A recap of the efforts by CP, Skycam, Fletcher, Admiral Video, SMT, Virtual Eye, Inertia Unlimited, and 4DReplay

MLB All-Star week once again featured a cavalcade of specialty cameras, unique audio solutions, and virtual graphics to capture and enhance coverage by Fox Sports, ESPN, and MLB Network. Here’s a look at the roles played by some of the key vendors onsite in Cleveland to make it all happen: CP Communications, Skycam, NEP Fletcher, Admiral Video, SMT, Virtual Eye, Inertia Unlimited, and 4DReplay.

CP Communications Shoulders RF Load
CP Communications, a longtime veteran at MLB All-Star week, provided RF cameras, microphones, and comms and also handled frequency coordination for the broadcasters onsite.

The CP Comms team at MLB All-Star (from left): Michael Mason, President; Aaron Segarra, VP Sales; Frank Rafka, Technical Manager; Brian Ready, Systems Engineer

The company supplied 14 RF camera systems in total, including handling RF for two new systems for ESPN’s Home Run Derby coverage: the Flycam point-to-point aerial system and the CartCam escorting players from the underground batting cages to home plate.

“The challenge of the CartCam was that the cart is not outside where our normal receive sites are, so we added receive sites downstairs,” said Frank Rafka, technical manager, CP Communications. “This is similar to the [cart] system we use in our golf [coverage], and it gives us the ability to route multiple receive sites to receivers. We have a receive site up at the top of the parking garage for the Flycam, and we have a receive site down in the tunnel to receive that CartCam. The beauty of it is, any of the cameras can go to any of these places. It’s not limited to just the Flycam or the CartCam: if the handheld needs to go into the hallway, it can do that.”

CP also supplied an RF Steadicam and three handhelds for ESPN; an RF MōVI rig featuring a Sony HDC-P1R camera and a Sony HDC-2500 handheld for Fox Sports; three handhelds — one of which was for MLB Digital — and two RF systems for the batting cages for MLB Network. In addition, CP deployed three Mobile Viewpoint bonded-cellular systems for MLB Network’s coverage of the Red Carpet Show.

On the audio side, CP supplied Fox Sports with 16 RF inground mics, RF talent mics, two RF ump mics, six RF player mics, two RF player IFBs for in-game interviews, eight RF FX mics, and RF mics on the bases. ESPN deployed CP reporter mics, field EFX mics, in-ground mics, player mics, IFB, PL, and RAD. For MLB Network, CP provided Dante networked audio and Shure Axient Digital mics. CP also provided a combined six Dante audio networks for the needs of broadcasters and operations onsite.

“The big thing this year is, there’s more Dante networked audio from all clients than there has been in the past,” said Brian Ready, comms engineer and client support, CP Communications. “Each client would individually do their own little thing, but now each one of them has grown. And so everybody is doing more and more Dante networked audio. Dante has grown by leaps and bounds.”

CP also managed comms needs for all three broadcasters onsite, provided a Pliant Technologies CrewCom system for MLB Digital, and served other MLB properties onsite.

“In terms of comms here, we’ve become a hub for all the networks, as well as MLB [Office of the Commissioner],” said CP Communications President Michael Mason. “We’re handling specific needs for [each broadcaster] and, at the same time, integrating all of them together. Not to mention also handling all their other communications with a truck compound that is in the basement, so we have installed a series of repeaters inside and outside the ballpark.”


Inertia Unlimited Resurrects DirtCam for Fox
The All-Star Game saw the return of DirtCam after a three-year absence, with Inertia Unlimited camera systems buried at home plate, at first base, and, for the first time, at second base.

Previously used at an All-Star Game in 2016, the system now features a new prism that dramatically improves the system’s picture quality. The only part of the system above ground was the 4-mm prism (with a ½-mm sapphire window to make it waterproof), which was painted to perfectly match the color of the Progressive Field infield dirt and was almost imperceptible to the naked eye.

“I would call this DirtCam version 1.5 and the .5 is a new prism, which is the linchpin of the camera,” explained Inertia Unlimited President Jeff Silverman. “It’s essentially a normal point-of-view camera shooting through a tiny 2-mm hole using a mirror. [In the past], we had a lot of stadium lights shooting into the mirror and causing flares and other problems. Now we have a much better handle on controlling all that light going through a mirror.”

The systems used at first and second base have full pan-and tilt capability (home plate is a lock-off shot), allowing capture of a variety of angles along the base paths. The system is also entirely wireless, relying on unique underground RF transmitters that cannot be touched.

Fox Sports’ and Inertia Unlimited’s DirtCam is nearly imperceptible with the naked eye.

Inertia Unlimited also worked with CP Communications to develop an RF camera system attached to a golf cart that conveyed players from the batting cages to home plate during ESPN’s Home Run Derby coverage. The system featured a DreamChip camera (also deployed by Fox at the U.S. Open last month) that can be shaded using standard Sony RCP inside the NEP EN1 mobile unit used by ESPN.

“To my knowledge, this is the first use of the DreamChip camera with full paint [control] from a Sony RCP,” said Silverman. “We have a scheme that takes this protocol and turns it into Sony protocol, which means that we can now move [the video signal] via RF. Once we can move it via RF, it becomes quite a useful tool. And the camera looks spectacular. If you don’t look very closely, you might not even notice it was a POV camera, and yet it’s small enough to close your hand around. It’s definitely the most impressive POV camera I’ve seen in years.”

Inertia Unlimited also provided Fox two Phantom high-speed camera systems running at 2,000 fps.