Furthering its commitment to delivering high-quality entertainment experiences, the Tsongas Center at the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UMass Lowell) has expanded its complement of Z-HD5000 cameras from Hitachi Kokusai Electric America to boost its live production capabilities and take optimal advantage of expanding distribution opportunities.
(from L to R) Nolan Mercer, Ben Jewart, and Sebouh Majarian
Owned by the university and managed by Spectra Venue Management by Comcast Spectacor, the multipurpose Tsongas Center facility is home to the NCAA Division I UMass Lowell River Hawks hockey and basketball teams. Seating up to 7,000 visitors, the venue also hosts a variety of non-sporting events including concerts, job fairs, graduations, and major university activities.
An agreement between the NCAA’s America East Conference and ESPN to bring live basketball games to multi-screen sports network ESPN3 created the need for the Tsongas Center to upgrade its video equipment roster. Previously using two Hitachi Z-HD5000s alongside other vendors’ cameras for productions shown on the venue’s in-house video boards, the university and Spectra’s on-site team chose to standardize on Hitachi cameras for their ESPN3 broadcasts, in-venue displays, and other distribution outlets.
“We were very pleased with the quality and reliability of the existing Hitachi cameras we’d been using to drive our scoreboard productions, so when we looked to increase our production flexibility and ensure visual consistency for our new ESPN3 streams, the Z-HD5000s were ideal for our upgrade,” said Ben Jewart, director of audiovisual services at Tsongas Center. “We did our due diligence and evaluated all of the other major camera brands too, but everything led us right back to Hitachi Kokusai.”
Sebouh MajarianFour Hitachi Z-HD5000s are now used for the university’s live hockey and basketball streaming broadcasts. Two of the cameras are stationed in fixed positions capturing high and tight shots, while the other two Z-HD5000s are operated handheld at ice or court level. While the school’s ESPN3 broadcasts typically use freelance crewmembers, other event productions often use current and former students as camera operators, making the Z-HD5000’s short learning curve valuable.
“The great usability of the Z-HD5000 makes it an excellent teaching platform,” said Nolan Mercer, AV manager at Tsongas Center. “It is a huge benefit to have cameras that we can quickly show students how to use, and to have the students jump right in and immediately understand their operation. The industry-standard nature of the Hitachi cameras has also been helpful in attracting volunteers, as the students know they are getting practical experience on equipment they may encounter professionally.”
Jewart also touts the video quality produced by the Hitachi cameras as a major boost for the center’s broadcasts. “The Z-HD5000’s low-noise, 2/3-inch chips, and digital signal processing gave us a significant improvement in quality over the other camera models we had used,” he explained. “The colors really ‘pop,’ and we get consistently high image quality, even under dramatically changing lighting conditions, such as when we darken the arena for effect before games, or when we chase the lights when goals are scored.”
Sports from the Tsongas Center are now streamed live on ESPN3, the America East Conference website (www.AmericaEast.tv) or the university’s own GoRiverHawks.tv site. Beyond the streaming broadcasts, the shooting flexibility provided by the Hitachi cameras and accompanying Fujinon lenses has elevated the center’s in-venue productions and raised fan involvement. “Whether shooting all the way across the court or further into the crowd, we’re now able to get great-quality video at angles we couldn’t capture before,” said Jewart.
“This enables us to incorporate more interactivity with the crowd, which has increased fan engagement and excitement,” added Mercer. “Our mission is to create memorable fan experiences, and the Hitachi cameras play a key role in doing that.”
Sebouh Majarian, assistant director of new media at UMass Lowell, echoes the positive effect that the new cameras have had for both the Tsongas Center team and its audiences. “Our experience with Hitachi cameras has been tremendous,” he said. “They have been easy for our operators to use, and helped shape and advance the quality of both our in-venue and broadcast productions. Our job is to put on a good show for our teams’ fans, and the Z-HD5000s have helped us achieve that.”