Case Study: SIS Live Sets Sail at America’s Cup
The 34th America’s Cup came to its dramatic conclusion in San Francisco Bay last month with ORACLE Team USA staging an unprecedented comeback, reversing an 8-1 deficit to beat Emirates Team New Zealand by 9 races to 8. SIS LIVE designed, built and operated the on-board HD camera, audio and digital RF microwave links systems which delivered unprecedented onboard coverage of the event, receiving plaudits from all over the world.
SIS LIVE has been involved in the broadcast of the 34th America’s Cup from the very beginning, back in 2010, when its technology was tested in the waters around Auckland, New Zealand. This multi-million pound contract has seen SIS LIVE working with the America’s Cup Event Authority (ACEA) for the last three years, covering two America’s Cup World Series, including 12 regattas around the globe; the Louis Vuitton Cup, the America’s Cup Challengers Series; and the America’s Cup Finals which took place this September in San Francisco Bay.
The Cast Off in Portugal
The opening race of the regatta series began on the Aug. 6, 2011 in the port city of Cascais, Portugal. The week-long competition featured the AC45 wing-sailed catamaran in its first-ever competition. In taxing conditions SIS LIVE successfully utilized 36 newly-developed, agile robotic cameras and seven control units across the seven live and three backup yachts.
A total of 16 dedicated engineers multiplexed two vision circuits from each yacht, plus one from each of the three helicopters, one from each of the two TV catamarans, one from the Mark boat and one from the Committee boat to provide 21 simultaneous HD RF links in all. All vision circuits had full camera data control systems, which were developed in-house to aid with the capture of images from water and airborne sources. Combined with two radio cameras on the shore, SIS LIVE was able to produce coverage of the event and intimate footage of the crews in action.
“After months of planning, design and product development, it was exciting to see our cutting edge technology in action for the first time,” says As David Meynell, Managing Director of SIS LIVE. “Our teams have demonstrated great creativity and invention to deliver a faultless service. We are unique in our ability to offer a complete solution which includes the design, build and delivery of the highest specification HD agile cameras and RF microwave links. We also have the technical and operational personnel to operate the cameras in race conditions.”
In addition to providing the cameras, SIS LIVE handled receive signals from the helicopters and chase boats and, for the first time ever, connected the cameras by the use of IP. By rigging the ariel and power amp at the top of the mast on each boat, SIS LIVE was able to employ a land-based diversity receive system. This method proved faultless with no break-up of pictures in the 10 days of the regatta.
Off to the UK
From Cascais it was then on to the cold waters of Plymouth, UK.
“The second regatta in Plymouth UK served up a whole new set of variables, namely the English weather,” says Paul McNeil, head of SIS LIVE’s onsite team. “During the week-long regatta four of the yachts capsized at various times, which made for some of the most exciting live TV coverage of a yachting event ever seen. All the yachts, when righted, carried on with fully functioning systems proving just how robust our designs were. One yacht “poled in” live on air – this is where the bow of the yacht goes underwater – and as one of the agile cameras is portioned at the bow this also went for a swim. The director stayed with the shot as it submerged to at least a metre and then returned to the surface. Coupled with replays from every angle this made for great TV.”
Going Stateside in San Diego and San Fran
The third regatta of 2011 took place in San Diego, CA and for this event SIS LIVE had to work in the 3GHz band for all the waterborne systems. This was simply because there was not enough spectrum available in the 2ghz band for this event. Although licensed channels had been booked, there was a large amount of radar interference detected in the area, potentially related to the presence of a nearby US Naval base. Despite discussions with senior ranking naval officers, including the fleet admiral, no cause was uncovered, which meant that a workaround solution had to be found at short notice.
The SIS LIVE RF specialists made intelligent use of the available bandwidth by filtering the helicopter frequencies, moving the Liveline helicopter to a quieter section of the spectrum, and using remote switching to switch yacht signals on and off as needed. The result was a flawless transmission proving once again the versatility and agility of the SIS LIVE designed RF systems, as well as the spectrum management expertise of the crew.
The broadcast of the San Francisco regatta, which took place in October 2012 was universally acclaimed and received an Emmy Award nomination in the category of Outstanding Technical Team Remote.
The Next-Generation Yachts and Nail-biter Finale
From the summer of 2013 the AC45 catamarans were replaced by the larger AC72 models. The AC72 yacht was designed and built specifically for the 2013 America’s Cup by the best designers in the world with input from the best sailors in the world. These AC72 catamarans were crewed by 11 sailors, measured 72 feet long by 46 feet wide, and weighed just 13,000 pounds each. 131 feet tall wing sails were designed to propel these vast yachts forward at speeds of up to 72 feet per second.
This change of craft meant that action from a larger deck area had to be covered and that SIS LIVE’s onboard camera and transmission systems had to be adapted to suit. Throughout the competition the SIS LIVE special cameras team has been working closely with the yacht designers and racing teams to ensure that the onboard broadcast technology was as lightweight as possible and unobtrusively rigged to prevent any disruption to the onboard activities.
Onboard coverage from each AC72 came from six agile and one fixed camera systems controlled by two operators, with four live feeds available to the director at any one time and switching used to select the four active sources. The director also had the option of seeing two quad-split screens on his production stack. A lens wiper and automated camera washing system periodically sprayed the cameras with fresh water to ensure that the HD images captured remained crystal clear.
Sixteen channels of sound were captured from each yacht, including deck FX mics, radio mics on each of the crew members and two hull mics rigged to capture the creaks and groans of the boats. Audio coverage was enhanced by the use of SIS LIVE’s in-house designed 5.0 surround sound microphone, which was designed and built especially for this contract. SIS LIVE’s engineers were tasked with insuring that these technologies were water resistant, surround and unobtrusively built into the camera pods.
“I count myself as one of those who has been completely converted to live sailing, as I was hooked by the incredible excitement of the America’s Cup Finals,” says David Meynell, Managing Director, SIS LIVE. “The ingenuity of the SIS LIVE team has enabled some of the most daring and innovative coverage ever broadcast and contributed to one of the greatest sporting spectacles and comebacks in history. What is clear to me and, I believe, the entire global audience, is that this significant surge in interest has been driven by the accessibility and unbelievable quality of the coverage provided by SIS LIVE, of which I am immensely proud.”
Denis Harvey, Production Executive, ACEA adds: “Three years ago we set out to revolutionize the TV coverage of 34th America’s Cup and, in doing so, introduce it to a new world of fans. Sailing is not only a challenging discipline, but also a challenging sport to broadcast as it takes place on a moving playing field, is in a harsh marine environment and all the camera and audio sources have to be delivered via RF. Over the last three years the SIS LIVE special cameras and RF teams have pioneered and evolved technologies and techniques used to create and deliver on-board coverage which draws the viewer into the heart of the action. Their imagination and technical ingenuity have helped us realize our ambitions and have set the benchmark for on-board coverage of future sailing events.”
SIS Live’s Custom Built Surround Mic
SIS LIVE have designed and built in-house a unique rugged waterproof surround microphone designed to mount underneath an HD Pod Camera so that it is almost invisible. Currently 5.0 as specified by America’s Cup, this can be easily modified to 5.1. The circular casing is milled from solid aluminum and contains 5 waterproof omni-shock mounted capsules along with 5 preamps. The windproofing has been custom built and features an easily removable ‘headband Windjammer’. As it is 48V Phantom Powered, and is delivered as 5 discrete audios, it is easy to use with any sound desk or recorder. Its size means it is easy to mount almost anywhere. Five additional audios were also provided for Crew Radio Mics and 3 Audios for Spot FX Mics on the Yachts.
- Bandwidth: 40Hz-20kHz
- 16 Mono Audios/8 Stereo Audios
- Mic/Line Level (0/12/20dB)
- Analogue Gain (30dB to -12dB)
- HP Filter (4/120/240Hz)
- Notch Filter
- 3-Band Tone Control (100Hz/1kHz/10kHz)
- Phantom Power available
- All above controllable by IP