SIS Live faces America’s Cup challenge

It was recently announced that SIS Live had won the three-year, multi-million Euro contract to design, build and deliver HD agile cameras and digital RF microwave links for the America’s Cup. As the competition seeks to reinvent itself for the Golden Gate Yacht Club’s defence of the trophy in 2013, Andy Stout talks to Paul McNeil, Manager, Special Cameras, to see what the project entails.

The 34th America’s Cup reaches its climax in the enormous harbour of San Francisco in September 2013, but in the years up until then spectators and viewers worldwide are going to see a very different competition from the ones that have gone before. A succession of regattas – the America’s Cup World Series – sees upwards of thirteen teams race in specially designed AC45 class yachts, before the giant, bespoke, AC72 class wing-sail catamarans take to the water. Then, with many races behind them to practice and hone their skills, the Louis Vuitton Cup starts in the Summer of 2013, and the Challenger to take on the Incumbent is decided.

It’s a complex structure, but one of the keys to its success is that the America’s Cup Event Authority (ACEA) is really pulling out all the stops to ramp up broadcast coverage of the event. Here’s its statement of intent:

“Bringing the racing to the people is a new priority. In addition to near-shore race courses for those on site, television coverage is set to be revolutionized for those further afield. Through new graphics technology, enhanced onboard footage, over a dozen onboard microphones as well as informed and exciting commentary, watching the story of the 34th America’s Cup unfold on TV might just be better than being there to see it in person. Similarly, the online offering will take advantage of the very latest the web has to offer to develop the characters behind the teams and bring the story alive, anytime, anywhere.”

Delivering that enhanced onboard footage is Paul McNeil and his team at SIS Live. Manager of the Special Cameras unit, it’s his responsibility to design and build the four pan and tilt (‘Agile’ in ACEA parlance) cameras to be be deployed on each AC45, and five plus three fixed cameras for the AC72 class.

“We’ve agreed camera positions with the AC45 boat builders in Auckland,” he comments. “The competitions are going to be arena-harbour based rather than at open sea, so transmission is all ground-based rather than via helicopter. We’ve had to ensure space for all the aerials at the top of the masts rather than near the waterline as a result.”

The cameras – ‘YachtPods’ McNeil refers to them as as a working title – are all HD with a 10x zoom and encased in a waterproof housing especially designed to fend off the corrosive sea-water that will lash over them at regular intervals. While video is being carried off the yachts in traditional RF forms (MPEG-4, with audio from up to 10 radio mics MUXed in), the main technical challenge has been in getting the camera control data to and from the remote locations over IP, which has resulted in conversion and down-conversion steps inserted between the units and the masthead, and the receivers and control room respectively.

The America’s Cup World Series starts in Portugal in August, and before that McNeil is off back out to Auckland for a two boat test of all the equipment and systems due to be held at the start of May. With the contract to cover all the RF work for the chase boats and helicopters etc too, it’s a busy time for him and his team, but the end results should certainly be visible on screen by the time the first starting gun sounds.

“We’ve managed to get into some really interesting positions, which should enable us to take some nice, intimate shots of the crews,” he says.

Subscribe and Get SVG Europe Newsletters