Super Bowl LVIII: CBS Sports Rolls Out 1080p HDR Production Workflow, Will Distribute 4K HDR Feed to Selected MVPDs
The Big Game will be produced in 1080p HDR, upconverted to 4K HDR for some MVPDs, and downconverted to 1080i SDR for mass OTA delivery
Fans tuning into watch Super Bowl LVIII on Paramount+ will have a chance to experience the Big Game in 1080p HDR. Producing it has been a year-long process of experimentation and new workflows, moving toward a production environment in which this year’s show is produced in 1080p HDR, upconverted to 4K HDR for select MVPDs and vMVPDs, and downconverted to 1080i SDR for mass delivery to viewers on CBS.
“No pun intended, but it was paramount [to have Paramount+] as our internal distribution platform for HDR,” says Mike Francis, VP, engineering and technology, CBS Sports. “We’ve been able to work closely with the streaming team and the distribution team to do tests every week [of the season] leading up to this. We are responsible for the production side, but there’s a big component on the distribution and the streaming side to make it work.”
According to Greg Coppa, VP, technology, CBS Sports, CBS recognized a year ago that, to flip the HDR switch on Super Bowl LVIII, the technical, operations, and production team needed to be working in 1080p HDR all season long. “We had to be able to produce our NFL A game in HDR beginning with Game 1 of this season if we wanted to do the Super Bowl.”
CBS Sports began the journey to HDR in 2017, starting with golf, Francis points out. “It was immediately one of the most breathtaking pieces of video I’d ever seen. It popped, especially being on a golf course and with the lighting. But we knew there was a lot of work to do because we didn’t want to produce HDR if it meant sacrifices to production and the inability for production to do their storytelling.”
Getting to this point has meant being ready to get content from legacy shows or edits and graphics converted to HDR but also things like converting the monitor wall in the production truck.
“We want the director and TD [and others] to see an accurate representation of the production,” Francis says. “We made upgrades to a full-HDR monitor wall for the NEP Supershooter CBS production unit for our NFL A games. That means they can see it in a native-HDR format and not have to question something that may look a little washed out.”
Almost 100% of the cameras will be HDR-native. “We do have a few POV cameras that will need to do color mapping to get the HDR look,” Francis says. “But the vast majority of cameras, even our pylon vendors and most of our POVs, are able to do native HDR and can operate in HLG.”
HDR and SDR Versions Will Be Sent to CBS Broadcast Center
Although the team will produce everything in 1080p HDR, when the signal leaves the truck, two versions will be sent to the CBS Broadcast Center in New York City: a 1080p HDR version and 1080i SDR version (Nickelodeon will be producing its coverage in 1080p SDR).
One of the major decisions facing a distributor of HDR content is which LUT, or look-up table, to use to transform from HDR to SDR or SDR to HDR. CBS chose the Sony LUT.
“The look we wanted to achieve,” says Coppa, “is the Sony look, which has been the gold standard of what we’ve produced. That was the look we were going for. The fact that most of the cameras are manufactured by Sony also made the LUT attractive.”
Although the cameras and in-game edits will be done in HDR, graphics and pre-produced pieces have been created in SDR. That required CBS Sports to develop a workflow to convert the SDR graphics to HDR and then back to SDR. “We worked with the graphics team,” says Coppa, “and they were able to create a round-trip workflow that was essentially transparent.”
The decision to produce in 1080p HDR rather than in SDR and upconvert is paying dividends for SDR viewers, he adds: “The thing we are proudest of is, the SDR product that the country saw this year was derived from HDR. We didn’t receive any negative feedback, and that to me is confirmation that what we are doing is very, very good.”
When comparing native SDR and derived SDR, the CBS technical team objectively sees greater detail in the highlights and darker elements of the picture compared with natively captured SDR content, Francis says, adding that he hopes for a really positive reaction from HDR viewers, especially given that Allegiant Stadium has a solid lighting environment. “That will help things pop. The SDR audience won’t know the difference, but we are hoping for a large HDR audience as well.”
Paramount+ will be the primary place for that HDR audience to tune in to see the broadcast, with the 4K HDR feed supplied to various MVPDs (multichannel video programming distributors) and vMVPDs (virtual multichannel video programming distributors).
Advances in the production tool chain enable HDR, but there are still some pain points and room for improvement: on the graphics side, for example, developing the reference environment for the production team to build elements and determining how converting from HDR to SDR affects artistic intent.
“There are advances being made,” says Coppa, “and we need things like Adobe to be consistent when exporting from Premier vs. Media Encoder. Ironing out that type of stuff is important, but I’m confident it will happen.”
Pre-Produced Packages Will Be Converted From SDR
Only the in-game edits will be edited in HDR; packages and other elements will be converted from SDR. “We are at around 85% of the environment being an HDR ecosystem,” says Francis. “It’s the graphics and editing workflows that we will need to work through.”
Archiving will also be done in 1080 HDR, all part of a process in which, Coppa says, HDR will ultimately be the norm.
As for audio, the focus will be on 5.1 surround sound because the vast majority of viewers are still listening in stereo. If Dolby Atmos catches on with consumers at home and can offer some value, Coppa says, it could be the next frontier.
He and Francis agree on the effort’s biggest lesson: that education of everyone involved, from the technical and operations team to the creatives, is very important.
“They need to understand the nuance and what they need to be looking out for so they can see what an SDR source going through an HDR environment looks like,” says Francis. “Now they also can look at a scope and identify if something isn’t right with a conversion.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article indicated that Paramount+ would stream Super Bowl LVIII in 4K HDR. Only select MVPDs and vMVPDS will be supplied with the upconverted 4K HDR feed.