MSG Media Fired Up for 3D NHL Broadcast

Tomorrow night’s MSG Media 3D production of an NHL game between the New York Rangers and New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden is the latest experiment by major media, in the form of Cablevision and MSG Media, in the 3D realm.

“With all of the fervor, we wanted to jump into the 3D pool and didn’t want to take a back seat,” says MSG Media Chief Engineer Mike Mitchell, who is playing an important role in the production.

The production, underwritten by Harris Broadcast, came together very quickly, within the past three weeks, but is the culmination of more than two years of work that began when Mitchell and the engineering staff at Cablevision broached the subject of 3D.

“Cablevision is uniquely positioned because they own the venue, the team, and we are upgrading the transmission area to make it 3D-proof,” says Mitchell. “Once we realized we could deliver it to the home, we let management know.”

The production is expected to use five 3D camera systems from 3ality Digital, and additional rigs may be added to give a 3D perspective from behind the goals.

“The real challenge was making more than 200 seat kills,” says Mitchell. “We went around the Garden with mockups of the lens rigs and cameras to see how many people would be obstructed.”

After the walk-through, the decision was made to place the cameras about three rows from the back of the lower level with a camera at center ice and cameras at the slash position but a bit more towards center ice then usual so that the nets around the rink are not in the way. Those three cameras will look over the glass since feedback from demo footage shot in Boston during the NHL Winter Classic found that scratches on the glass are more visible in 3D. But two additional cameras will be located behind the glass.

The 1080p/60-fps camera signals are being passed back to the Game Creek Video Yankee Clipper truck before the uncompressed signal is sent to the MSG Theater, where more than 700 paying fans, members of the media, and MSG guests will watch the broadcast. The signal will also be delivered by Cablevision systems to viewers at home.

Mitchell calls the entire event a “grand experiment,” and the graphic element is no exception. At first, the decision was whether to just have graphics on the top or bottom of the screen, but then making those graphics part of the 3D experience became a priority. In fact, graphics are currently being built in Los Angeles, and he notes that a couple of strategies are in play in terms of look. “The graphics will be done with Chyron systems,” he adds.

Audio, meanwhile, will be in stereo, with 5.1 surround sound typically created at MSG Media master control. “But this will be a live feed from the truck,” he says, “so we will be stereo to the home as there are too many places where surround can go wrong.”

The 3D event is literally an “out with the old, in with the new”: Mitchell and his team are relocating the transmission area to 11 Penn Plaza as of April 1. They will also operate out of the second level of the Garden directly above the mobile-truck dock to keep cabling distances short. The new facility will have 26 racks of Harris D/A gear as well as Harris routing and a Riedel intercom system.

“It will be uncompressed in a big way,” says Mitchell. “We have two 72-count diverse fiber paths between 11 Penn and the Garden.”

That facility will also be ready for 3D, thanks to a 3-Gbps architecture. “We believe that 3D will take off, and certainly interest is ramping up on the content-creation side,” he says, adding, “And this is the kind of event that solidifies a bunch of different facets of the industry.”

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