June 22, 2016
Most people know Churchill Downs as the home of the Kentucky Derby, one of the longest running and most prestigious Thoroughbred horse races in the country. In fact, the Kentucky Derby draws more than 165,000 guests to Churchill Downs on race day. Everyone who visits this legendary racetrack gets to experience The Big Board — one of the world’s largest video screens. That’s one of the places they’ll find, among other things, a simulcast of each race followed by replays of its most significant moments, from paddock to starting gate to winner’s circle and beyond. Producing all of that video keeps the Churchill Downs production crew quite busy.
We talked to Colin Trask, simulcast production manager at Churchill Downs, who just completed his 16th Kentucky Derby production. Trask gave us some insight into the venue’s production operation and his team’s use of Mira Replay, Abekas’ multicamera instant replay server for live events and sports broadcasting.
First, please describe your production operation.
We produce the simulcast signal that’s seen throughout Churchill Downs and at other racetracks and casinos throughout the country. Besides displaying the odds and wagering tools for the different race categories, we also show video of the races themselves. That video includes quick replays that run right after the race and, a little later, long replays that show both pan and head-on views of the final 1/8 mile, a slow-motion gate break, and an ISO of the leading horses as they cross the finish line.
For a long time we’d been working out of a production truck because we used to travel around handling shows for other racetracks. We haven’t done that in several years, though, so it was time to replace the aging truck with a permanent studio full of upgraded equipment.
And adding Mira Replay was part of that upgrade. How are you using it?
Our Mira Replay server has a total of eight inputs and outputs. We’re set up to receive five inputs — the program feed, the ME/clean feed, a tilt pan camera, the winner’s circle camera, and an aux feed that records the edited version of the head-on replay. Right now we’re only using two of the other three I/Os as outputs — one to the production switcher and another for previews. We’re considering networking into our graphics computer, which generates many of the elements that we like to record. The beauty of the Mira Replay machine is that we can easily make changes like that because it’s flexible enough to adapt instantly to whatever configuration we choose.
What can you do with Mira Replay that you couldn’t do before? Is there anything about Mira Replay that’s especially important to your workflow?
One of the great things about Mira Replay is that it records continuously, so we capture everything. Our old machine only recorded when you hit the button, which made it easy to miss things. If the operator got distracted or otherwise missed a significant moment, it was gone forever. But now, if something gets past the operator, or if we decide we want a certain clip after the fact, we can go back and retrieve it. With so much going on in a live workflow, that’s a big advantage. We have to pay close attention to space management on our hard drive as a result, but it’s well worth it. There were numerous times on opening night and the next day — our first live runs with Mira Replay — when we were really glad we had that feature.
Being able to set an end point on all clips that are recording helps keep things streamlined. With Mira Replay we can set the end point on several clips all at once, whereas with the old server we had to set in and out points one at a time for each clip.
How was it to learn Mira Replay?
We’re set up for a single operator to run the machine almost exclusively through the GUI, as opposed to using the control panel. The server went live on the season’s opening night, a week before the Kentucky Derby. A last-minute switch meant that I had to step in to the operator position instead of the person who had been trained on Mira Replay. Thanks to a lot of support from Mike Kljucaric, the Abekas Product Specialist who answered all my questions, I got comfortable using Mira Replay within the week, so everything went smoothly on Derby day.
Any parting thoughts?
The Mira Replay server was an excellent value. It gives us the perfect combination of flexibility, speed, and performance. We got everything we would have needed from a more expensive machine at a more affordable price.