March 6, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
– Andy Blanton embraces his craft like it were in his DNA, and he speaks of his work as if it is a child that he has raised while simultaneously growing alongside.
So Georgia Tech’s director of video operations will never forget learning that his pro family would move up from a trailer to a penthouse.
When news came a few years ago that the construction of McCamish Pavilion would provide space and the logistics for a single video control room to centralize Blanton’s coverage of and work with all Tech teams, that was the schizzle – or whatever the kids say in these modern times.
He was tired of towing that audio/video trailer from Bobby Dodd Stadium to Alexander Memorial Coliseum to Russ Chandler Stadium and so forth. He dreamed of moving to the big leagues. Not pro sports, but pro production.
The idea that the use of fiber optics could let him run scoreboards and displays in the football, basketball, baseball, softball, tennis and volleyball venues all from the same place, that he could send back and forth graphics and replays without having to pack and move from one venue to the next … it was a good day.
“Until we did McCamish, we … we pulled a trailer from football to basketball to baseball. We treated it just like TV treats a game. We would be right beside their trucks,” Blanton said. “When we did McCamish, there was an opportunity and some funding to make sure we had a nice convenient place inside the arena.
“In the initial planning stages of McCamish, that did not exist. We found out it was much more feasible . . . It was like Christmas Day.”
Last fall, in the midst of football season, Blanton’s department transitioned to the McCamish control room, because even though Tech officials figured out during the planning for and building of McCamish that space was available for the room, the purchase of necessary equipment took some time.
Initially, the goal was to be ready to hook up and utilize the new techno-goodies for the first time today, when the baseball team will open ACC play against Wake Forest on ESPN3 with the help of technology and staffing provided by Tech.
The schedule was expedited when it realized that one of the economic realities that enabled Tech to do this – a precipitous decline in the cost of technologies and equipment – might work against Blanton if they didn’t speed up.
The white trailer needed to be sold to offset some of the costs of pending purchase of new equipment, yet the trailer was quickly becoming outdated to the point where if it was not sold fast …
So, Mercer’s athletic department made a deal. That trailer now belongs to the Bears.
“Our original scope was to set for baseball this season, but technology – – if we were to wait until after basketball, the value [of the trailer] probably would have dropped to peanuts. It did bring less that we wanted it to,” Blanton said.
“[Mercer] wanted something mobile. They’re going to renovate the trailer, and put some newer equipment in there. It still blows my mind.”
There, Blanton was fast-forwarding in his own head.
The new setup is connectable in a direct way to ESPN. That means that Georgia Tech highlights are more easily deliverable to the Worldwide Sports Leader than otherwise, and that if ESPN wants to televise something from the Tech campus, the network needs to spend much less money to do it because no production truck is required.
Despite the weather issues for last month’s North Carolina-Georgia Tech basketball game, which included the regular ESPN crew not being able to make it to McCamish, the contest appeared on other ESPN mediums – chiefly online — by virtue of Tech’s new technology.
The same was true last month of signing day.
And this was not all part of an original plan. It was planned on the fly while evaluating developments with the planning and construction of McCamish and watching market prices for the equipment in question.
“Over the years I had seen the possibility of it happening. There were schools investing money to do this, but they were spending millions of dollars,” Blanton said. “We just didn’t have this money. It was always a dream.”
Fast forward, and Tech has state-of-the-art capability to maintain scoreboard, video, marketing, highlights and much more. Smart people figured this out.
“We’re there to do the in-game displays for fans, instant replays, and marketing displays,” Blanton explained. “While we’re doing that, we’re capturing all of our cameras to a hard drive. That footage is used for any number of things: promo videos, highlight videos, coaches shows produced by IMG.
“We archive it. If Daniel Miller gets inducted into the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame in 15 years, we’ll provide the video. Local media will ask for it.”
Even with all of the upgrades, there is still some packing and traveling required.
Blanton and Company don’t need much, yet their basic needs within the fiber optic chain were not available. The Tech campus is well wired, but nearly maxed out.
“Campus only has so much fiber at each venue, and between telephone, cable and internet, most of it is taken,” Blanton said. “We could probably use 12 or 24 strands, but it’s not here. We had to find a way to mix signals down to one, and de-code it.”
And they did.
Partnering with a company called Multidyne, Blanton solved his traffic jam.
“They manufacture all sorts of products that handle professional applications over fiber,” he said. “Essentially, what we did was create a small case to take out to Bobby Dodd or Russ Chandler and it does all the work. It’s about the size of a copy machine.”
The “small case” breaks down and condenses the data to be transmitted in a way that it can be sent over a single fiber.
On signing day, “The Case” was in the Edge Athletic Center and because Blanton and Company could plug into it, condense their data into a smaller stream, and route coverage to McCamish – which has a direct uplink to ESPN – the Jackets got national publicity that might not otherwise have come.
“Essentially what it does is take an eight-lane highway and reduce it to a one-way street, but unlike Atlanta traffic it doesn’t get stuck,” Blanton said. “It’s different colors of light going through, like a prism and spreading, and then it puts itself back together at the other end.”
In a few weeks, Tech’s football pro day will be available over this technology to those who want to view it on their laptops or smart phones – through ESPN technologies that will be boosted and enabled by Tech’s on-campus upgrades.
“The possibilities are limitless with our [school] website, Facebook and social media,” Blanton said. “Anywhere on campus, we can maneuver with one single fiber.
“It helps productivity so much. Moving forward, there will be so much more time to do things. Our trailer is not out in the rain any more, we don’t have to worry about equipment baking in the sun all summer. It still blows my mind.”
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