SAM's sQ1800 server provides record and edit packages in 4K for highlight reels on Rogers Media's 4K sports channel
Last year Rogers Media CEO, Guy Lawrence, announced that the company were to debut baseball in 4K and HDR, starting with 81 MLB home games of the Toronto Blue Jays. Rogers own the team, with home base at the Rogers Centre, Toronto, Canada, formerly the SkyDome. The Canadian media company, part of Rogers Communications immediately started to cast around for a 4K master control system. The Broadcast Bridge spoke with SAM’s VP of systems & technology, David Tasker, who coincidentally is based in Toronto.
While over-the-air broadcasters are figuring how to deliver UHD while losing spectrum to mobile operators, fibre network operators have been able to launch premium UHD sports channels. Rogers is just one example, along with BT in the UK. In the case of Rogers, the UHD channel is part of their NextBox 4K, one gigabit “white glove” service. BT is limited with VDSL last mile to less than one-tenth of Rogers, with downloads up to 76Mb/s, although that is more than enough for HEVC UHD.
Early UHD services fall into two camps, with the first being 24P movies being delivered OTT. However, the genre that arguably benefits most from UHD at the increased frame rates of 50 or 60P is live sport. OTT VOD is relatively easy to deliver, given sufficient network capacity, but a sports channel require the full paraphernalia of broadcast including playout facilities.
Following the announcement, the engineering team had to find a way to implement the new channel. One problem with being an early adopter of new formats is that the vendors rarely have a full solution ready to go. These means an element of customisation is called for.
Rogers began a period of comprehensive market research to evaluate playout options, followed by a series of technical trials. This included a visit to BT Sport in London, a broadcaster that is leading the way with 4K in Europe via its recently launched UHD channel. BT Sport’s production partner Timeline TV installed SAM 4K technology in its new OB truck, deployed last year, to service the BT Sport channel.
Rogers then carried out proof-of-concept testing in Canada from multiple manufacturers, with the first live test - a 4K broadcast of a regional hockey game - occurring on Dec 4. SAM’s technology was also deployed for coverage of Sportsnet’s joint venture with BT Sport and the NBA to cover the Raptors vs. Orlando Magic game in January live in 4K from The O2 Arena in London.
Key to the success of this project was a system that looked and felt like a conventional master control; this was to be used on air, and wasn’t just a science project. SAM had a 4K production switcher, the Kahuna 9600, but the Rogers operators “didn’t want a production switcher”. Fortuitously Kahuna has a control surface, called Maverik, that allows total customisation of the panel configuration. Development engineers were able to reconfigure the panel to give Kahuna a ‘master control’ user interface.
Rogers master control operators “didn’t want a production switcher”
The Kahuna uses FormatFusion3 technology to allow a mix of 4K, 3G HD and even SD signals to be handled in the same switcher. The chassis also has the resources to support a 4K multiviewer, plus stills and clips stores.
Many current 4K products process video in four HD quadrants. Rogers had experienced problems with differential delays across the quadrants in early trials with another vendor, but found the SAM solution exhibited no such issues.
The Kahuna is essentially a production switcher, whereas master control switchers have audio mixing facilities, and specifically support lead and lag audio transitions for split J and L cuts. Kahuna carries audio embedded in video, so the split transition would need outboard audio mixing. Initial thoughts were to remote control a Yamaha D1000 audio console.
The final solution is based on SAM products: the ICE automated channel playout with Morpheus automation. The ICE chassis de-embeds audio, processes, and then re-embeds. Morpheus receives schedule data from Rogers’ traffic software to control Kahuna and ICE. The Kahuna is configured as a 16 input A/B switcher. The result of the ICE, Morpheus, Maverik and Kahuna combination is a low-latency quad-link UHD master control system.
Spots are played to air from existing Harmonic Spectrum servers in HD format, and up-rezzed to UHD within the Kahuna using FormatFusion.
Rogers production team record from live games to build highlight packages for later broadcast. The clips are recorded and edited on SAM sQ1800 servers. SAM supplied Rogers with beta 4K support ahead of the release of the 4K upgrade. A SAM Qube editor manages recording, editing and playback.
The video format is XAVC 4K Intra, class 300 at 600Mb/s (3840x2160, 59.94p, 4:2:2, 10-bit). The servers use quad-link 3G-SDI interconnects but internal processing is as 4K files. SAM is holding back to see what proves the popular interface for 4K before implementing a single cable solution. Contenders include 12Gb/s single link SDI over copper or fibre, or over IP at 25, 40 or 100Gb/s Ethernet. With many predicting the end of SDI, it remains to be seen which way broadcasters go.
Rogers Media and Bell Media own the video production company, Dome Productions. Now equipping with 4K trucks, Rogers has the facilities to cover sports in 4K for the new UHD channel.
With trucks and master control resolved the remaining deliverable is HDR. The SAM master control supports CEA HDR-10 as well as legacy gamma, being just digits to the processing. The only update needed is to the dissolve function for the different transfer curves. Current broadcasts use standard gamma transfer function, with HDR to come when Rogers set-top boxes can support 10-bit video and an HDR transfer curve.
As with all shifts in television technology, the big budgets of sports and the keen competition drive innovation. Developments like UHD frequently fall into a chicken and egg situation, with viewers holding back on purchase of new receivers because there is no content, and broadcasters holding back as few viewers can watch what will be an expensive production. It may be no coincidence that early services like Rogers and BT come from network operators looking to sell high-bandwidth broadband services, with premium UHD sportscasts as the hook.
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