scalable archiving solution is on the to-do list. The initial step will include 17,000 hours of storage on LTO4 drives with Storagetek cabinets added as needed.

Intelsat will be charged with getting the signal into the homes of viewers (approximately 50 million homes are cleared). The MLB Network has inked a multi-year contract for capacity on Intelsat’s Galaxy 17 satellite, a leading cable distribution platform within Intelsat’s global fleet, located at 91º West.

“MLB Network is one of the most exciting sports programming introductions in recent history, and Intelsat is proud to be part of the service launch,” says Ron Rosenthal, Intelsat’s Regional Vice President, Broadcast Solutions.”

With all of the staff in place and wiring, racking, and stacking of equipment in the adjustment and refinement phase (not to mention getting the workstation ergonomics settled) Haden says the 31-person engineering staff has come through big time.

“There are a lot of moving pieces and everyone has a great attitude,” he says. “There are a lot of really professional people here.”

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