4K at Augusta National: Inside CBS and DirecTV’s 4K/UHD production at The Masters

The age of sports live in 4K  in the U.S. will officially tee off next month, when CBS and DirecTV combine to produce and deliver live 4K coverage of The Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. CBS Sports will produce the 4K coverage, which will be downconverted for the HD Amen Corner feed available on Masters.com and DirecTV Masters Mix.

“4K is definitely a work in progress, but I think we are up to the challenge,” says Ken Aagaard, EVP, engineering, operations, and production services, CBS Sports, adding, “We will learn a lot from this experience. It’s a lot like the SD-to-HD [transition], where not everything is necessarily 4K-ready. The cameras are way ahead, but the switchers and replay devices are limited. But we love launching new technology, and we love working with Augusta National because they are always looking to be on the leading edge of technology.”

The live 4K/UHD coverage of all four rounds from Amen Corner (holes 11, 12, and 13) will serve as the inaugural live event on its new DirecTV 4K Channel, which launches in April. CBS is also working closely with DirecTV on the transmission of the 4K coverage.

“The Masters is the premier golf event,” notes John Ward, SVP, content operations, DirecTV. “We’ve had a very long relationship with Augusta, and we felt like it was the best opportunity to make the biggest splash for 4K. Augusta is one of the most beautiful places on earth. If you have never been there in person, I believe this is going to make it as lifelike as possible. … This is the perfect venue to showcase this technology.”

Previewing the production workflow at Augusta
CBS will use Mobile TV Group’s new 39 Flex double-expando 4K mobile unit, as it did during a full 4K production and transmission test last month at the Northern Trust Open in Pacific Palisades, CA. Designed specifically for 4K (and 4K HDR) production, 39 Flex features the necessary infrastructure to support more than a dozen 4K cameras and multiple replay devices that will be used for the Amen Corner production.

Rather than rolling out side-by-side HD and 4K productions, the 4K feed will be downconverted and serve as the HD feed on Masters.com and DirecTV Masters Mix.

“It’s all really one feed. The same production guys and same announcers will be doing this for the 2K feed as well,” Aagaard explains. “We’re doing it all in 4K and then downconverting it. We think we are going to be able to produce a feed that is just as good as the HD feed we have produced for Amen Corner in the past.”

CBS will deploy 12-14 Sony HDC-4300 4K/HD/high-speed cameras outfitted with a mix of Fujinon 4K and HD lenses. Since CBS is focused on producing a ‘pure-4K’ feed, the network will not upconvert any HD cameras for the 4K show. The camera complement is similar to CBS’s previous Amen Corner productions.

“We have produced Amen Corner in 2K for a lot of years, and it’s going to look pretty much the same,” says Aagaard. “The only thing we had to add is a few cameras that are unique to this feed, because we were previously sharing some from the regular broadcast in the past. In an attempt to make everything as true 4K as possible, we will add a couple of handheld cameras that help us on [holes] 12 and 13.”

According to Aagaard, Fujinon is working to deliver new 4K lenses in time for The Masters production as well.

“We’re not sure Fujinon is going to be ready yet or be able to make [the lenses] available, especially with the timing of [the NAB Show one week after The Masters concludes], but we are hopeful,” says Aagaard. “The lensing is something that is definitely getting up to speed very quickly. Both Fujinon and Canon have stepped up and done a great job of getting 4K-ready.”

Inside 39 Flex
MTVG’s 39 Flex is built around a 4K-capable Kayenne K-Frame (192 inputs in HD, 48 in 4K), Evertz hybrid SDI/IP router (which allows the mobile unit to route 4K as a quad-HD signal today and IP in the future), several 12-channel EVS XT3 replay systems, a Calrec Artemis audio console, and ChyronHego 4K graphics.

“Mobile TV Group is excited to be leading the natural progression from HD to 4K/4K-HDR,” says Phil Garvin, GM/founder, Mobile TV Group. “We are hopeful this showcases our commitment to innovation and forward thinking. 39 Flex will have its official launch at The Masters. It is one of the first mobile units built from the ground up for 4K and 4K HDR and will offer users a financially accessible 4K production facility.”

DirecTV’s transmission plan
DirecTV is working with Elemental Technologies to help provide the IP-transmission backbone at its Los Angeles broadcast centre and will rely on both Elemental and Ericsson encode/decode technology in the field at Augusta. Ward declined to specify the bitrate that will be used to deliver The Masters 4K coverage.

“For IP-based transmission, our biggest challenge right now is monitoring at the truck,” says Ward. “There is gear out there for what we need, but it is not readily available. We had the necessary equipment for the test, and we will have it at Augusta, but accurate monitoring is paramount.

“Honestly,” he continues, “I was very surprised at how well the transmission piece went at Northern Trust Open. It was fairly straightforward, and I’m really excited about what we can accomplish at Augusta.”

No HDR at Augusta
Although CBS and DirecTV explored the prospect of producing The Masters in HDR as well, Aagaard says the technology and standards are simply not mature enough.

“We would love to be able to do this in HDR, but the technology is definitely not ready for that yet,” he says. “We are going to have to pass on the HDR piece right now. It’s not all there from a technology perspective to be able to make it all work.”

Recording and archiving 4K: A serious challenge
In addition to the challenges of the live 4K production, Ward adds that recording and archiving have presented a significant challenge to DirecTV.

“4K file sizes present a huge challenge for recording and storage when you think about the fact that an hour of uncompressed 4K footage is roughly 400-500 GB,” he says.

“We just built a 2-PB archive at the broadcast centre. We’ve shot a ton of material in 4K, but we have realised that we can keep only the programme and a melt of the best shots. We simply can’t keep all the iso feeds because we would run out of space before we even got started. There is no shortage of storage companies that want to sell more storage, but you have to be smart and make tough decisions about what you archive.”

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