C4 kicks off HD broadcasts with Cheltenham Festival

UK: The Cheltenham Festival is underway, with television coverage by UK commercial broadcaster Channel 4 in high definition for the first time. This year also marks the debut of HD at the internationally famous race meeting and the beginning of regular broadcasts in the format on C4 HD.

Cheltenham is a highpoint in the racing calendar, not just for several important races – the Gold Cup National Hunt chase among them – but also as a social event attracting race goers from round the world…although the impression is usually that a significant proportion of the Irish population decamps to the UK for the week.

C4’s coverage is produced by Highflyer Digital. Each day starts with The Morning Line magazine programme, looking at the action to come, then the live races from 12.25pm and wrapping up with late-night highlights.

Facilities for the C4 broadcasts are supplied by NEP Visions, with three OB trucks: main production scanner HD1 and two video units, HDR2 and VT8. An edit suite vehicle is also on site, equipped with Final Cut Pro and the Grass Valley Edius nonlinear system.

Visions’ contracts director, Brian Clark, explains that the C4/Highflyer racing production is moving to Grass Valley equipment and away from EVS. The plan, he says, is to use the Summit multi-format server and Solo stand-alone servers in the long-term, once staff training has been completed. Recording and play-back during Cheltenham is on eight EVS XT2s.

Races are covered using approximately 30 cameras. Main coverage is on 15 Grass Valley LDK6000s, with three LDK6200s for super slow-motion replays and eight Sony HDC-1500 cameras on wireless links. Also on site is an Arri Hi-Motion ultra high speed camera (pictured), an ASC (Advanced Camera Services) tracking system, some hotheads and cameras mounted on Steadicams and a Jimmy Jib.

Another camera is mounted on a blimp tethered above the race course to give aerial views of the action. Denise Large, programme director of C4 Racing, comments: “The tethered blimp has provided both commentator [Simon Holt] and viewers with an unique insight into how the race unfolds. This angle shows something from the air that no other camera can achieve.”

Sound for the broadcasts is stereo, mixed through HD1’s Calrec Audio Sigma digital console.

Visions is also taking feeds of the 13 cameras being used by RaceTech (Racecourse Technical Services), which provides facilities for specialist sports channel Racing UK and integrity services, with ISOs of the cameras, including the photo finish, to the British Horseracing Authority.

This year’s Cheltenham sees the debut of the first of RaceTech’s three new HD OB units. All three have been built by Megahertz Broadcast Systems, with the remaining two due for delivery at the end of April.

With commentators, reporters and pundits spread out round the course, wireless technology is an important factor. This year’s Cheltenham coverage uses eight radio links, with a wireless tower specially installed as the hub.

Brian Clark of Visions observes that the move to HDTV coverage is “a big change for horseracing.” The facilities company has worked with the course operators to install the necessary infrastructure and while many of the major tracks have been equipped Clark says up-converting will be used temporarily at a few where there are no full HD services yet.

The Cheltenham Festival runs on Channel 4 HD in the UK until the end of this week (March 18).

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