When Foxtel announced they were bringing a 4K broadcast channel to Australia for the first time it was legitimately exciting – something new for TV broadcast and particularly for sports fans. This week, EFTM got a look behind the scenes at one of Australia’s biggest sports outside broadcasts – NRL Magic Round at Suncorp Stadium with Fox Sports.

The Fox League team invited us to Brisbane, and flew us into town for the first of three days of Rugby League at the iconic Suncorp Stadium.

Why? It’s pretty rare for all of Fox Sports best broadcast gear to all be in one place so why not see it all.

By the numbers this is a massive event for the sport – not just Fox League. 272 NRL players are in town for eight games over three days. Fox Sports will host 24 hours of LIVE TV over the three days, using two broadcast trucks, 24 cameras, 17 on-air talent, 150 broadcast crew, 7 producers, 3 directors, 4 production manager and 7 graphic operators.

It’s a mega operation.

Over the course of any NRL weekend, Fox Sports always shows all eight games, but only five of them are Fox Sports exclusively. For those Five games, Fox Sports produces the coverage end to end, meaning they choose what angles go to air, what replays, and also which specialty cameras are included (the Flying Fox and Fox Rover for example).

However, for the three other games, those are Channel Nine games, which Fox Sports has the rights to Simulcast – using their own graphics and own commentary. For those games, you won’t see the Flying Fox, or Fox Rover, and those games are also not in 4K.

Fox League’s point of difference is 4K, and unique camera angles. Channel 9 uses a Segway for one cameraman, Fox Sports has their own angles.

What is the Fox Sports Flying Fox?

For many years we’ve had these “flying” cameras over sports games, it’s a wild looking camera angle and if you’ve been to a ground to watch live you’d have noticed it floating in the air, actually suspended by wires which look to be attached to the grandstand.

In fact, it’s suspended by the grandstands and huge counterweights sit at each corner of the ground.

The Fox League Flying Fox is a high end camera, on a gimbal which is attached to a mechanism containing those cables keeping it suspended in the air.

It’s operated by two people, a Pilot and a Camera operator.

The Pilot is using Joysticks to control the height of the camera from the ground, as well as it’s orientation back front left and right of the stadium.

Controlling the Flying Fox’s position is not at all like a drone, because it doesn’t change its orientation. Forward is always away from the Pilot, left is always left as you look out to the field of play.

And it’s all connected via a high end system of computers which are able to judge the location at all times, as well as another system allowing the pilot to set no-fly zones and help prevent any accidents.

The camera is completely separately controlled. Cameraman can point the Flying Fox camera in any direction, following play wherever the Flying Fox goes.

There’s even a speaker and microphone on board. Used recently in the Cricket, this allows Fox Sports to talk to players on the ground without sending a cameraman out. Players hear the commentators ask questions through a 3D printed speaker cowling on top of the camera, and can be interviewed using the microphone underneath the camera.

As for how quick it can get down the field, one estimate put it at 37km/h – which might not sound like much, but that’s quick!

Perhaps most remarkably, there is no wireless link for the video feed to be sent back to the truck. Buried within the high strength cable supporting the Fox Sports Flying Fox is a Fibre Optic cable which sends back video and Audio from the Flying Fox.

The end result is outstanding shots.

How does the Fox Rover work?

This may be the most fun of them all. A big-wheeled remote control car, with a standard remote control with a throttle for power, and wheel for steering controls. It just happens to have a huge 4K broadcast camera on top.

The buggy is guided / driven from on the field by an operator who also has camera skills to allow them to understand where the Rover should be at any time.

The camera on top is operated from high up in the grandstand by a separate camera operator. Combined they get some great shots.

While it’s all broadcast live, the Fox Rover is capable of recording at 200fps for slow motion, this is stored on-board and accessed when required.

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What is with the fancy pictures from on-ground after a try or after the game?

We all know what portrait mode is on an iPhone – the sharp focus of a subject with a blurred background creating a focal point on the person or player in question.

New to the NRL this year is the Hero Cam – this one is a Panasonic Lumix BGH1 with a solid lens on a DJI Ronin Gimbal.

This relatively lightweight setup (by comparison to traditional broadcast cameras) allows an operator to hold it for extended periods in the game, but also to get some really great looking pictures.

It’s al put together by an amazing team of people, headed by Steve Crawley who himself spent some 13 years at Nine’s Wide World of Sports, and now heads the Fox Sports teams. Joe Bromham is the Executive Producer, he showed me inside the huge broadcast truck where it all comes together, with Paul Slater the Senior Director at Fox Sports.

I had a blast looking at all this gear, and have a newfound respect for the art of sports broadcasting.

Trevor Long travelled to Brisbane as a guest of Fox Sports Australia – for details of all our commercial arrangements and travel, head to our Commercial Interest and Disclosures page