Supporting the Growing Range of Sports and News Coverage Applications

Monday, June 11, 2012

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As with any changing environment, the required support equipment has its own unique characteristics. In this case, traditional single-vendor, integrated hardware and software systems may not prove to be the most effective. Networked, multi-vendor, flexible solutions that can be configured and interconnected as required for each event is proving to be highly effective.

We are living in an age of sports and news information and programming that features an abundance of events taking place around the world, feeding an international audience eager for access. The industry has evolved from local- and even national-only coverage of sporting events to delivering access to everyone, everywhere via satellite, cable and the Internet. Support for global audiences is now a requirement, not an option, when developing and marketing these events. Following along with this trend are major changes in the equipment used to support the events, whether part of fixed facilities, the largest OB vans or compact portable “fly pack” systems. Additionally, unlike in the past, the array of technologies needed often requires a variety of specialized coverage teams and support personnel. This process will be especially evident during the pending summer games in London where the full gamut of international coverage will be offered, providing the world with every exciting event in every contemporary format.

As with any changing environment, the required support equipment has its own unique characteristics. In this case, traditional single-vendor, integrated hardware and software systems may not prove to be the most effective. Networked, multi-vendor, flexible solutions that can be configured and interconnected as required for each event is proving to be highly effective. The ability to interconnect a wide variety of equipment to create a cost-effective, reliable solution is the mandate for the industry at large and for us here at Studio Technologies. 

The Way We Were

It might be useful to review some aspects of outside broadcast to understand the heightened role of modern support gear for these applications. In the United States, it used to be that a network, like ABC, CBS or NBC, for example, would gain the rights to broadcast a major sporting event and would send in a company-owned equipment and support personnel team to cover the event. In this model there was more central control of the systems being deployed. In today’s world much is subcontracted out with many different outside broadcast companies covering an event for local, national and international broadcast. Getting equipment deployed and working properly is of great importance, as is making sure support equipment can interface properly and quickly over a wide range of different manufacturer’s equipment. From the Studio Technologies perspective, one example of addressing this need was the creation of agile remote camera interface systems that help to streamline the entire process from set up and “on air” use, to tear down.

Critical Camera Support

The Live-Link Jr. Remote Camera Interface System was developed to efficiently support smaller single-camera remote production situations covering video, audio, communications and control data link between a camera operator in the field and a production vehicle (or fixed installation). The system transports a two-way SDI video signal supporting SD-, HD- and 3G-SDI data signals. All audio and support signals are transported between camera end and truck end units as embedded SDI data. Linked using just two single-mode optical fibers, the unit delivers excellent operational performance regardless of the distance between the camera end and truck end units — whether hundreds of feet or miles apart. The camera end unit allows for remote powering using hybrid fiber/copper cable, 12 volt DC or Anton/Bauer® battery or “V-Mount” battery mounts. The truck end unit offers both AC and DC powering capabilities, with a failsafe flip to DC operation if the AC mains go down.

The camera end unit has two mic/line inputs that are compatible with microphone or line-level signals. Related features include adjustable input sensitivity, phantom power and level metering. Each input stage can be independently set for compatibility with line-level signals (0 dB gain) or mic signals (gain of 15, 30 or 45 dB). Two balanced line-level outputs are provided on the truck end unit’s back panel and are associated with the camera end unit’s mic/line inputs. Two additional balanced line-level outputs are also located on the truck end unit’s back panel to provide de-embedded analog signals associated with group 1, channels 1 and 2 of the transported SDI signal. These “convenience” outputs allow audio embedded, for example, by a camera connected to the camera end unit to be accessible without the need for an external de-embedder unit at the truck end.

An example of a company that must interconnect in an every-changing range of events is ArcTek HD, out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. ArcTek HD operates four HD satellite vans providing coverage of over 500 major sports events for CBS, NBC, ABC and ESPN, as well as coverage for international broadcasters like Sky Sports. ArcTek HD recently used a Live-Link, Jr. system at the 2012 Minnesota Vikings NFL Draft (American Football) event for the NFL Network. The event took place in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome stadium where over 1,000 feet of fiber cable connected the truck to the HD camera location on the field. Because only two strands of single-mode fiber optic cable needed to be used for all on-air video and audio signals, the set up was very straightforward with little time required. And because the system also offered full intercom and IFB support embedded into the SDI data stream, no extra cable pulls were necessary. This is an example of efficient support equipment that solves many problems for outside broadcast applications.

Comms Connection

Another example of gear supporting the OB mission, is found with the Studio Technologies’ Model 46  2-Wire to 4-Wire interface and Observe Outside Broadcast, a premier remote broadcast and TV company that covers sports and entertainment events in Ireland. The Observe fleet of OB vans consists of the flagship HD1 high/standard definition truck, capable of fielding 25 cameras; the HD2 high/standard definition truck, offering eight camera capabilities and the SS3 standard definition truck, which supports 22 cameras. The trucks cover sports events that include RBS 6 Nations Rugby and international soccer games. Model 46 units were chosen to interface efficiently between the existing 4-wire, 96-port RTS Telex matrix systems found in each truck and the remote 2-wire beltpacks carried by crew members. It provides two independent, full-featured, 2-channel interfaces.

Each interface contains two hybrid circuits, which include an automatic nulling capability. The analog circuitry, under software control, provides excellent audio quality and high return-loss. The interfaces are compatible with powered (wet) and unpowered (dry) 2-wire party-line circuits. The Model 46 is capable of supplying DC power, allowing direct operation of such devices as user beltpacks.

Game Creek Video, a major provider of remote sports and news event broadcasting production services for ESPN, ABC Sports, Fox Sports, the Yes Network, ABC News, NBC News and CNN, among many others, also relies on the Model 46 for party line intercom connections in nine of its remote OB trucks, one of the youngest fleets in the business. Game Creek Video is contracted every year to provide top-shelf equipment and engineering savvy for major sporting and news events such as the Super Bowl, the World Series and the Daytona 500. Because reliable and intelligible intercom communications are absolutely vital to remote operations, Game Creek needs support equipment that is straightforward to use.

For major event production, Game Creek Video typically arrives on site with two 53-foot, expandable-trailer OB trucks. Big events might require arriving several days in advance of the air date to accommodate the intricate setup. Once power is set, the equipment is turned on and tested. As a part of this process, an extensive intercom system is used, which is where the Model 46 comes into play as a key addition to its RTS ADAM system. Game Creek has found that the Model 46 provides a seamless and bulletproof interface between its ADAM 4-wire system and its 2-wire RTS beltpacks and is another example of how important proper support gear is for outside broadcast systems.

In closing, as fleets of OB trucks get set to cover major upcoming summer events, with “fly packs” shipped to loading docks at venues around the world, network centers continue to update system needs and deployment. Supplying the equipment necessary for this gargantuan task has been taken on by many manufacturers. Studio Technologies is pleased to play its part, offering high-performance, niche solutions to broadcasters and their support teams around the world.

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