CBS Sports Masters Coverage: Where Innovation Is a Tradition

Viewers this year will see more 4K coverage and expanded use of Trackman and Virtual Eye

For the 62nd consecutive year, CBS Sports is onsite this weekend at Augusta National Golf Club for coverage of the Masters, arguably the most hallowed event in golf. This year marks the 15th time that the Masters will get HD treatment, and, as always, it is an event to innovate, introduce, and help define the future of golf coverage.

“The Masters is important to everybody here at CBS, and we are very proud of this,” says Ken Aagaard, EVP, innovation and new technology, CBS Sports. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make it work, and we never rest on our laurels as we continually try to improve the production.”

This year’s improvements include expanded 4K coverage that will be shown on DirecTV. Amen Corner will once again get the 4K treatment, like last year, but holes 15 and 16 will also be broadcast in 4K.

“There is more and more we have to learn, like how to deal with archiving the 4K content and networking,” says Aagaard. “We want to always make the shots available in the router and servers so that everyone has access to get the shots they need.”

The production mothership for the HD show is NEP’s SSCBS, the same four-trailer production unit that CBS uses for the Super Bowl and the PGA Championship. Lance Barrow, coordinating producer of CBS Golf for CBS Sports, and director Steve Milton will be in SSCBS while producer David Winner and Bob Matina will be in SS24 overseeing the production of the first eight holes.

“Lance and Steve will be driving the train the whole time,” says Aagaard, “as they have access to the cameras covering all 18 holes.”

The “Amen Corner Live” coverage for masters.com will be produced out of Game Creek Video’s Encore, and Mobile TV Group’s 39 Flex unit will handle the 15 and 16 show. The 4K feed will be downconverted to HD for the main coverage.

The goal is to produce the 4K show with as much native 4K content as possible. All hard cameras are 4K, but wireless cameras, graphics, Trackman, and Virtual Eye will be upconverted to 4K.

This year’s next-generation 4K coverage is getting the next-generation HDR treatment, although it will be visible only in special viewing areas at Augusta.

“We’re really keen on HDR, but it is still a work in progress,” Aagaard explains. “After we saw the HDR coverage from Pebble Beach, I was astounded. I knew it would be good, but I didn’t know it would be that good. On some of the high-end monitors, you almost get a 3D-like effect.”

The challenge this year is not only the size and scope of the show but marrying the various 4K and HD and stereo and 5.1 technologies. For example, the Grass Valley 4K production switchers in both Encore and 39 Flex needed to be upgraded.

“It is a huge engineering feat, with engineering planning going on with the various vendors for months,” says Aagaard. “It’s a big undertaking.”

A Busy Week
The CBS Sports Network has been on the air live from Augusta National Golf Club since Monday with its Masters on the Range program. New this year is the use of Trackman, which allows CBS analysts and viewers to see and discuss practice shots taken by the world’s greatest golfers.  Enhancing coverage, Trackman is being integrated with a side slab to show golfer and ball flight simultaneously.

“We’ve never done that before,” notes Aagaard. “The Trackman guys had to put the radar in various places to make this work. On the driving range, there are many balls being hit simultaneously. So we want to zone in on certain players and see where they are hitting the ball, as well as [displaying] data like ball speed, spin rate, curve, and distance. On Monday, for example, we showed DJ [Dustin Johnson] hitting his seven iron, and we were able to show how close together he can hit his shots.”

Trackman is also being introduced for  tournament action, on DirectTV and digital coverage and will be located on the 11th and 13th tee boxes, along with CBS VirtualEye.

“The VirtualEye animations have taken a lot of work by Animation Research Ltd. to make them look really great,” says Aagaard. “It’s exciting. On the Amen Corner feed, we can show Trackman and animated slabs to give the viewers cool information. As time goes on, we will add more and more stats to it.”

He adds that the use of VirtualEye on the dogleg 13th hole will give viewers a new understanding of where the ball has been driven and a perspective on the second shot, which often must pass over trees and across a creek.

“It will be a view of the hole that has never been seen before,” he points out.

Audio is also a challenge, with CBS coverage offering a mix of stereo and 5.1 surround sound. A Calrec Hydra2 audio network ties together two Calrec Apollo and four Calrec Artemis consoles and will be at the center of the stereo and 5.1-surround productions. The Hydra network allows each audio board to send to and receive channels from the others, with built-in redundancy. All told, there will be 512 bidirectional channels to and from each board via only two strands of fiber.

“We basically have to decide where we can and can’t do 5.1 coverage and then what needs to be upconverted from stereo to 5.1 surround sound,” adds Aagaard.

And, although, yes, the Masters is a tradition unlike any other, CBS Sports has one of its own: the yearly tradition of transitioning quickly from March Madness to the Masters, often within a matter of days.

“That is always a big challenge since I came to CBS in 1998 as we balance everything and carefully look at equipment and personnel,” says Aagaard. “There aren’t too many sports divisions that could handle both events back to back and do a great job. But it is all about preparation, planning, and putting the right people in the right place doing the right thing. All the years of experience make us able to do that. I can’t underestimate how proud we are of the people that are supporting us. It’s been a monster couple of weeks.”