The big picture
Mar 1, 1996 12:00 PM, By Jim Wickizer
Portland, OR, is blazing a new trail in sports and entertainment with the opening of the $262 million Rose Garden Arena. "I never envisioned anything like it," said David Stern, NBA's commissioner, upon his first look at the Rose Garden, home of the Portland Trail Blazers professional basketball team. "I think it's second to none in the world."
About six years ago, the Blazers decided the team needed a bigger, state-of-the-art arena to replace the 35-year-old Memorial Coliseum, which seated 12,666 people and was the smallest NBA arena. Following Blazers' owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's philosophy of "go with the best, go to the highest level and keep an eye on the future," the Rose Garden arena is a world-class sports and entertainment palace. The high-tech arena is equipped with a mind-boggling array of the latest video, computer and communications technology, including Panasonic's most advanced large-screen video displays and broadcast digital VTRs, cameras and monitors.
The 750,000 ft2 (69,675 m2) Rose Garden is part of the Rose Quarter complex, which encompasses 37 acres (14.8 hectares) and includes the arena; the Memorial Coliseum; the Commons, the city's largest public plaza; One Center Court, which houses the Blazers' corporate offices and three restaurants; and Post-Up Productions.
Video is everywhere you look in this arena, named after Portland's reputation as the City of Roses. More than 700 Panasonic televisions, one for every 30 fans and ranging in size from 10 inches (254 mm) to 31 inches (787 mm), pipe in event coverage and information to patrons at the arena's concourses, restaurants, clubs, luxury suites and food concession areas.
"People pay a lot for a ticket, and their expectations are high," said Larry Hitchcock, the Blazers' vice president of marketing. "Our patrons are visually sophisticated because of the graphics they see on network television. They expected to see the same type of visual performance in the arena."
The center of attentionThe centerpiece of the arena's visual presentation starts at center court. The Rose Garden features four Panasonic Astrovision large-screen displays in a four-sided, centrally hung, integrated scoreboard video presentation. The high-resolution images produced by the four Astrovision video displays, which measure 9.6'x13' (2.9 m x 3.96 m), give every spectator the best possible view of the fast-paced action.
Astrovision displays feature fluorescent discharge tube technology, which allows for high-brightness, high-resolution color reproduction, low-voltage operation, long life, reliability and easy maintenance. The displays provide a resolution of 14 mm pitch (5,100 pixels/m2), a brightness of 2 kcd/m2 and a viewing angle of 120ø horizontal (60ø left, 60ø right) and 60ø vertical (10ø up, 50ø down).
Astrovision, Hitchcock said, wasn't initially the Blazers' first choice for the video scoreboard, but the Blazers were intrigued when Panasonic said it had something special, something spectacular."The scoreboard was designed so that every seat in the arena receives a full-view image," Hitchcock said. "However, when you're looking at the Astrovision displays off-access, the image is still there until you look away. I can't think of any other large-screen video array that does that. Even at courtside, where you're looking up at a steep angle, you still get a high-resolution, great image. It's extraordinary."Hitchcock speaks from authority when he talks about the technology and operation of large-screen video displays. Over the past 15 years, he has worked extensively with video displays, managing the design of entertainment systems for Disney and staging some of rock 'n' roll's most elaborate concert tours.
Joe Bashlow, the Blazers' chief engineer, said, "The reception Astrovision has received from the Blazers and its fans has been one of universal enthusiasm. In my opinion, Astrovision is the capstone of the arena. It's the focal point. Fans are taken by the brightness, clarity, evenness and size. Astrovision is an integral part of the presentation we put on.
"Our approach for the Astrovision from day one is to give the patron an alternative view of the action, which means stressing replay, and we have gone through some pains to groom a show custom to the large screen. It is not simply an abbreviate version of the air feed; it's a full-fledged production emanating from its own control room, with its own dedicated cameras as well as borrowed feeds from cameras involved in the broadcast."
Low maintenance was also a key factor. "We simply couldn't have a product that was maintenance-intensive," said Bashlow. "The screen has to be taken for granted. Astrovision is reliable and provides a continual level of performance."
Trailblazing TV productionThe Blazers franchise has been a pioneer in sports broadcasting. It was the first NBA team to broadcast games on closed-circuit television to local theaters and the first to televise games on cable. It was also the first to develop an in-house television production department. Currently, Blazers games are broadcast on cable systems, and certain games are available via Blazer Vision pay-per-view. (Although Portland is the fourth smallest NBA market, it ranks second in cable revenue.)
The Blazers have achieved additional firsts with the opening of the Rose Garden. In the arena's basement resides a first-class television post-production facility equipped with the latest digital video equipment. "Now that we have moved into this leading-edge building, we wanted to come on with a leading-edge television studio," said Bashlow, who led the in-house design of the A-V system. "It's totally digital. The component serial digital control room equipped with Panasonic D-5 component digital VTRs represents a first of its kind in an arena setting."
From the initiation of broadcasting, broadcast-quality video has been a tradition, said Bashlow. The Panasonic equipment's ability to deliver serial digital component from the camerathrough the arena's operations, virtually to transmission, figured high in the buying decision.
Hitchcock added that the Panasonic digital video equipment has allowed the Blazers to increase the graphics quality and give the arena and television audience a better product.
D-5 is the Blazers' main recording format. "Our D-5 VTRs make brilliant images for playback, which is especially important for sports broadcasting," Bashlow said. "Freelance crews use our studio to produce the games, and they are able to sit down in front of a D-5 and use it easily."
For image acquisition, the Blazers bought six Panasonic AQ-20D broadcast digital-signal processing cameras, which will be swapped for AQ-23W 16:9/4:3 switchable broadcast cameras when they become available in early 1996. According to Bashlow, the Rose Garden would be a tremendous venue internally for some 16:9 applications, such as in the luxury suites.
The video signals from the AQ-20Ds are fed through a fiber-optic transmission system, chosen for its simplicity and bandwidth. In its television-production facility, more than 40 Panasonic broadcast-quality monitors are used, including the all-digital AT-H1905DP 19 inch (486 mm) monitor, which is used for signal-quality evaluation.
Video productionPost-Up Productions is the Blazers' post-production arm. The 5,000 ft2 (465 m2) facility - the most technically advanced and largest production facility inside an arena - is used for TV production and also doubles as a full-service post-production house that produces commercials, corporate videos and multimedia presentations. The facility has two control rooms, two off-line edit bays, an audio production room, an audio studio, a graphics center and a 1,140 ft2 (106 m2) sound stage with chromakey wall and lighting grid.
Production manager Dick Var-danega has been given the job of making Post-Up one of the premiere production facilities on the West Coast. Because of the leading-edge digital video equipment, which is also used to produce basketball and special events, Vardanega said Post-Up can already match the capabilities of other area facilities, and it has the resources to produce live presentations and live presentation-to-tape with many camera configurations.
Post-Up's initial marketing thrust is to establish itself in the Portland and Northwest region, and in a few years, to branch out to obtain film and video work from the Los Angeles-Hollywood area.
Enhanced audioFor the facility's television and production audio mixing and mastering, the Blazers chose the new Ramsa SX1 as the main audio mixing console. The SX1 is used to mix live basketball games, concerts and special events, and in the near future, it will perform studio work.
According to Chris McMurty, technical director and audio editor, the SX1 has tremendous flexibility in its inputs and outputs because of the console's 20 aux/groups and 10 matrix outputs. "We can feed multiple programs simultaneously, create custom mixes for announcers' headsets and feed international sound at the flick of a button," said McMurty. "It's very flexible and has 10 VCAs (voltage-controlled amplifiers), whereas competitive boards have only eight. We mix almost the whole show from the VCAs."Another Ramsa mixing console, the WR-S4424, is used for live broadcasts and production work for the Blazers' radio broadcasts.
Meet me at the media totemInstead of selling the corporate naming rights to the arena, the Blazers have created a revenue source with a unique marketing vehicle called media totems, a futuristic communications structure and can't-miss landmark featuring bold graphics and multimedia technology. The four triangular-shaped information towers, one in each corner of the arena, are equipped with five 31 inch (787 mm) Panasonic televisions and measure 24 feet (7.3 m) tall, 20 feet (6 m) deep and 8 feet (2.4 m) wide. Panasonic sponsors one of the media totems.
The arena's 70 luxury suites are each equipped with two 31 inch (787 mm) Panasonic televisions, a Panasonic sound system consisting of Technics and Ramsa gear, and one 10 inch (254 mm) Panasonic television in the restroom. Panasonic's point-of-sale and office products were also a part of the total purchase.
The competitive advantageWith the smallest media market on the West Coast - the population of the Portland metropolitan area is 1.5 million - Portland has had problems attracting top performers and events. But Blazers officials are confident that the Rose Garden gives the city the competitive edge in obtaining world-class events, major college and professional sports, boxing matches, rock concerts and conventions. The television-friendly Rose Garden, the largest arena on the West Coast, was definitely built for the live-sound and video experience.
"The Rose Garden is better suited than any other venue in the world to shoot for broadcast, and it's one of the top three buildings in the country for live sound," Hitchcock said. "It has a state-of-the-art, full-service television production studio, exceptional acoustical properties and excellent sight lines. It is a terrific performing house, a great venue for live broadcasts or the recording of special events. And the transition from a basketball game to an event is simple. Everything's pre-wired; there are 23 camera positions, the level of video and audio equipment exceeds or is equal to what you'll find in the finest mobile trucks, and it's here."
With a visionary owner like Allen, who has investments in more than two dozen high-tech companies, the NBA is plugged into the technology of the 21st century, with the Rose Garden as the origination site of high-quality video - video provided by the most advanced Panasonic video display and digital video technology.