Venue Q&A: Panasonic’s Hanak Talks 4K at Lincoln Financial Field
When the Philadelphia Eagles open their regular season against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 7, it will be with a totally revitalized video experience — highlighted by two end-zone boards capable of broadcasting 4K content — made possible by Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Company.
In addition to the 10-mm end-zone boards, Panasonic installed several 20-mm displays, including fascia ribbon boards, exterior marquee displays, and Lincoln Financial Field’s iconic Eagles Nest structure. The Eagles also tapped Panasonic to install more than 1,200 new HD displays throughout the stadium.
SVG recently caught up with Keith Hanak, VP, Solutions & Delivery, to discuss the unique challenges of this project, how 4K is changing the in-venue experience, and more.
This was quite an ambitious project for Panasonic. What physical challenges did your team face?
There were some structural, water-seepage issues related to the game videoboards. We had [to make] some structural modifications to the building to make sure that the long-term future of these boards is sound. We were able to successfully navigate a lot of those hurdles.
And how about the technical challenges?
On the electronic side, … it’s actually 39 different videoboards that have been installed in various locations, so the idea is for all of those to work in a synchronous fashion. The graphics headend and the control solution specifically for the boards are relatively complicated; [I think of it as] the equivalent of synchronized swimming. So we’ve had a very large graphics headend system that’s been provided in conjunction with our partner at Click Effects and very complicated headend system for all of those 39 systems linked on a network and able to control it.
In addition to that, one of the technical challenges … is [that] the resolution [is], in some cases, more than 5,000 pixels wide, so some of the graphics and content elements that make this board showcase what it’s capable of are relatively complicated things to produce and to display. Those are, in short, some of the key challenges I think we’ve been focused on, making sure we deliver a solution that looks seamless.
4K is making inroads in sports venues, yet many are simply future-proofing for the technology. The Eagles are planning to run 4K content on their videoboards this season. How is Panasonic making that possible?
A product that we’ve put in place [but is] not yet out to market allows us to actually take four high-definition cameras and put them side by side by side by side and display that full screen. In the past, [editors have] done a crop and zoom, where they’ll pick an image, crop it — the top and the bottom — and zoom in on the center and fill the space. In this particular case, we’re looking at pixel mapping, [in which] each pixel across that palette is able to show the whole field view with live video. I think this is going to be the only place in the world where you’ll see a video like that be able to be displayed.
I think that’s going to be interesting because one of the advantages [is] that we get to see the whole field, not just what’s going on in the huddle. These players are so fast that sometimes it’s tough: [you might be] following the camera, and the camera thinks it’s following the ball, but the ball’s somewhere else.
[Putting the 4K-capable] cameras in was actually Panasonic’s idea. We wanted to not only put something in place but take advantage of this unique aspect ratio. … I think Panasonic’s the only one in the world that can actually display those video signals in that aspect ratio live, so that was frankly our idea and one of our contributions to the Eagles’ approach. I think, to their credit, they also wanted to do something that made a statement. They feel like they have the best fan base in the world, and they wanted them to have the best system they could possible afford.
According to Panasonic’s press release on the project, the two end-zone boards will have the highest resolution in the NFL, which will make these images really pop.
It’s the tightest pixel pitch of any board in the NFL. Nobody has anything better than 10 mm. The 10 mm was our idea. We did respond to a proposal with the Eagles; the bid was based on the 12-mm product, and, frankly, at 12 mm, they would be just under high definition. … Going to 10 mm means that you’re able to achieve a high-definition image [in] that limited size, and, based on where these [videoboards] are located, you couldn’t make them any taller. They’re right around 27 ft. at 10 mm, and that gets you a little over 800 lines vertically at this point.
In your opinion, are sports venues conducive to 4K?
I think that [Lincoln Financial Field] is a very intimate venue. They’ve got those boards that are very low in the stadium, they’ve got both end zones covered, and I think that it’s going to be a spectacular fan experience. They’ve got a bunch of different ways they plan on using [the videoboards]; they’re going to be in a position where they can actually show simultaneous replays from multiple angles played back at the same time on both end zones, and they’re going to roll out some unique features that I think the fans will really enjoy.