Fox Sports, AT&T Bring 4K to College Hardcourt With Single-Truck 4K/HD Show
DirecTV to present first-ever college hoops game in 4K/UHD with tonight’s California-Stanford matchup
Live 4K content hits the college hardcourt for the first time tonight, when AT&T/DirecTV and Fox Sports present the University of California at Stanford University live on DirecTV in 4K/ UHD. The game represents the first-ever live-4K college-basketball production and will be the first in a series of DirecTV-Fox Sports 4K collaborations that will also include Washington at UCLA on March 1. With its eight-camera, single-truck 4K production (with a downconverted 720p feed for the FS1 HD telecast), Fox aims to create a sustainable 4K/HD model that can be easily replicated for frequent mid-level productions, such as college basketball.
“This is one truck emanating both 4K and HD signals, which is where we need to [be] to make this work long-term,” says John Ward, SVP content operations, AT&T. “There are many reasons for that, especially the money and the physical space required to [deploy] multiple trucks. But, most important, we’ve got to show producers of this content that nothing is being sacrificed when they do a 4K show. It has to be seamless and transparent to them. As that happens, I think you are going to see more and more people start to sign on for this.”
Inside the Production
This production marks Fox Sports’ first 4K show since the 2016 U.S. Open golf tournament. However, unlike the Open — one of the largest sports productions in the world — college basketball requires a replicable model that can serves hundreds of productions per year. With that in mind, Fox and DirecTV have created a 4K/HD production model with nearly identical tools and workflow to a standard college-basketball production.
Although Fox added half of a setup day for testing on this production, the network plans to hold to a single-day set-shoot-strike for future 4K productions.
“We’d love nothing more than to get on a weekly schedule with [college basketball] like we did with baseball [for the MLB Network Showcase games] last year,” says Ward. “Ultimately, it needs to get to a point where these [4K shows] just happen without a lot of fuss. When we can all figure out how to move from [quad-link 4K] to that one-wire 4K solution, I think you’ll see this become more prevalent. But I’m excited about [Friday night].”
Mobile TV Group’s 39 FLEX mobile unit — a regular at live 4K productions in the U.S. over the past year — will serve as home base for the 4K production. Fox Sports will deploy a total of eight Sony HDC-4300 native 4K cameras at Maples Pavilion, including five manned positions: game, tight, slash, and two handhelds. In addition, Fox will have a 4K beauty shot and a pair of 4K cameras for scoreboard and shot clock.
The production will also feature native-4K Vizrt graphics and the first appearance of a standard 4K Fox Box scorebug graphic.
However, replays will be created in 1080i and upconverted to 4K using three EVS XT3 12-channel replay servers (six in/three out in 4K mode) aboard 39 Flex. Fox Sports is also evaluating EVS’s XT4K replay system for use on future events.
As has been the case on nearly all DirecTV 4K productions, DTAGS will be handling the contribution encoding (DirecTV now owns 10 traveling 4K-encoding kits managed and maintained by DTAGS). The 4K feed will be backhauled via PSSI’s satellite uplink.
“The one thing about these venues is, we are a bit hamstrung in terms of fiber connectivity,” says Ward. “So we have opted for satellite [backhaul] on this one, and I think you’ll see a lot more of that [for 4K contribution] on events at this level — especially at a lot of these smaller college venues and for one-offs like golf, where you sometimes just have no choice but to use satellite.”
The Beginning of a Beautiful 4K Friendship
As part of a broader distribution agreement announced by AT&T and Fox Networks Group in November, DirecTV customers will have access to 4K/UHD content from Fox’s marquee sports properties, including MLB regular-season and playoff games, college football and basketball games, and NASCAR races. Although no other sports events have been officially announced beyond Washington at UCLA on March 1, Ward sees tonight’s production as the beginning of a fruitful 4K friendship.
“This is a great step forward with Fox, and I think that, once we knock these first couple games out, you’re going to hopefully see a bigger relationship with Fox involving 4K. I think it really says something about Fox’s willingness to embrace new technology.”
The HDR Roadmap: Tests Impress at Pebble Beach
Tonight’s Cal-Stanford game arrives on the heels of DirecTV’s 4K efforts at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am tournament, which served as the satellite broadcaster’s latest testing ground for HDR. DirecTV and CBS teamed up to create the HDR content, as they did at the PGA Championship last summer.
“We are busy putting together the results in the lab,” says Ward, “but I will say that what both our team and CBS were even more blown away by, compared to what they had seen on previous testing sites.”
He notes that DirecTV has plans for more HDR testing with Mobile TV Group at its Denver headquarters next month, and he’s hopeful DirecTV will be capable of delivering HDR content to its customers by the end of the 2017 or early 2018.
“As far as our roadmap goes,” Ward adds, “we’re pushing forward, and there’s a lot of lifting that has to be done on our end in terms of headend and set-top-box work, but we’re pushing hard to be in a good position to deliver HDR by the end of the year or maybe first quarter of next year. We still believe that HDR is the holy grail that creates a unique visual difference. In my mind, the change from SD to HD was dramatic, and I think it’s going to be that dramatic when we introduce HDR. I think people are going to be absolutely blown away by it.”
To view the California-Stanford 4K/UHD telecast, DirecTV subscribers will need a Genie HD DVR (model HR54 or later) and a DirecTV 4K-Ready TV or a 4K TV connected to a 4K Genie Mini. An Entertainment Package subscription (or other package containing FS1), 4K account authorization, and professional installation are also required.