Covering the America's Cup will be the most technically demanding project TVNZ has undertaken, says head of sport Denis Harvey.
Harvey, who is executive producer for the event, and project manager Peter Wilson yesterday outlined the technological backdrop to coverage of the event, which begins with the Louis Vuitton challenger series on Monday.
As well as serving New Zealand viewers, TVNZ is acting as host broadcaster under contract to AC2000, the group organising the event, and its marketing partner, global sports TV company TWI. It filled a similar role for the yachting events at the Atlanta Olympics and will do so at next year's Olympic Games in Sydney.
The broadcaster is keen to foster a growing reputation for such jobs, and will be using this one as "an opportunity to do it better" said spokesman Liam Jeory.
It will be the first major sports event to feature all-digital coverage. For the host feed, TVNZ will have up to five cameras mounted on each boat and more on up to nine chase boats and three helicopters. Microphones placed around the boats will be actively by remote-controlled faders. With each camera feed amounting to 8Mbit/s, there is only capacity for two audio channels per boat.
"We've had to scrounge bandwidth to do this," said Wilson.
Local audiences will also get sound and pictures from TV One's commentary boat. All the coverage from the course will be relayed via the Coopers and Lybrand Tower to the International Broadcast Centre - a converted carpark adjacent to TVNZ's Hobson Street building which is being fitted out for use by foreign broadcasters.
Harvey, noting that he had "spent a year in a porta-cabin" running TVNZ's coverage of the last Cup series in San Diego, said he expected other broadcasters to be highly appreciative of the facilities.
As host broadcaster, TVNZ will provide a "clean feed" with no commentary and minimal graphics and will also be able to tailor it to focus on specific boats for individual countries.
A separate "B feed" can also be bought, with some animation which clients can integrate with the race coverage, but TVNZ's famous Animation Research (ARL)-developed 3D race graphics will be strictly for the domestic audience. The look of the graphics has apparently been updated, but the underlying software is the same as that used in San Diego.
ARL will have several Silicon Graphics computers at the viaduct, which will pick up and process GPS data from the racing not only for TVNZ but for TWI and for use in the Virtual Spectator product in which ARL is a partner.
The data will come from a dedicated CDPD system installed by Telecom and Ericsson, with repeaters placed around the Hauraki Gulf. TVNZ will get five updates per second from every boat and will also be able to gauage wind strength and direction.
Harvey said the racing syndicates have been understandably nervous about their opponents capturing such rich information.
"There's a fair bit of paranoia about how it could be used - to interpret boat movements, and so on," he said. Telecom's secure CDPD system would "make the information virtually impossible to intercept or descramble."
Information will also be "skewed" to obscure actual data before it is delivered from Telecom.
The budget for TVNZ's host broadcaster contract is $14 million, on which it will, says Jeory, "make a normal rate of return".