8K’s Value in Sports
Three years ago, the American football team, the San Francisco 49ers and Foxconn Industrial Internet (Fii) installed a full-field 8K video replay system in Levi Stadium. The system is now entering use in its third season for 8K sports, so we touched base with the operators to get an update on what they have learned along the way. The most interesting conclusion is that the system has been used much more than anticipated and makes critical decisions much more straightforward.
The system consists of five 8K cameras sourced from Astrodesign, with another partner adding an enclosure to protect the cameras from the elements. Two cameras are placed to view down the endzone line on each end of the field, with two others placed to look directly down the field’s sidelines. The fifth camera is set high above the central 50-yard line to provide full field coverage.
These cameras are not meant to be able to deliver traditional program coverage of the football match. Instead, they are designed to provide the highest level of video quality when looking at the end zone to evaluate if the ball crossed the end zone line or looking down the sidelines to see if a player was in or out of bounds. The high-50 camera offers an excellent overview of the field of play, allowing the capture of activity that the regular broadcast camera crew might not have captured.
The feeds from the five 8K cameras, 12 additional network feeds, and 15 in-house HD cameras go to the 49ers video board control room. In addition to recording twenty-four 1080p cameras, four of the five 8K cameras can be routed into the Evertz Dreamcatcher video replay system anytime. Aron Kennedy, 49ers Vice President of Game Day Production and Broadcast Operations, acts as the replay producer after kickoff to determine which replays will go to the stadium’s two 200×48 foot video boards.
Note that only the video boards get this replay video – the network broadcasters do not have access to it. Why is that? Kennedy explained that these 8K cameras give the 49ers a competitive advantage as they can determine which replays go up on the video boards while adhering to required replays mandated by the league. “All teams do things like this to try to gain some additional home field advantage,” explained Kennedy, “we just have five 8K cameras that contribute to our replays and provide additional looks.”
The 8K cameras also capture at 120 frames per second, and since only a 1080 signal is needed for the video boards, operators can zoom in up to 400% while maintaining full 1080p resolution. And, with 120 fps capture, there is much less motion blur. The result is clear, sharp images that add to the fan experience and allow the 49ers coaching staff to make better critical judgements.
“Not only have we used this 8K replay system more than we anticipated, but it has also led to overturned calls and a competitive advantage for our team, confirmed Kennedy.
FII is also considering bringing the 8K camera signal to its clubhouse in the future and upgrading the replay control room to 4K. Levi’s stadium will likely boost the video boards to 4K HDR in the future, quickly becoming the best practice in professional sporting venues around the country.
Mobile 8K cameras are also becoming popular in American football and other sports. The larger single sensor gives a shallow depth of field image that is noticeably sharper and different from the regular broadcast image.
We expect 8K cameras to accelerate as they offer a clear value proposition, as demonstrated by the 49ers’ installation and fan-favourite images from the mobile cameras.