Live From MLB All-Star: Fox Sports Rolls Out Big Cameras for Big Game, Leverages FS San Diego for Studio Shows
Fox Sports’ MLB All-Star Game is bigger than ever, with a host of next-gen cameras and unique on-field audio technologies set to provide the big-game feel that viewers have come to expect at the Midsummer Classic.
Among the new tech toys at Petco Park are a Sony HDC-4800 ultra-high-frame-rate camera (one of only two currently in existence) in tight center, a Spidercam aerial system in Park at the Park, a Flare 4KSDI camera on a MōVI three-axis gimbal, and a backstop robo overlooking home plate and featuring a Grass Valley LDX 6X slo-mo camera.
“As one of our jewel events, we want to own this event and put a Fox stamp on it,” says Mike Davies, senior VP, field and technical operations, Fox Sports Media Group. “As always, having the All-Star event in the middle of summer gives us some time to plan out some interesting things that we’ve wanted to try. So we have some very cool new cameras and technology here that we’re very excited about and think we can bring back for the postseason.”
However, Fox’s presence at Petco Park this week is about much more than the game itself. The network is producing its full lineup of Fox Sports 1 studio programming from Fox Sports San Diego’s studios at Petco Park: The Herd, Speak for Yourself, Fox Sports Live, and segments for Garbage Time With Katie Nolan. In exchange, FS San Diego used Fox Sports’ primary All-Star set inside Petco Park for its Padres pregame shows prior to the All-Star break.
“For all our shows, we’ve been looking to cooperate more with our regionals. The setup here allows us to leverage their facilities, while also giving Fox Sports San Diego a bit of a bump,” Davies notes. “Also, these [studio] shows are comfortable doing what they do [at our broadcast center] in L.A., so taking a whole show out and doing it on the road is kind of disjointing. By doing it [at FS San Diego], we can preserve that same show they do at home without having the cost of a full production truck.”
Cameras Galore at Petco Park
Fox will deploy more than 35 cameras for game coverage at tonight’s All-Star Game, including a Spidercam aerial system, a Sony HDC-4800 ultra-high-frame-rate 4K camera, a Flare 4KSDI camera on a MōVI gimbal, two Inertia Unlimited DirtCams, eight Fletcher robos (including the Grass Valley LDX 6X slo-mo), two Inertia Unlimited Phantom X-MO ultra-slo-mos, several Sony HDC-4300’s, and a fixed-wing plane aerial.
The two-point Spidercam system is anchored at the stadium and at Fox Sports San Diego’s building just behind the Park at the Park, which it will fly over (though not over the field of play). The system, used only a few times on a baseball telecast, has been deployed for Fox’s daily studio programming throughout the week and will provide beauty shots for the pregame and game telecast. However, it will also be integrated as a high-home camera for game coverage.
“It’s going to be for beauty shots, but we realized that it can serve as another centerfield camera, which we’re very excited about,” says Francisco Contreras, director, field ops, Fox Sports. “The beauty of this shot is, you get the Park in the Park, you can see the bay, and you can see everything all around the ballpark — and then we can also use it as a [game camera]. [Director Bill Webb] will take it as another centerfield camera when it’s right. Imagine if a home run’s being hit and he catches the ball and the entire stadium going crazy. It’s going to be an amazing shot.”
Having debuted in beta at Super Bowl 50 and worked its first official show for ESPN at the NBA Finals last month, Sony’s HDC-4800 ultra-high-frame-rate 4K camera is on hand at its tight-tight centerfield position to capture pitcher ball grip and rotation of the pitch at high speed via 4K cutout. The HDC-4800 4K HFR camera, which is being used in tandem with the Sony BPU-4800 baseband processor/replay server, can zoom in on a specific area of the game being captured and slow it down while maintaining HD quality.
“We’re interested to see how it operates,” says Davies. “We think it’s a very interesting and potentially seismically different kind of camera. We’ve had a lot of experience with 4K super-zoom cameras, so we’re interested to see how this one does in tight-tight center. I think that we’ll be able to get some pretty great shots of ball rotation. If it performs the way we think it will, it will provide some really interesting shots.”
In addition to the HDC-4800, Fox’s complement of high-speed cameras includes two Phantom X-MO’s provided by Inertia Unlimited (at 1,500-2,500 fps) of batters at the plate, as well as a new high-home robotic system, featuring a Grass Valley LDX 6X slo-mo, attached to the backstop.
At last year’s All-Star Game, Fox deployed a MōVI M10 three-axis gyro-stabilized camera gimbal system on baseball coverage for the first time. The unit returns this year, except that, instead of a Canon EOS C300, the gimbal has a Flare 4KSDI camera.
“We’ve been using the MōVI a lot for live [production], and we really like it,” says Davies. “We think it gives the best of Steadicam and the agility of being a handheld. This time, we are going with the Flare 4KSDI. We are not using it as a 4K camera, but we like that it’s paintable, small, and very nimble.”
Inertia Unlimited’s DirtCam, a staple of Fox’s big-game MLB coverage, is back with positions at home plate and first base. In addition to a traditional RF in-ground DirtCam system featuring a high-gain antenna at first base, Fox will have a fiber-wired system at home plate that was installed at Petco Park last week during the Padres-Yankees series.
“It worked out that the Padres were playing the Yankees, so we were able to use both of our resources since YES and FS San Diego are both part of the family,” says Contreras. “We wired up home plate, so everything’s installed, and we know it is working. All we have to do tonight is just put the camera back in, and it’s ready to go.”
Fox will also deploy Sportvision virtual insertion on its high-home camera for the first time in an effort to integrate virtual sponsor elements into the outfield.
Throw in another 28 cameras on hand at Petco Park to power Intel’s 360-degree replay technology, which creates a 3D rendering of the field for virtual replay packages that will be integrated into Fox’s telecast.
All About Synergy: Fox Sports, FS San Diego Hand-in-Hand at Petco
FS San Diego’s studio provided an ideal location for Fox, which wanted to project an onsite feel without the challenges of a field production. In contrast, FS San Diego had hoped to leave the constraints of the studio in favor of an at-the-stadium look in its Padres studio programming prior to the All-Star break, so Fox agreed to build out its All-Star pregame studio in time to be of use to FS San Diego.
Although the windows of the traditional TV studio look out onto Petco Park, lighting had prevented FS San Diego from using the prime backdrop and posed a challenge for the Fox Sports production team.
“Fox Sports San Diego has a unique studio because it’s essentially within the ballpark and has a fantastic open window that looks into the ballpark,” says Rod Conti, VP, technical operations and production management, Fox Sports. “However, upon scouting the studio, we found out that the windows had not been used. They had this fantastic view, but, with such expansive windows, they couldn’t get the levels right for cameras and lighting.”
Conti and company began to explore window-polarizing options and, at NAB 2016, Denmark-based Studios A/S’s Polaris solution. The Polaris film can be applied to the background window, and a turnable polarizer on the lens serves as a variable ND filter for the outdoor background. Fox can adjust the lightning through the windows to match the desired aperture.
In addition, Fox brought in Fletcher robotic cameras to provide better control and integration with the Polaris system. All Fox studio shows were cut in the FS San Diego control room, and graphics insertion and final integration were performed at Fox’s Los Angeles broadcast center.
The Polaris solution is permanent, allowing the RSN to use the Petco Field backdrop in studio programming.
Fox’s All-Star set (designed and constructed by Filmwerks a week early) has been used for FS San Diego’s Padres pregame show Thursday through Sunday. Since its control room was being used by Fox, the RSN brought in SDTV to provide production/transmission facilities to handle the shows. SDTV pulled out on Sunday, and the set was switched over to Fox’s Game Creek FX trucks (which Fox is using for the pregame show as well as for the game telecast — a departure from previous years).
“It was really nice because they got a lot of programming out of that stage, and we were able to essentially get a lot of pre-rehearsals done watching another show,” says Conti. “The bigger picture is that, as a Fox family, we were able to come in and better utilize our resources to make each of the shows — for both us and Fox Sports San Diego — better. It satisfied each show’s unique needs, and it worked out really well.”