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‘Carpool Karaoke’ Upgrades to 4K with AJA

The original "Carpool Karaoke" segments were shot in HD using GoPro cameras and ran five to 10 minutes. Jason Liquori's first task was to improve that workflow for 4K delivery.

While renting equipment to CBS’ The Late Late Show with James Corden, C-Mount Industries co-owner Jason D. Liquori was brought on as a video engineer and car DP for the show’s venerable “Carpool Karaoke” segments.

The Carpool Karaoke brand was recently licensed by Apple for its Apple Music streaming service; the subsequent streaming series, called Carpool Karaoke: The Series, pairs celebrities like John Legend and Alicia Keys for a mobile sing-along adventure. Carpool Karaoke production company fullwell73 called on Liquori’s expertise to evolve it into a 4K streaming series.

The original “Carpool Karaoke” segments were shot in HD using GoPro cameras and ran five to 10 minutes. Liquori’s first task was to replicate that workflow for 4K delivery and extend the format to a half hour. Transitioning to 4K required large-sensor 4K cameras and rugged recorders. The gear had to be able to run for an extended timeframe, withstand bumpy roads and high temperatures, and capture ProRes XQ to SSD media for quick delivery to the post team.

The 12 AJA Ki Pro Ultra Plus units in the main car

Liquori selected AJA’s Ki Pro Ultra Plus 4K/Ultra HD/2K/HD recorder and player, explaining, “Ki Pro Ultra Plus checked all my boxes: an AC/DC power supply, dual slot recording, automatic rollover, robust media that could handle repeated road hazards, and the ability to take the heat, literally, with the temperature topping 100 degrees in the back of the car.”

The production setup is extensive, with 12 cameras mounted on the windshield and in custom headrest mounts in the back seat of the main car. Each camera outputs a 4K 6G signal to 12 4K SDI multiplexers, which split each signal into four for input to 12 Ki Pro Ultra Plus units housed in a custom 18-inch rack in the back of the main car. Signals are then recorded at ProRes XQ at 4K 29.97 to AJA Pak SSD media. Every Ki Pro Ultra Plus is networked via Cat 5 for gang recording and has its own master for simultaneous start/stop recording. The Ki Pro Ultra Plus units also downconvert the signals to 1080p for playout to 17-inch HD-SDI monitors configured with wireless receivers in two additional cars. The monitors provide a preview of the picture on screen, timecode and VTR status line. Once each shoot wraps, the AJA Pak drives are handed off to the show’s post supervisor.

For the latest season, Liquori captured more than 48 hours of footage totaling more than 220 TB, and the Ki Pro Ultra Plus’ rollover recording and consistent power supply helped keep production on track. “Every minute in the car with the talent counts, and being able to continuously shoot and record to 12 Ki Pro Ultra Plus units without having to make frequent stops was vital to not disrupt the comedic flow,” Liquori says. “With less time spent troubleshooting technology bottlenecks and more time careening through the city, we were able to focus on making the segments look great.”