Chicago Bears Go All In on 1080p at Soldier Field
The historic NFL stadium, which opened in 1924, features dramatic upgrades to its videoboards
The NFL’s oldest stadium has a brand-new look. Soldier Field, which opened during the Coolidge Administration, now boasts two 1080p HD videoboards, LED ribbon panels, and a 1080p-capable video-control room.
The new videoboards, located in each end zone, measure 128 ft. by 40 ft. — nearly three times the size of their predecessors, which had been in place since 2002. Because the Bears opted to maintain the cantilevered design of the previous boards — giving them the illusion that they are floating — the larger boards posed a structural and engineering challenge in the Windy City.
“To make bigger boards, we had to go back in and do a lot of engineering on the steel structure that supports that cantilever,” explains Greg Miller, director of broadcasting and scoreboard operations, Chicago Bears. “That’s what made it a really interesting project: it wasn’t because of the weight of the boards; it was because of the wind load.”
The Bears, in a joint venture with the Chicago Park District and support from Populous, unveiled the 1080p-capable videoboards prior to the 2015 NFL season. Designed by Yesco, the boards also feature a 10-mm pixel pitch, placing the Bears squarely in the league’s highest echelon in picture quality. In addition, the team increased the size of the 16-mm LED ribbon panel on the east and west 300 level by 10% and added a 444-ft., 16-mm LED ribbon panel to the west 200 level fascia.
Inside the 92-year-old Soldier Field, the Bears worked alongside AVI Systems and Stadia Video Group to overhaul the video-control room. Located on the service level in the northwest corner of the stadium, the space now features both a live-production area and a large, enclosed rack room.
“We had to work with our manufacturers of the individual pieces of equipment just to make sure everyone was up to the 1080p challenge,” says Miller. “Everybody did meet that challenge, so every single piece of equipment in there is 1080p.”
The room features a Grass Valley Karerra K-Frame production switcher, Evertz router and three DreamCatcher replay servers, two ChyronHego Mosaic systems, Click Effects Crossfire and Blaze systems, and Christie Spyder video processors. The team added 10 new Sony cameras: two wireless, two hard-line handheld, four big-lens hard, and two 4K cameras mounted to the fascia and shooting down the goal lines.
“Everything’s making our life easier,” Miller explains. “We put in two 4K goal-line cameras that shoot down the goal line, and the 4K is run through the DreamCatcher. We can process it through the DreamCatcher and push into the image, so it’s really useful. Even the networks take those cameras because they’re great for them, too.”
In addition to his role as director of broadcasting and scoreboard operations, Miller serves as executive producer of Chicago Bears Network, which produces and distributes a wide variety of TV shows, radio shows, and on-demand video in addition to the game-day videoboard presentation. The network’s production department comprises eight full-time staffers, including Miller, and a number of freelancers.
Although preproduced elements continue to be created at the Bears’ headquarters in Lake Forest, IL, everything else originates in the Soldier Field video-control room. And, with one season in the books, the upgrades to the video-control room have certainly made a difference.
“It’s a vast improvement,” says Miller. “We can do full stadium takeovers — in other words, with one button, we can play the same thing on every board in the stadium — and that’s been a huge upgrade for us. We weren’t able to do that before. And then, just the overall size of the board has allowed us to divide it up so we can display NFL scores and stats; we didn’t really have a good area to display all of that stuff with the old boards.”