Race fans may remember this year’s Indy 500 as a soggy affair, but in the TV industry’s history book, it will go down as the first time the race was produced in HD.
IMS (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) Productions was charged with making that a reality. Working with several vendors, such as All Mobile Video, YES Productions and Broadcast Sports, the company produced the world feed of the race, which ABC/ESPN took and mixed with its own HD cameras and other sources, to deliver the HD and SD coverage race fans around the country watched Memorial Day weekend.
HD Technology Update traveled to the speedway the day before the race to speak with Dave Gass, senior director of field operations and engineering for IMS Productions, about the HD production of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
HD Technology Update: This is the first year for HD coverage of the Indy 500. Could you explain the setup for the HD production of the race?
Dave Gass: Basically, the production setup is the same for HD as it has been for SD all the years in the past. That is the same number of cameras, the same number of tape machine equivalents — even though they are disk based — the same amount of POVs and in cars. So, the number of sources is still the same; it’s just a different format. We are still doing the show the way it was before when it wasn't in HD, with the exception of the addition of the Cable Cam this year.
HDTU: One of the issues with HD production is the ability to attain, hold and maintain focus, particularly with long lenses. What has your experience been with trial runs, what are you expecting for the race and how will that impact the production?
DG: We have good camera guys. We do have a lot more long lenses here than we’ve had in the past. The longest lens we’ve had in the past was 100:1. We put that in turn three. This year we have four 101mm (lenses), we have four 87mm (lenses) and we have a prototype Canon 100:1 auto focus and a prototype Fujinon 101 auto focus. We have a lot of long lenses this year.
HDTU: Are the camera operators at the auto focus-equipped cameras free to engage and disengage that feature at their discretion, and what has been their experience so far with the feature?
DG: Yes, they are. They kind of like it so far, too. The Canon is a prototype and they were curious about how it would work. We have it on a camera on turn three, so they can see all the way down the back stretch, around turn three, into turn four and part of turn four.
One of the things they wanted to see with that big of a distance was how the focus would track, and it tracks very well.
HDTU: Are the in-car cameras HD, or SD? (Editor’s note: “In-car” is a bit of a misnomer because these cameras are mounted on the Indy racers in an aerodynamically designed housing.)
DG: Those are still SD because Broadcast Sports, which does our in-cars and they also do NASCAR’s in-cars, they perfected the cameras to work in the [NASCAR] Cup cars because they have a lot more room to deal with.
With our cars, the cameras are a specific size, and they haven’t been able to make the cameras small enough this season, yet, to fit in there. We won’t be able to use that this year, but they’ll probably have it perfected by the end of the year — definitely for the season next year.
HDTU: What are you doing in terms of HD broadcast graphics? How will you be handling the wider aspect ratio of HD, and also ensuring whatever you do graphically will be safe for SD home viewers?
DG: At ESPN’s request, we are using the Vizrts, and we’ve been using the Vizrts all season. They are HD native. All the graphics are center cut 4:3 graphics, so we downconvert them from HD to SD for the SD feed. Here, we are just taking them as they are. They are all center cut 4:3.
HDTU: What are the feeds that will be leaving the Indy Raceway?
DG: There’ll be an HD feed with an HD backup feed, an SD backup feed and a fiber backup feed for the ABC transmission. There will also be downconverted 4:3 for international and other entities — all the local affiliates. We have a pool feed. Any time there are cars on the track, we do a pool feed, and that’s been 4:3 analog to the affiliates.
There’s C-band primary and C-band backup. Then there is also an SD Ku backup and a fiber SD backup. That’s just for the ABC part. They require four transmission paths for race day.
The world feed doesn’t really go any place except to the ABC truck and the international, so there is not a separate world feed that’s uplinked.
HDTU: Now that you have all of these HD camera positions, did that require re-engineering of your infrastructure — fiber versus triax, perhaps?
DG: Obviously, in the past, we’ve always used triax. This year, we used a little bit of triax and the all of the rest was done in fiber. We had a pretty good fiber infrastructure here anyway. We have been building toward that over the years.
We use fiber for a lot of things. We’ve even transported some of the analog material back via fiber just because of the distances involved. Just the POV and the wall camera shot in turn two — that’s something like 6000ft, so we’ve been using fiber for that.
There’s also a system of cameras in place around the track for race control and security. They’re all run on fiber. They only require a fiber, but there are four strands to each one, and we were able to use some of the fiber in those positions. So, we have a combination of single-mode fiber that we use and the conversion boxes to go to SMPTE fiber or triax.
HDTU: What are the plans to take advantage of 5.1 digital surround sound for the race?
DG: We are doing that. Ron Scalise came in from ESPN and he basically put into place for us the same thing that they do at NASCAR. They take a stereo digital feed and do circle surround with SRS equipment. They also do a Dolby encoding for transmission.
HDTU: Could you describe the monitoring setup, given that there will be a mix of the HD camera, server and graphics sources as well as the SD in-car cameras?
DG: Both of the directors choose to monitor most of the sources in 4:3, and then the program and preset monitors in the trucks are 16:9. But that is the personal choice of those directors.
HDTU: I know that All Mobile Video is supplying facilities for the production. Could you give me a little more detail about the approach it’s taking to monitoring?
DG: All Mobile Video was kind enough to help us out here with the facilities for the world feed. Basically, the way we do this is we have a world feed that covers just track action, and then the ABC truck takes the output of the world feed and they add their roof cameras to it for coverage of the pits — they have five RF cameras and a couple of jibs that they add for their show.
So, All Mobile Video has the Miranda Kaleido in theirs and it’s very nice. We have that in our two SD trucks, and the one we just finished, we put an Evertz in with Clarity monitors, and that’s very nice also.
HDTU: You brought up RF cameras. There’s been some concern about encoding latency from RF HD cameras. What’s your experience with latency?
DG: Broadcast Sports has been able to get the delay down, but we just use audio delay lines to match up the talent path so they hear the same thing. It hasn’t been much of a problem with the RF cameras.
HDTU: Is that because of the technology or because of an aesthetic production touch in switching the show to accommodate for the delay?
DG: It’s not the same thing as going to a camera with SportVision. With SportVision, I believe there is a second delay, and if you were to cut from the SportVision to the direct camera, the scene would jump back on the track. With the RF cameras, you don’t have that so much because the RF cameras are usually for something in the pits, like an interview or a close up, so you are not cutting to action that would deter from that.
HDTU: Could you give me the lay of the land in terms of the different production trucks here used to cover the race?
DG: IMS Production has overall responsibility for below the line, so all of the crew and the facilities. We’ve hired All Mobile to provide the world feed and then YES Productions out of New Orleans is doing the ABC feed. Our truck — our normal B unit — is where the graphics are housed. We also had two of our serial digital trucks here. One is doing archive tape and some other miscellaneous stuff. The other is doing an Internet show and it left to go do the parade today. Then it will do the victory banquet on Monday.
HDTU: Because this is the first year of HD coverage of the Indy 500, how are packages being put together for the production? Is archive footage being upconverted?
DG: ABC ESPN has three Avid Adrenalines here, and all of the package work is being done in HD there.
IMS Productions has about 16,000 hours of historic footage — everything from film up to DigiBeta. This year, we archive the HD material in D5. I don’t know what format we’ll end up with eventually. But, we couldn’t not archive in HD when it was available to us. That’s what we chose to do for this year.
HDTU: So, there hasn’t been any HD shot previously to draw on for packages?
DG: ABC ESPN did all of their feature packages in HD last year. So, that is really all of the HD stuff they have to draw from. All the previous races have been in SD. All the subsequent races will be in HD.
Tell us what you think!
HDTU invites response from our readers. Please submit your comments to email@example.com. We'll follow up with your comments in an upcoming issue.