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April 05, 2023

The Phillies go big with Citizens Bank Park's giant new PhanaVision board

Citizens Bank Park's new 4K HDR video board out in left field is on the cutting edge as the third largest screen in Major League Baseball.

The Phillies' giant new PhanaVision board hid in plain sight, as odd as that may sound. 

On Monday, in a preview of all the upcoming promotions, features, gear, and food options that will be at Citizens Bank Park beginning with the 2023 home opener on Thursday, sat the vibrant 4K display behind it all out in left field. 

But it tried not to look it at first, instead being disguised as its original predecessor from when the ballpark first opened all the way back in 2004 – with the old two-panel video board, the sponsor placards on the support beams to the right, and even the blue sky piercing through between the gaps of the frame.

Then a video played, running back through footage of Opening Days' past. The setup of PhanaVision changed with it as the years went by, then, once it reached the present day, the display extended out to its full scope, finally showing off what the new scoreboard is really capable of. 

It's way bigger – 77 percent bigger over the previous video board that was installed ahead of the 2011 season, according to the Phillies. 

Here's a look at it by the numbers: 

• At 152 feet wide by 86 feet tall and nearly 13,000 square feet of display space, the new board is now the third largest in Major League Baseball. It weighs 116,298 pounds and is supported by 190 tons of structural steel. 

• The board outputs at a 16:9 aspect ratio in 4K HDR (high dynamic range), with the full display producing 11.6 million pixels at 10-millimeter spacing. In layman's terms, the picture clarity and color contrast are incredibly sharp, to the point where you really have to see it in person to get the full grasp of it (pictures and video from my phone can only do it so much justice here). 

• The new board can display 516 life-sized Phillie Phanatics at once. Everyone needed to know this. 

The Phillies announced that the new video board would be on the way in the middle of last summer, but the planning for it dates back to the beginning of the 2021 season, Sean Walker, the club's chief technology officer, said. 

The technology services department – led by Walker, director of video engineering Martin Ostremsky, broadcast technology engineer Rich Rivera, and broadcast technology coordinator Valerie Bendas – spent a year doing its due diligence, visiting other venues to get a sense of what could be done back home, researching development, and seeking out a manufacturing partner, which ended up being Daktronics, the South Dakota-based company that helped the Phillies create their previous board from more than a decade ago.

Once all that was squared away, there was only the matter of construction and installation, which was scheduled to begin the second last season was over, but ended up needing to be way more fluid because of the miracle run to the World Series, not to mention, be completed on a bit of a tighter timeline. 

"But that was a good problem to have," Walker said. 

"We were definitely adjusting our plans as we went along. We didn't clinch a playoff spot until the last week of the season, so on one hand, we could've started the next Monday but instead we didn't start until November 5. We just had to keep adjusting our plan."

And luckily they had flexible construction partners in L.F. Driscoll, EwingCole, and IBEW Local 98 working with them. They all knew going in that a Phillies playoff run could happen and shift the schedule, Walker said. It did. But again, good problem to have.

“IBEW Local 98’s highly-skilled electricians and technicians were incredibly proud to have worked on the complex installation of the Phillies’ magnificent new PhanaVision scoreboard," Mark Lynch Jr., the business manager for IBEW Local 98, said. "You have to see it to believe it. Local 98 members are also the ones who bring the Phillies television broadcasts right into fans’ living rooms. All of us are looking forward to seeing the new PhanaVision scoreboard light up with plenty of hits and runs for our Fightin’ Phils!”

The new board needed a new presentation to match, and to accommodate it, the Phillies also renovated and expanded their production control room over the winter, complete with cutting-edge broadcast technology that allowed for upgraded graphics and video packages. 

During Monday's preview, the feed on the board cut to Phillies video production coordinator Sean Rainey, who gave a tour of the revamped control room along with a first look at Trea Turner's walkup video and the redesigned game in progress info screen. 

With much more screen real estate and better image quality to work with, the club's production team isn't only able to relay more stats and information now, but also do it in a much sleeker fashion. For example, the aforementioned game in progress screen, Tierney said, has been incorporated into a 3D environment, which creates more of a feel of looking into a window with a camera that can cycle between different rooms, rather than just looking at a static 2D image.

All the work put in, from the planning done over the past couple of years to the actual installation from the past few months, has brought Citizens Bank Park back up to the forefront of modern tech.

However, technology moves fast. When the last video board was installed in 2011, it brought the ballpark into the HD era, but within a few years, talk of 4K resolution becoming the standard was growing increasingly common. By the end of last season's playoff run, PhanaVision in its at the time current form was really showing its age. 

But Walker said the current tech is in a place where he feels that the Phillies can get as many as 15 years out of the new board. It's a long-term commitment.

"The goal is to get 10, 12, 15 years out of it," Walker said. "We believe we can. Technology's come so far with the brightness, the pixel pitch that you see, those are the technical elements that make it so vibrant along with the production technology, so certainly we're going to have incremental changes. But we're at a level now that this should definitely carry us into the next 10-15 years of Citizens Bank Park."

And he can't wait for fans to finally see it on Thursday.

On a side note, when talking to Walker, I had to ask: Has anyone tried to play video games on the new board yet?

"Not yet," he said. "We'll definitely be planning something fun along those lines, for sure."

All I'm saying is a "Mario Kart 8" tournament would be sick.

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