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University of Kentucky Athletics Puts AV Tech in the Spotlight

Matrox encoders, Canon lenses and Ikegami cameras bring the game to the fans at home and on the road

On this edition of the SVC Podcast, Contributing Editor Bennett Liles talks with Tim Asher, Director of Athletic Team Video and Technologies for the University of Kentucky about their mobile video coverage of university sports events. Tim outlines the technology and techniques used to provide live video and edited programming for fans of the UK Wildcats. In Part 1 he describes his dual-channel H.264 Matrox video encoders and provides details on the video production truck used to cover the games.

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At the University of Kentucky they’re mighty serious about their basketball and other sports and the video coverage is second to none. The man in charge of it all is joining us today. Tim Asher, Director of Athletic Video and Team Technology is here to show us where the sports video technology has been and where it’s going. Coming up right now on the SVC Podcast.

Tim, good to have you joining us, coming from the University of Kentucky up there in Lexington. Thanks for getting with us.

It’s a great time of year up here in Lexington. We have the horses going on. We have football, and basketball is starting to crank up a little bit up here. [Timestamp: 0:50]

Well, it sure is and that’s not all you’re doing. Just to set us straight, as Director of Athletic Video and Team Technology for UK Athletics sort of describe that job for us. Sounds like you get into a lot of things.

Yeah. I guess they consider me the head bottle washer here because pretty much anything having to do with technology and video and a lot of other things. I’m in charge of not only 22 teams, obviously, on our varsity sports, but all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes with those all comes under my hat as well as our production people who are doing all of our social media hits. They’re doing our web site stuff. All the video production pieces that we’re doing comes under my heading. And then our SEC Network, we have a guy who’s in charge of the SEC Network but budgeting-wise everything still comes back through me. So having been a long time television person I’m pretty familiar with everything from long lenses for our SEC Network down to the latest and greatest production tools from, let’s say, Blackmagic or any other different manufacturer. So I have a large amount of things that I have to keep under my hat. And then we’re not even getting into a lot of the software and all the other stuff that comes with the team technology side of things. The wearables have become a very big thing now. They’re doing a lot of different tracking with the basketballs and players. They’re doing a lot of different things on a lot of different sports and it’s at times very hard to keep up and it definitely will keep you moving. [Timestamp: 2:38]

Video. Cameraman. The University of Kentucky football team beats Vanderbilt 20-13 on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2016, at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, KY.
Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

You’ve been there long enough to see some significant video production technologies come and go. Are there one or two of the biggest technology advances that have come along while you’ve been there?

I’m old school. My first football game I ever shot was on 16 millimeter film. How about that? The old Arri cameras. You’ve got the 400-foot reel. And I started my career with my hands in a black bag changing out those 400-foot reels. [Laughs] Yeah, you got about eight minutes. So obviously one of the first things I’d say is the advent of video for the coaching side of things. Betacam was a huge difference than film. It was so much quicker, so much easier to use. You didn’t have to go through the whole processing part of the scenario and you would actually have stuff usable after the game as opposed to the next day. You never knew when you were shooting 16 millimeter film whether or not you actually even captured anything – any images at all – until they took it through the chemicals. The advent of betacam really made a huge difference. And then as you go along the next biggest thing that I’ve seen is in 16 millimeter film I started out with the chopping block, a razor blade in my hand, and doing cuts – physical cuts – on the film. Along about 1995 or ’96 we got our first Avid Composers in our men’s basketball. We were one of the first three teams in the country to jump onto the non-linear world. That was probably one of the more significant advancements that I’ve seen other than the change from film to video. [Timestamp: 4:25]

Of course that was a quantum leap but I thought you might have said something like the change to HD video.

Yeah. I didn’t think that the HD whole upgrade was nearly as significant as the non-linear and then going from film to video because we were already doing video and HD was just a much higher quality video that what we’d been doing. What changed is instead of doing it on tapes we started doing it on disc and then we started doing it on smaller cards. And nowadays it’s pretty much all on SD cards, the majority of the stuff we’re doing, other than with our production people. Our production people are using some Arri cameras. They’re using Varicams, so we’re using XDCAM also. We’re using a lot of different forms of media all of which are so much easier to deal with than a whole pile of tapes. [Timestamp: 5:18]

For sure. Well, there’s enough competition out on the court or on the field but in addition to entertaining UK sports fans, you also use some pretty powerful video tools for player recruitment as well. There’s a lot of competition going on behind the scenes there.

The interesting thing about technology is that the advent of non-linear editing made a huge jump for everyone on the basketball side or the football side. It allowed them to do a whole lot more cutting of tape, per se, to drill down into certain situations. So the scouting part of that, because of non-linear, really, really skyrocketed. I started out by myself running a camera, a couple of VHS decks and a betacam. And then once the computer came along I was actually doing all the analog stuff as well as a digital copy and was marking that on the fly with a remote as we were capturing that in the old Firewire days. Many people have forgotten about Firewire. [Timestamp: 6:23]

Yep, Firewire has come and gone but I think you’ve recently made some changes in how you record the games. What were you doing before and how have you changed the way you record?

We’re doing a lot of recording now on Matrox HDX recorders. One of the things that I really liked about that particular recorder is the fact that it allows me to do two different bit rates at the same time. It’s one recorder I can put a regular USB drive into it and I can record at three megabits per second on MP4 format or I can put an SD card in and capture that at 20 megabits per second, which is pretty good quality. You’ll be able to use that for your TV shows and stuff like that. The three megabit, where it comes in so handy, is it allows us to exchange it with other teams. It’s a smaller file; it’s going to be two-and-a-half to three gigs size-wise. And if the other team has a problem and they need to get the game from me I can very easily allow them to stick it into their computer and they can get it very quickly into their system. And then the other side of that is we use another technology that is cloud-based that we upload all of our games to and exchange them with other teams within the entire NCAA conference. So there’s a number of different reasons to do two different bit rates, but this particular unit allowed me to do two different things with one unit so it’s a home run in my opinion. It’s one less piece of gear that I have to take on the road. So that’s one of the things we’ve done. One of the other things on the production side, we’ve been using a lot of the Atmos Ninjas and Shoguns, stuff like that which do huge files. And so one of the things we did in that area, we have gone to the XDCAM recorders and are doing a lot of that stuff on the XDCAM now. Still using the Ninjas occasionally, still doing the Shoguns occasionally just depending upon the game. But at a football game a 300-gig file at the end of the game is not a lot of fun quite honestly. [Laughs]

Yeah, for sure.

It’s just a huge, huge file. Now the quality is unbelievable, but with the advent of the SEC Network the technology on every campus I would think in our conference has gone up every year. What you were talking about earlier, it is kind of an arms race at times. We’re trying to get all the latest and greatest stuff. They’re trying to do the same thing. We’re using that technology for recruiting, whether it be in our social media pops, whether it be in our locker room. In our locker room we recently upgraded that and spent about $4.5 million doing that, doing a lot of touchscreen-type monitoring, large Planar monitors over an entire wall. I believe it’s 24 50-inch monitors. And our locker room itself where the kids get dressed, it’s a round locker room so one of the technologies that we’re using in there is we have the headers on the locker is actually a video board. And we’re using their names up there, their Twitter handles, whatever else they might want; their home town, what class they’re in, height, weight, all that kind of stuff, all on the video board. And we’re really doing some interesting things, I think, in those areas as far as recruiting goes because obviously when a kid comes in he’s seen a locker room before. But he’s probably not seen a round locker room with a video board that’s round in a locker room before. So that’s one of the things, you’re trying to have that wow factor with your technology in those different areas. So that’s one of the things that we’ve been able to do, and having the SEC Network I think has driven a lot of that technology even further down into the teams. [Timestamp: 10:25]

Jimmy Dykes. PJ Washington.
Preparations for the 2019 SEC Tournament.
Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

You have two of the Matrox Monarch HDX units. Obviously it’s good to have at least two of everything. Athletic events are live and there’s no second take so what sort of backups and fail-safes have you got ready to use?

Oh well I have backups for backups. [Laughs] I’m one of those old-school guys that you could probably throw just about anything you want at me and I’ll still come up with a way to make it work. And most of the people I’ve found that started out in film have that mentality and that’s something that I’m finding in the millennials lacking. They’re really good at what they do. For instance, we have some kids that come into our program as freshmen straight out of high school that are just fabulous editors in Adobe and Premier. And they’re doing things that I could never hope to do. But by the same token, you throw any kind of a little wrench at them, some little twist or something, and it tends to throw them for big loops. They don’t have that by-the-seat-of-your-pants stuff that we did whenever we were in the 80’s in the TV stations and you had to make things work. And you were under deadlines to get sports stories out for the newscast and stuff like that. So you become pretty good at doing a lot of different work arounds in those environments. That’s one of the things I’m finding lacking in the younger generation these days. And so one of the first things that I do is I teach them some piece of equipment, whatever it is, and I tend to just walk away and let them figure it out themselves. And then I’ll come back a little later and I’ll make sure that something isn’t just like I showed them and see how they react to any kind of curveball that might throw them. It’s interesting at times because a lot of times they just don’t know what to do. If you tell them to punch this button and do this and it will work like this they’re great with all that kind of stuff. But then thinking outside that box becomes a little more difficult. [Timestamp: 12:25]

Well, that’ll come with experience. Now, during the games you have camera people, sound operators. How do you all communicate while the game is going on?

Mostly we’re using walkie-talkies in between the production people and my staff that’s going the actual team video. Like for instance at our football stadium when we are doing one of those video board games we have seven cameras plus usually at least one, maybe two more cameras from the SEC truck. We’re probably giving them at least one or two of our cameras so that there’s some shared resources there. But we have the Roameo beltpacks from RTS, and a really strong piece of gear in our arsenal. So the Roameo is a nice addition to our RTS. We have the KP panels at each of our locations in all of our control rooms that also work extremely well with those Roameo units. So as far as communications goes I think we do a really good job of being able to communicate on headsets and with external people with those Roameo units. We have, obviously, a wireless cam that’s running around the stadium trying to get marketing pieces here and there and then they’ll add some color occasionally. But that’s a nice piece of gear there to allow us to be able to talk back and forth with that person and ask them to do certain things. We see something they may not see and ask them to do things. So it’s really nice to have that type of communications. We have two different control rooms. We’re in the process of building a third control room for our SEC Network. Most of those SEC Network shows throughout our entire conference are being done on a Ross Carbonite switcher. We’re using Ross routers. I think we’re using the NK series. We’re, I think, at 128 x 128 in both of our control rooms. So having all that different gear, it’s a lot of technology out there and it’s a huge investment for an athletics department to have all this stuff. But as you know, the SEC Network is a huge network. It is very, very helpful to a lot of our programs. Basketball is probably always going to be on the CBS’s and the ESPN’s and stuff like that, but it allowed every football game to be broadcast nationally. It allowed the volleyball team, which has become very good here over the last couple of years, to have a lot of national games. Our women’s basketball team is a national-known team, too, so they get a number of ESPN games throughout the course of the year as well as all the rest of the games are on that SEC Network. But then you have our gymnastics team which actually made the NCAA tournament and made it down to the Sweet 16. But the exposure we were able to get for those girls was incredible because no one had any clue that these girls existed before the SEC Network came along. Suddenly you’re going into these meets with Alabama and Florida and some of those other really highly-ranked schools. And it’s really helpful for our teams and it allows them to then go out and recruit much better athletes. [Timestamp:  15:46]

Marksbury Players First Suite in the Joe Craft Center.

And in showing them, they’re out there on camera so what type of video cameras do you use say, on your truck?

On our trucks and our SEC Network stuff we’re using Ikegami cameras. And almost all the glass that we have is Canon. We just bought some new Digi 80’s and that’s huge. I mean having those big pieces of glass allows you to get those really good close-ups and allows you to get the emotion and everything going on down there on the floor. So good glass is huge, huge. And obviously everyone knows about an Ike camera. It’s a great camera. On our team side, like for instance our basketball team and our women’s basketball team, we’re using Sony cameras. We’re using some of their smaller X70’s, which is a one-chip, one-inch camera. Great image. It’s got an SDI output. We’re using some crazy things because our coaches want to see the time and score even if they’re on a road game. And you can’t pick up that time and score generally any other way than taking a second camera and pointing it at the scoreboard. So we’re using a Blackmagic ATEM switcher to do a picture-in-a-picture, basically, on each of those games on the road, which is its old technology, switcher technology. Now we’re doing it all on a computer. [Timestamp: 17:10]

But it works, so…

Yeah, it works really well.

Interesting how you use the technology and how you’ve seen it change and in Part 2 we’ll get into how you handle sound and studio production along with setting up your gear for away games. Great having you here. We’ve been talking with Tim Asher, Director of Athletic Team Video and Technologies for the University of Kentucky Athletics. Good of you to get with us.

Appreciate it. Thank you.

Sports coverage at UK Athletics has come a long way and next week Tim will be back to tell us about sound production, road game setups and the sports technology race between Southeastern Conference schools. Be back with us for what he’s got to say on those in the next SVC Podcast.

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