NFL Kickoff: Fox Sports Readies Encore, Other Enhancements for Coverage

Fox Sports’ 2015 NFL coverage will have new bells and whistles on all productions, but the biggest news, literally, is that Game Creek Video’s massive Encore production unit begins its first season as the home of the NFL on Fox A-game coverage, giving the production team more than enough fire power and space and allowing the truck supplier’s FX unit to be used for B-level productions.

FoxNFL“Encore gives us a lot of room to grow for an NFL regular-season game, as it can do the U.S. Open golf championships on its own,” says Mike Davies, SVP, field operations, Fox Sports.

Encore comprises three 53-ft. trailers providing nearly 2,400 sq. ft. of production space when the sides are expanded: 720 sq. ft. in the A unit, 905 sq. ft. in B, and 675 sq. ft. in C. At its core is an Evertz IP-based router, which gives a significant amount of signal flexibility.

One of the key technical capabilities that Encore provides for NFL games is access to Sony HDC-4300 cameras, four of which will be licensed to operate at up to 8X speed. They complement two Inertia Unlimited super-slo-mo cameras, which provide several advantages, most notably the ability to economize: they require fewer EVS channels to operate than the Sony cameras do.

“We will tailor the cameras to what the director and producer ask for,” says Davies.

The A-level shows will max out at 15 cameras, including the new Skycam Wildcat system. Used in New Orleans for Fox’s first preseason game, the system can move at speeds up to 25 mph. The system will be in use for A games and for other games later in the season, depending on the importance of the game and the matchup.

“It was fast, agile, and could fly low,” says Davies of the Wildcat’s performance. “We also liked that the new Sony HDCP1R, which we used on Wildcat, matches our other cameras.”

Inside Game Creek Video’s Encore A unit

Inside Game Creek Video’s Encore A unit

Also making a debut for regular-season coverage will be what Fox calls the “4K Flex” system, which captures images at a high frame rate and, thanks to Aja TruZoom, allows the production team to zoom in, crop, and extract an HD-quality replay. That system was previously used during last year’s MLB playoffs.

The A game is only one of at least five games that Fox will broadcast every weekend, and, while it may get the most cameras, the B and C games will have plenty of enhancements to give the production team the tools they need to deliver top-quality broadcasts.

“Each one of the shows has something to make it special. We don’t have any vanilla shows,” notes Davies. “And, with Game Creek, NEP, and F&F [production units] in our stable for NFL coverage, we are able to get to midseason form quickly.”

Along with camera enhancements come advances in replay devices. NFL coverage across the board has made the move to the EVS XT3 server. Additionally, the Fox production teams both in the field and at the studio are working on perfecting file-based workflows that will allow content (in particular, alternative camera angles) to more easily and quickly get to Fox Sports’ Los Angeles facility on Pico Blvd. for use in highlights and game breaks. That work requires both the team in the field and the studio-show team at Pico to develop new workflows.

“It’s really less of a technical issue and more of an organizational one,” says Davies.

And first-rate audio, a point of pride for the team at Fox Sports, will once again be front and center (as well as left, right, and behind) for viewers.

“We still concentrate on audio,” Davies says, “and some of our games will have up to six parabolic mics and will also be using the Klover parab as well as a mic in the Skycam. Everything is also set to be 5.1 surround sound across the board.”

He notes that viewers can expect additional enhancements during the year, the result not only of current plans but of weekly phone calls between the technical directors, audio mixers, and others discussing how to do things better.

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