A behind-the-scenes look at the first-ever multigame
football package produced in 4K
The first-ever season of live 4K college football is in the
books: NBC Sports Group completed its slate of seven Notre Dame home games last
month. The septet of productions in South Bend marked the first multigame
football package to be produced in 4K and represented a massive commitment to
live 4K production by NBC Sports Group and DirecTV, which distributed the
“We’re always very big fans of pushing the envelope and
doing something to advance broadcasting,” says NBC Sports Director Pierre
Moossa. “I think we learned a lot about the workflow and how to be more
efficient. Anytime doing something new, there’s a learning curve, but I felt
like [the process] could not have gone smoother, and, ultimately, the viewer
benefited from it.”
The side-by-side HD and 4K productions used two trucks —
Mobile TV Group’s 39 FLEX for the 4K show and NEP’s ND6 for the HD show. Both
shows leveraged the same camera complement – primarily Sony HDC-4300’s – with
the primary production team of Moossa and producer Rob Hyland in ND6 and a
shadow cut produced out of 39 FLEX.
“We embraced the challenge, and it was extremely successful
for both NBC and DirecTV,” says Ken Goss, SVP, remote operations and production
planning, NBC Sports Group. “This being our first [4K production] and with all
the elements included in a Notre Dame broadcast, the side-by-side version was
the way to go. We wanted to make sure our HD broadcast was unaffected but, at
the same time, [we gave] DirecTV the best 4K product we could. Eventually, the
goal is to have a single 4K stream with a 4K truck instead of cutting
side-by-side, and that will happen in time.”
A Quick Turnaround From Rio
The decision to produce Notre Games in 4K came in August,
leaving NBC Sports Group operations and engineering teams not much time
following the conclusion of the Rio Olympic Games.
“When we got back from Rio, we had to figure out how this
was going to work rather quickly,” says NBC Sports Group producer Rob Hyland.
“Some of the smartest people at NBC put their heads together to figure out how
we could do a side-by-side production of both the NBC broadcast and a 4K
“Honestly, at first, I was pretty hesitant knowing all of
the ‘oh by the ways’ that could go along with something like this,” he
continues. “But, our first game of the season, which was against Nevada,
couldn’t have gone any smoother. And our technical staff and production staff
and engineers made what could have been a very difficult process a much more
transparent process, and I couldn’t be happier with how it all went.”
The Move to 4K: Made Possible by the Move to 1080p
NBC worked with NEP to convert ND6 (one of the mobile units
used for NBC’s NHL coverage) from 1080i to 1080p because “that made the process
and the workflow that much simpler,” according to Goss.
In order to convert ND6 to 1080p, NEP added a significant
amount of 3G infrastructure and router input/output cards. This required NBC to
approach every single vendor used on Notre Dame productions to ensure that its
products were 1080p-capable. In addition, the NBC graphics team had to
upconvert the entire Notre Dame graphics package to 1080p.
“Going into it, you think you’re just going to flip a
switch, and the signal will just be how we need it,” says Craig Bernstein,
senior director, remote technical operations and engineering, NBC Sports Group.
“But, in reality, it was a massive effort to get [vendors] like SMT and
Sportvision and others on the right format. One of the other big things we
struggled with was figuring out how to transcode our graphics to 1080p easily without
telling the graphics department that they have to do hundreds of hours’ worth
of work to replicate everything for us. It took us a while to figure that out,
which ended up being an EVS solution, but we were able to get creative and work
all of this out.”
Inside the 1080p/4K Workflow
The side-by-side production deployed 14 Sony HDC-4300
4K/high-speed/HD cameras, with 12 CCUs outputting dual 4K and 1080p feeds to
routers in 39 FLEX and ND6, respectively. The two additional 4300’s were in 6X
high-speed mode (not 4K) and routed directly into ND6 before being upconverted
to 4K in 39 FLEX. In addition to the high-speed–camera positions, POVs, and the
Skycam were in native HD and upconverted for the 4K feed.
No camera positions were sacrificed to create the 4K show,
because NBC’s Notre Dame home-game complement matched its complement for away
games, which were not produced in 4K.
Moossa and Hyland were in ND6 producing the primary HD show,
while a separate technical director in 39 FLEX listened in to Moossa’s cutting
the show and produced a shadow-cut for the 4K feed.
“The only shared resource in the truck was our video
operation in 39 FLEX, which benefited obviously from the higher-quality 4K
lenses and cameras when shading the cameras,” says Moossa. “But, otherwise, a
small crew in 39 FLEX essentially shadowed everything we did on the HD
All graphics were generated in 1080p and then upconverted to
4K for the UHD telecast.
The output of the 4K truck went directly to DirecTV
transmission, while the output of the HD truck was downconverted to 1080i and
transmitted via NBC.
Minimal Impact on the Front Bench
As more and more 4K productions come to fruition, one thing
has become clear: the addition of 4K cannot have any significant impact on the
HD production. Earlier innovators like TSN and Sportsnet (working with Dome
Productions), MLB Network (Game Creek Video) CBS Sports (Mobile TV Group), have
made this a priority in developing their live 4K production models, and NBC was
“There’s always that expectation from production that we’re
going be able to pull it off and they’ll feel no pain from it,” says Bernstein.
“We were actually able deliver during a seamless experience for production.
There was never any instance when they weren’t able to do something due to the
4K element. That was our goal going into it.”
Hyland seconds that sentiment: “The only time I knew that we
were even doing a 4K show was when Pierre and I walked out of the truck before
or after a game and saw the additional mobile unit and the engineers associated
with it. Once we were in ND6, it was completely transparent.”
Challenges Remain for Single-Truck 4K/HD Production
Although the ultimate goal for NBC — and all sports-content
producers, for that matter — is to create a single-truck model to produce both
the 4K and HD feeds, challenges remain, most notably in regards to replay.
“The biggest challenge right now is definitely replay,” says
Bernstein. “EVS is doing a lot of work with their 4K EVS [replay systems], but,
right now, when you use a 12-channel machine in 4K, it essentially becomes a
two-in/one-out system. When NBC Sports does a big show, we will sometimes have
up to 60 channels of replay. So to get all of those [replay sources] in 4K
would result in just hundreds of channels. That’s just not feasible on several