SVG Venue Summit: Vendors Expound on the Role of Next-Gen Technology in Sports Venues

4K and HDR were high on the list of topics covered

The sports-video–production industry is always looking forward to the next best thing, and one question confronts all organizations, teams, and production professionals: how can the available product be enhanced for the masses? Inside a sports venue, realistic options like 4K, UHD, and HDR have emerged and are currently being considered across the country.

At the 2019 SVG Venue Summit at Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena last month, multiple vendors immersed in implementing the latest ideas within existing or new buildings opined on what’s ahead in technology and where they see new concepts fitting into the bigger picture.

1080p vs. 4K: Is the Jump Necessary?
In many stadiums, 1080p productions are still the norm for in-house productions. As 4K becomes a more mainstream and viable solution, transitioning to the new format brings new challenges. As more venues install gigantic LED videoboards, the biggest obstacle could be that the display would have to be massive to allow fans to distinguish between 1080p and 4K.

From left: SVG’s Ken Kerschbaumer, Daktronics’ Daryl Mihal, Anthony James Partners Mike Martin, and Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment’s Steve Serfling discuss 4K, HDR, and other emerging technologies at the SVG Venue Summit. (Photo: Dave Reginek/DIG Photographics)

“4K has its role, and LED video displays are getting very large,” explained Steve Serfling, director, technology services, Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment. “The ideal setup is 1 pixel of video for 1 pixel of LED, but, when it comes to an arena as large as [Little Caesars], you don’t have that display that is going to give you that [ratio.] You start looking at more 1080p because, from the fans’ standpoint, you really can’t see the difference between a 4K signal and a 1080p signal. People that live and breathe video will see it, but the general fan, they won’t.”

As technology continues to evolve, the inevitability of 4K videoboard shows will eventually knock at the door of professional teams. Daryl Mihal, regional sales manager, Daktronics, expects solutions to be available for indoor facilities before the shift occurs in massive outdoor displays.

“To get to that native [1×1] resolution,” he said, “the videoboards have to get so physically large that it just doesn’t make sense anymore, or else they have to [have so much resolution] that you would have this diminishing return. The question lies in whether you [dive into] this enormous project that is going to require millions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure to put up. Or you don’t have that diminishing return because it’s at the other end of the stadium and the closest board is 200 ft. away, so you can’t tell the difference of HDR, 4K, or 1080p.

“On the indoor side,” he continued, “we’ve been getting more and more questions on 4K. You have the same constraints as an outdoor arena because of how much the actual structural support that the roof can hold, but I think we’ll see the transition on the [videoboard side] in indoor arenas before outdoor stadiums.”

According to Mihal, the first 4K display will be installed in TD Garden’s centerhung videoboard for Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics home games during the 2020-21 season.

HDR: Making the Ultimate Difference for the Fan on Game Day
Although manufacturers and in-venue teams understand the difference between 4K and 1080p and are pushing for adoption of 4K shows within these venues, the magic elixir is HDR.

“The break from 4K and 1080p is HDR. It is the one visible thing that the fan in the stand can notice,” said Mike Martin, director, broadcast services, Anthony James Partners. “There is a point to having HDR, especially when you look at the cost difference between [HDR and] 4K. From a financial standpoint, HDR is the sweet spot right now.”

Since fans want to be entertained throughout a game, a production that utilizes the capabilities of HDR adds the necessary character and pizazz that keeps butts in seats.

“[HDR] is what the fans want: the wow factor,” said Serfling. “One of the key things is that, if you’re capturing in 1080p HDR, every piece of equipment that that signal flows through has to be able to continue with that HDR all the way up to the LED display. It’s up to the [LED manufacturer] to replicate the HDR and be able to really show those true colors, because you want to make sure that the fans are seeing the correct colors and that the team colors are correctly represented on the display as well.”

Changing the Onsite Viewing Experience
These emerging technologies have become engrained in an organization’s culture. When it comes time to put on the helmet and dig into the batter’s box or get on the ice, in-venue production teams are relying on the new tech (especially 4K playback) for ultra-clear looks at a decisive play. Vendors are responsible for providing the tools to give fans an unforgettable experience as soon as they walk through the doors of a venue.

“You’re able to do pan-and-zoom to really dial into that space,” said Serfling. “You’re trying to help the coaches and give them information. You also have to be a little careful to know exactly what the broadcast cameras capture compared to the in-house cameras.”

Stay tuned to www.sportsvideo.org for more coverage from the SVG Venue Summit!