At Eastern Michigan University, the Department of Athletics is committed to providing great experiences for both fans and student-athletes while building champions in the classroom, in the community, and in competition. When the university upgraded its football venue with a massive new scoreboard in 2019, it purchased four Z‑HD5000 HDTV cameras from Hitachi Kokusai Electric America, to enhance fan engagement while meeting the challenge of shooting high-quality video on the stadium’s distinctive playing surface.

The centerpiece of the technology refresh at the 30,200-seat Rynearson Stadium is a new 53ft high by 29ft wide Daktronics LED video display screen. The second-largest video board in the NCAA Division I Mid-American Conference (MAC), the new scoreboard is more than three times larger than the venue’s previous, resolution-limited screen. The display overhaul was accompanied by control room and camera upgrades as EMU Athletics began producing in-venue football programming for the first time.

“With the old video board, we just took an analog signal from the broadcast feed, and cut in occasional footage from older cameras,” says Greg Steiner, Associate Athletic Director, Media Relations at EMU. “We needed to enhance the in-venue experience, as when fans come into the stadium and watch our video board, their expectations have been set by what they see on television. We strive to provide unique on-site opportunities that fans can’t get at home, while also delivering what they already expect to see from TV.”

Supplied by systems integrator AVI-SPL, three of the Hitachi cameras are deployed in fixed positions on tripods. The fourth Z-HD5000 is equipped with a Teradek wireless transmitter, enabling the camera operator to go into the stands and roam the venue.

Greg notes that the Hitachi cameras do an exceptional job capturing games in EMU’s unusual football environment. “We’re one of only three FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) schools that don’t play on a green field, and the only grey field at the Division I level,” he explains. “Getting a good picture against it can be tough with other cameras. Grey can get washed out really fast if you don’t have high-quality cameras and the ability to dial in directly to the true colours. The Z-HD5000s handle it very well.”

The newly-acquired cameras are EMU’s second Z-HD5000 purchase, joining four units acquired in 2013 – and still going strong – that are dedicated to the university’s 8,000-seat Convocation Centre. In addition to driving in-venue video board shows for the EMU Eagles’ basketball, volleyball, and gymnastics events in that arena, the earlier cameras have been used on more than 185 live broadcast productions for the ESPN+ streaming service as well as university events such as graduations.

Together, the new and earlier Hitachi cameras also provide valuable, hands-on video production experience for students in the school’s Communication, Media & Theater Arts (CMTA) department, as well as students enrolled in other programs but interested in sports production. “We have higher-end equipment in Athletics than they may use in their own courses,” says Steiner. “Working on our productions lets them earn internship credit while getting experience on broadcast-class equipment that they may eventually use professionally, and they get to put on their resume that they worked on productions for ESPN+. That helps them get work for the major networks once they graduate.”

EMU has been very satisfied with the visual quality provided by the Z-HD5000 cameras, as well as their durability in students’ hands. “You know what you’re going to get every time you turn them on – great clarity, accurate color reproduction, and the ability to dial them in from the control room exactly as you need,” praises Greg. “To know that they are forgiving enough with students is also a big selling point. Some of our college counterparts use more prosumer-level equipment and it breaks down much faster, so their turnover of gear is much faster than ours.”

Beyond the technical benefits of the cameras, Greg lauds the possibilities they have enabled for the school and its students. “I cannot say enough great things about the opportunity that working with Hitachi cameras has presented us as a university and as an athletic department,” he comments. “Putting these cameras in students’ hands lets us deliver an opportunity for their personal development while creating a program that lets us showcase our student-athletes to our fans. Hitachi Kokusai has been a great partner throughout the process to deliver exactly what we needed in terms of video.”

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