Italy’s SuperTennis completes historic 4K exercise

SuperTennis was formally created on 10 November 2008 by Angelo Binaghi, otherwise known as the president of the Italian Tennis Federation (FIT). Over time, this single-sport channel has become an extremely powerful promotional tool and a source of extensive coverage of tennis tournaments taking place worldwide. The organisation behind the service is SuperTennis Sportcast, a company which manages FIT’s communication activities.

SuperTennis recently signed an agreement with Eutelsat, as a result of which it delivered an historic live satellite broadcast: three consecutive days of the A1 tennis series captured in 4K. The finals were aired via Hot Bird on Channel4K1, the first satellite channel in Europe to be delivering picture at 50 frames per second, encoded in HEVC and with 10-bit colour. The broadcasts will likely come to be regarded as another important milestone on the path towards Ultra-HD becoming an integral part of the broadcast landscape.

Visibility challenge

Not surprisingly given that 4K is still such a new area of endeavour, the technical team faced a number of challenges in preparing for the broadcasts – not least the need to ensure the visibility of the (extremely fast-moving!) tennis ball.

Rohde & Schwarz Italy provided the signal encoding expertise, with sales manager Roberto Gaddoni remarking: “The trajectory of the ball was always perfectly visible, especially during the [moments] when the speed exceeds 200 kilometres per hour. This has demonstrated that the technology can respond to this need with an immersive vision and appreciation of detail, even in extreme conditions; [and that is] despite the lack of standardisation in the coding phase making the interface between the various components of the system [complicated].”

The integration between the various components of the system was one of the primary challenges confronted by the working group of Adriano Zatta, sales manager of Broadcast Solutions, which worked on the production alongside Telecine Service and made use of two Grass Valley LDX 4K cameras – one for general shooting and the other for close-ups. These cameras have three sensors and employ standard optics, with the broadcasters able to deploy the HD lenses they already own. Even the ‘focus’ of the images is less complex than with cinema lenses. On the field, meanwhile, Grass Valley’s K2 Dyno system was used for slow-motion and general capture of crucial moments.

A van was sent to Genoa and in the control room the images were shown on a Samsung 4K TV, with a 4K decoder used in particular to appreciate the detail of the tennis court, the depth of field, and the faces of the spectators in the first rows. The definition of 3840 x 2160 pixels was used.

4K landmark

The project reportedly represented the first time that a 4K signal was distributed in Europe on such a large scale, with coverage also including the Middle East and North Africa. This was broadcast by Channel 4K1 and distributed by Eutelset Hot Bird at 13 East to a potential audience of 120 million users.

The deployment was very useful in terms of gathering knowledge about the production of content in the new format, as well as carrying out tests connected to the new compression algorithms that are already available.

Renato Farina, CEO of Eutelsat Italy, said: “It is a source of great pride that our Channel 4K1 on Hot Bird was the setting for this extraordinary commitment in the name of Ultra-HD. We intend to continue on this path in the belief that the important partnership with SuperTennis may soon give other satisfactions of the genre, combining tennis with the innovation of the television via satellite.”

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