Big Tech Week at The Masters To Feature 4K, Virtual Reality
The 80th Masters tournament tees off at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday and, with it, a leap forward in live sports production. 4K coverage of all four rounds at Amen Corner will mark the first-ever live 4K broadcasts of a U.S. sports event, and virtual reality will make its first appearance at Augusta on Holes 6 and 16 throughout the week. Add in CBS’s and ESPN’s colossal HD linear telecast productions and the Masters Live streaming experience, and it’s yet another Masters production of historic proportions.
“The [Masters was the] first tournament to be done in color, the first tournament to be done in HD, the first tournament to be done partially in 3D, and now the first tournament to be done in 4K,” says CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus. “All of us have decided that there’s no better venue to showcase any kind of new technology in television than the beauty that you see at Augusta National. So, when we look at new technology and ways to showcase that new technology, The Masters is always right at the top of our list.”
4K From Amen Corner
CBS Sports will produce the live 4K coverage at Amen Corner (Holes 11, 12, and 13) 10:45 a.m.-6:00 p.m. ET Thursday and Friday and 11:45 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The 4K coverage, which will be downconverted for the HD Amen Corner feed available on Masters.com and DirecTV Masters Mix, serves as the inaugural live event on DirecTV’s new 4K Channel, which launches this month.
“4K is definitely a work in progress, but I think we are up to the challenge,” says Ken Aagaard, EVP, engineering, operations, and production services, CBS Sports. “We will learn a lot from this experience. It’s a lot like the SD-to-HD [transition]: not everything is necessarily 4K-ready. The cameras are way ahead, but the switchers and replay devices are limited. But we love launching new technology, and we love working with Augusta National because they are always looking to be on the leading edge of technology.”
CBS will use Mobile TV Group’s new 39 Flex double-expando 4K mobile unit, as it did during a test of full 4K production and transmission in February at the Northern Trust Open in Pacific Palisades, CA. The truck is built around a 4K-capable 7M/E Grass Valley Kayenne K-Frame switcher (192 inputs in HD, 48 in 4K), Evertz hybrid SDI/IP router (which allows the mobile unit to route 4K as a quad-HD signal today and IP in the future), several 12-channel EVS XT3 replay systems, a Calrec Artemis audio console, and ChyronHego 4K graphics.
At Amen Corner, CBS will deploy a dozen Sony HDC4300 4K/HD/high-speed cameras outfitted with a mix of Fujinon 4K and HD lenses: two Fujinon UA80x9 4K+ UHD field lenses, two XA99x8 ultra-wide field lenses, four XA77x9.5 telephoto field lenses, two ZA22x7.6 telephoto remote-control lenses, and two HA18x5.5 wide-angle ENG lenses.
CBS Sports Coordinating/Lead Producer Lance Barrow expects 4K to have an immediate impact on how CBS covers golf.
In SD, he explains, “when a player would hit a shot, you would have the camera behind the player, and you would have to cut to the ball in flight. With HD, you were able to stay with the player a little longer and watch the flight of the ball. With 4K, you’re going to be able to stay even longer to watch the flight of the ball on the shot. It will be clearer, and everything about it will be a better-looking shot. [4K] will make you feel like you are sitting right there on the golf course watching the action.”
The live 4K feed can be viewed by DirecTV Ultimate or Premier package subscribers with an authorized 4K-customer account, the latest Genie HD DVR (HR54), and either a DirecTV 4K-ready TV or a compatible 4K/60-fps TV (4K/UHD content on a non-DirecTV 4K-ready TV requires a TV with an HDMI 2.0-compliant interface and HDCP 2.2 content security and a 4K Genie Mini) connected to the latest 4K Genie Mini. Fans can also watch via supported internet-connected Samsung or Sony 4K smart TV with at least 25 Mbps download speed.
CLICK HERE for SVG’s in-depth coverage of The Masters 4K production.
Virtual Reality at Holes 6 and 16
4K isn’t the only next-gen viewing experience making its Masters debut. From the opening practice round on April 4 through Sunday’s final round, NextVR is producing continuous live virtual-reality coverage on Holes 6 and 16.
NextVR cameras are positioned on the tee boxes and greens of both holes, live-streaming a front-row VR experience for fans via the NextVR app for Gear VR (available from the Oculus Home app store). NextVR produced two hours of live practice-round coverage on Monday and Tuesday and will do so again on Wednesday (10 a.m.-noon), before embarking on seven-plus hours Thursday-Friday (10:45 a.m.-6 p.m.) and six-plus Saturday-Sunday (11:45 a.m.-6 p.m.).
NextVR previously produced a VR golf experience for Fox Sports at last summer’s U.S. Open.
Masters Live Ups Its Streaming Game With Featured Groups
Masters Live on CBSSports.com will offer four free live-streaming channels this week: Featured Groups (the first time a feed will follow selected groups each day throughout their entire round), Amen Corner, 15 & 16, and Masters on the Range live from the Tournament Practice Area (simulcast on CBS Sports Network). In all, Masters Live will provide more than 110 hours of live online video, along with in-progress highlights.
“[Masters Live] is just one more example of trying to make The Masters available in as many formats as we possibly can,” says McManus. “As people continue to view content in different ways, … we are committed to making sure that that content is available on all the different platforms. [Linear-TV coverage] is still going to generate the largest audience, but we want to make sure that, if you want to watch the coverage on a different platform, it’s available. So we spend a lot of time, effort, and resources working with our partners at Augusta National making sure that content is available in as many forms as we possibly can.”
In addition to the four channels of live golf action, Masters Live will present a wealth of VOD content, including in-progress and end-of-day highlights following each round, highlights from Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest, historical highlights from past Masters tournaments, Augusta National aerial flyovers, and player interviews from the Interview Room.
Linear-Coverage Roundup: ESPN, CBS Return to Augusta
CBS’s third- and fourth-round coverage will mark its 61st consecutive year broadcasting the tournament: four hours of coverage on Saturday (3:00-7:00 p.m.), five hours on Sunday (2:00-7:00 p.m.), and late-night highlights of early-round play on Thursday and Friday (11:35-11:50 p.m.). The coverage will be led by Barrow, along with David Winner, and directed by Steve Milton and Bob Matina. Jim Rikhoff and Chris Svendsen will serve as replay producers. Bob Mansbach will produce the late-night highlight shows, and Jim Cornell will direct. CBS Sports is presenting Masters on the Range Monday-Sunday this week and will televise replays of the third- and fourth-round broadcasts.
On Thursday and Friday, ESPN and ESPN Deportes will air 4.5 hours of live first- and second-round coverage, as well as the traditional Par 3 contest on Wednesday. Prior to ESPN’s live television windows, live updates from Augusta will air on SportsCenter, and an edited encore presentation will be presented in primetime on ESPN each night at 8:00-11:00 p.m.