CBS Sports’ Super Bowl Broadcast Will Feature AR Graphics, 8K Cameras

CBS Sports’ broadcast of Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3 will be the first to use multiple 8K cameras, as many as 16 4K devices, and the display of live augmented reality graphics from wireless cameras that promise to provide new vantage points for AR.

The network will also deploy 115 cameras for coverage on Super Bowl Sunday, with an expected 86 to be used in the game itself.

“Technology is always a good buzzword around the Super Bowl,” said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. “We’ve premiered some of the most amazing technology in our previous Super Bowls, and this year will be no different.”

How exactly the AR graphics are implemented remains to be finalized, although Jim Rikhoff, a CBS veteran who is serving as lead Super Bowl producer for the first time, said he expects they will be deployed for specialty graphics such as title cards, quarterback comparisons, and maybe player introductions.

The rollout of the higher-tech cameras and the multitude of additional viewpoints has already begun. Rikhoff said CBS began adding more for last week’s NFL Wild Card playoff games and will continue to add more each week.

“As you keep adding elements to the show, the key for the producer is to weave them in seamlessly,” Rikhoff said. “I always say, it’s not a game show. It’s not how many you get in. It’s get them in at the correct time.”

CBS began using HD cameras embedded in the end zone pylons back in 2015, including for that year’s Super Bowl, and the network will have 14 in each end zone for a total of 28 at this Super Bowl. About a dozen 4K and super slo-motion cameras will also be on the goal posts or spanning the out-of-bounds lines in the end zone to help capture every helpful viewpoint on potential touchdowns.

“Only one or two of those may get in,” Rikhoff said, “but they could be the key angle on the key play of the game.”

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Mike Arnold, who has served as CBS’s lead NFL game director since 2004, said he’ll continue to look at his usual 20 or so main cameras on a play-by-play basis, with many of the additional angles reserved for replays.

Rikhoff said that, along with replay producer Ryan Galvin, the crew will work to get in the 4K and 8K cameras for second or third looks on replays to provide a new aesthetic for important moments in the action. Because lead commentator Tony Romo sees the game from the viewpoint of a former quarterback, he often asks for wider-angle, overhead shots, so the SkyCam will be in regular rotation for that. Rikhoff said those views are the “meat and potatoes” of the football, but the higher-def lenses provided “a little sizzle in the show.”

The CBS crew began seeking technology innovations more than a year ago for the Super Bowl LIII broadcast and had made a half-dozen trips to the venue, Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium , before the 2018 regular season began. Arnold said his group had one game broadcast there for the Dec. 2 contest between the Ravens and Falcons. He added that he’s exploring an overhead camera that could show the stadium’s unique 360-degree halo video board, in order to show off the innovation at the building. But, mostly, the plan is not to force any of the new gadgetry on viewers.

“I think we’re going to have to let the game come to us,” Arnold said.

This is CBS’s 20th Super Bowl broadcast, the most of any network. Its last championship game was Super Bowl 50 in Febuary 2016, where it debuted the 360-degree replay system now known as Intel’s TrueView.

Each of the record number of cameras at this year’s broadcast will be positioned in case its lens happens to be trained on the spot where the most important play of the game might be. In Super Bowl XLIII in 2009, for instance, Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes’ game-winning touchdown catch was made with his feet barely in-bounds along the end zone, a location that could not have been known beforehand.

“It’s hard to predict which of those will have the most impact,” McManus said, “but I think, if you look at them collectively, the broadcast will look as innovative as any broadcast in history.”

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