NBA Season Tip-Off: New Replay Center Set To Revolutionize Officiating, Video Ops
The NBA is full speed ahead with centralized replay this season, having built a state-of-the-art Replay Center at NBA Entertainment headquarters in Secaucus, NJ. The facility, which connects to all 29 NBA arenas (as well as to Turner’s NBA Digital facility in Atlanta) via a new ultra-robust 10-gig HSAN2 (high-speed arena network), will serve as the base of operations for the league’s expanded use of instant replay for officials this season.
“The first time I hit the road to talk about replay was the 2002-03 season, when the broadcasters began helping us with replays,” says Steve Hellmuth, EVP of operations and technology, NBA Entertainment. “And they have helped us a lot over the 12 years since. But we have gone from having one trigger for replay to 15 triggers this season; we conducted more than 1,800 replays last year, so it was time for us to provide better and more accurate tools for replay.”
Hellmuth and his team tested multiple technologies during 15 regular-season games last season, followed by a full test of the system. The Replay Center was selected during the NBA Finals. Since completing the facility this year, the league has been actively refining the process during every preseason game in all 29 arenas, and it will make its regular-season debut during tonight’s opening games.
Secaucus Replay Center Pack Big Tech Punch
Integrated by The System Group, the NBA Replay Center is built around the Evertz Magnum unified facility control and DreamCatcher replay system and features Cisco routing. The facility has been outfitted with 94 HD monitors (primarily Samsung), including 32 touchscreens.
The Secaucus facility houses 20 workstations: 14 for replay operators around the outside and four for replay managers and two for content management and social media on the interior. A single replay operator is designated for each game, proactively reviewing and tagging video for potential reviews. When one of the league’s 15 triggers occurs for review of a play, the ref makes the replay signal on the court, and the operator alerts a replay manager by calling out “Replay on Station X.” The manager then takes over, reviewing multiple camera angles simultaneously with the ability to zoom, select, and deliver clips to the on-court referee in order of most conclusive. The final decision remains with the crew chief on the court.
The ability to issue router commands from the DreamCatcher replay application was a key factor in the NBA’s decision to go with an Evertz Magnum/Dreamcatcher workflow, according to Hellmuth. For example, a replay manager can instantly send the feed of a decisive angle to the courtside monitor, the TV-production truck, and the in-arena scoreboard- control room by simply pressing the On-Air Button within the DreamCatcher application.
“From the application itself, I can issue router commands, and that was very important to us,” says Hellmuth. “When I thought about having a replay system separate from the routing commands, I realized it would just be far too complex. This allows us to actually command the routing switcher directly from the application.”
Hellmuth also says the mosaic-style layout and ability to zoom in on clips within the Evertz VUE graphical user interface were integral to the decision to go with Magnum and DreamCatcher.
Although the Replay Center has the ability to bring back as many as 12 camera feeds at once from each arena and has access to every single camera feed from the production trucks at every game, nine primary camera angles will be the standard feeds sent to Secaucus from the truck: the play-by-play wide shot, left and right above the rims, left and right handhelds, left and right slash positions, and the home and away program feeds from the respective regional-sports-net telecasts.
The NBA Replay Center will also have an open line of communication to the production trucks at every arena to provide viewers with crucial information as to how the call was made. Viewers will see the actual replay angle the crew chief used to determine the correct call on the court, as well as a live shot into the Replay Center (via a robotic camera that can be triggered from the Evertz VUE interface) and an on-air explanation of why the call was made from the replay manager.
In addition, the Replay Center will provide a return feed to the arenas to allow refs to review video with their assigned replay operator during halftime and postgame.
HSAN2 Brings It All Together
The infrastructure for a facility of this magnitude does not come easily or quickly. However, Hellmuth says three key factors came together to allow the new NBA replay operation to be built on a quicker timeline: the Replay Center footprint in Secaucus was previously just storage space and easily available, NBA Entertainment had originally built its equipment room double the size required in anticipation of just this kind of scenario, and, finally and most important, Hellmuth was already eight months into a discussion to build a next-gen HSAN network when the league decided to centralize its replay operation.
“That fast-tracked [the HSAN launch],” he says. “We realized that we needed a 10-gig network to get this done because of the demands of our sport, real-time delivery of broadcast-quality video for immediate review. We don’t stop like baseball or football to do a review; that is how we are different from the other leagues. That is what really drove the size and power of the network.”
NBA worked with the Zayo group to establish the JPEG2000-based private high-speed network, which is 66 times faster than the league’s previous HSAN and gives Secaucus the capability to take in multiple simultaneous HD video streams and photos at speeds of up to 300 Gpbs. Zayo monitors the efficiency and health of the HSAN2 network and controls all alarms related to it.
Cisco provided the bulk of the control/routing infrastructure for the network, which carries 348 in-bound feeds and 160 return feeds (as well as statistics, clock feeds, and file transfers between Secaucus and the teams/arenas). A new Cisco router and firewall were also included as part of two new racks of equipment installed at every arena for the new system.
“Cisco is helping us control everything across the network,” says Hellmuth, “and played a major role in making sure that we have the best network possible.”
Benefits for NBA Entertainment, NBA Digital
The Secaucus facility is expected to ingest more than 31,500 hours of video this season, thanks to the new Replay Center, and the NBA Entertainment operation that works down the hall is poised to reap its share of benefits.
“All the editors and everyone are really pumped about having immediate access to all this ,” says Hellmuth. “Highlight packages, video tweets, documentaries, and so on are going to have a lot more and better angles of absolutely every game.”
NBA Entertainment won’t be the only ancillary beneficiary of the new replay operation, as Turner Sports’ NBA Digital operation in Atlanta has its own direct connection into the Zayo network. Using ScheduALL resource-management software, it can schedule the receipt of up to 61 feeds directly into Atlanta. That is going to improve the content at NBA Digital.”
NBA teams also stand to benefit from the new network, which includes a dedicated 2-gig file-transfer path connecting all the arenas to the NBA Entertainment video archive.
“It’s separate from the video feeds, so you can actually be doing file transfers while the game is ongoing,” says Hellmuth. “Our teams will also have real-time access to NBA Entertainment photographers. We put a server and router in each building, and we are going to gather all the pictures and send them back to NBA Entertainment so they can be included on the teams’ apps and Websites.”