Making the HD Transition

Apr 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By George Petersen

WITH THE COMING DTV CHANGEOVER, FACILITIES TAKE A SYSTEMS APPROACH TO UPGRADES

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Radio control room A at WGBH Boston has an SSL C200 console.

Radio control room A at WGBH Boston has an SSL C200 console.

It's a safe bet that every broadcaster, network and facility manager across America has February 17 circled in red on their 2009 calendars. And as that D-Day approaches for the mandated analog-to-digital television transition, there's a lot of retrofitting, rebuilding and renovation going on. That part is hardly news to folks in the industry — the confusion that kicks in that day among average Joe/Jill consumers will be the real scary part, but that's another story.

In addition to offering the improved resolution, channel selection and full-on surround capabilities that DTV provides to end-users, the upcoming changeover gives broadcasters and content producers a good excuse to upgrade their facilities. The key here is not simply a transmitter revamp, but examining every aspect of the production/transmission chain. And this extends not only to cameras, monitors, switchers and mixers, but also to the system's entire backbone — routers, servers, storage, archives, hubs, communications, acoustics, lighting, floor plans, etc.

We spoke to integrators from three facilities in the process of their HD/DTV upgrade. All embrace the bump to higher-resolution HD programming, but they also see this as a chance to provide more ergonomic workflows with the added benefit of greater reliability and faster production. These facilities — the Trinity Broadcast Network, World Wrestling Entertainment and WGBH Boston — serve highly divergent audiences, but all share a common zeal for production excellence. Analog or digital, some things never change.

TRINITY BROADCASTING NETWORK

Based in Southern California, TV Magic is a broadcast and A/V systems integrator and engineering company founded nearly two decades ago. TV Magic has completed some 200 projects during that time, ranging from the CBS Studio Center production truck to a full HD production infrastructure for the Crystal Cathedral Ministries' Hour of Power program.

Featured on more than 5,000 television stations, 33 satellites, the Internet and thousands of cable systems, the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) is the world's largest Christian TV network. Two years ago, TBN asked TV Magic to design a flexible, automated master control system supporting five DTV channels, and install that system across 32 of the network's affiliate stations throughout the United States. Having completed that, TV Magic is now implementing a full redesign of TBN's facility operations center in Tustin, Calif. That complex has five studios and does audio sweetening and post-production, but “the audio control is about 20 years old — all analog — and limited as to what it can do,” says TV Magic design engineer Craig Claytor.

“We designed a new state-of-the-art facility for TBN in Costa Mesa [near Tustin] that's all HD,” he continues. “It also has a huge live audience facility that's also all-HD, with an SSL C200 in it. They've pretty much standardized on that mixer and put them into their facilities in New York and Dallas. So essentially we're doing the same thing in Tustin, bringing that facility up to date.”

Still under construction, the Tustin facility is slated to be completed in early summer 2008 and is expected to mirror many of the approaches that were successful in other TBN installs. The acoustician is Carl Yanchar (who also did the Costa Mesa facility), and surround monitoring is via Klein & Hummel.

With a variety of programming and project needs, one of TBN's considerations was versatility. “We're using the SSL's Stage Boxes in the studios as a fiber interface into the mainframe so they can put two Stage Boxes into each of the studios, with 48 mics from each — up to 96 mic feeds total, plus about 40 returns and GPI for control,” Claytor explains. “They're mounted in roll-around cases so they can easily be moved from studio to studio. For redundancy, there's copper wiring as a backup, as well as a smaller Yamaha DM2000 mixer, in a second control room, which is used for simultaneous shows in two different studios or to serve as a backup.”

Both rooms are fed from a router. “We use a lot of MADI interfacing to feed the AES/EBU back and forth within the facility. MADI is nice, handling 64 channels on a single cable. In a large, stretched-out facility where the cable conduits are already mostly full, MADI allows us to do things we couldn't do otherwise,” says Claytor. In terms of longer-distance file exchanges, “We also have a DigiDelivery system for moving Pro Tools files from facility to facility. With studios in New York, Atlanta, Nashville, Dallas, Costa Mesa and Tustin, there will be a lot of file transfers.”

With TV Magic's proven track record, there are always nuances and lessons to be learned. “One thing that's been an issue in all facilities is maintaining lip-sync with the video,” Claytor continues. “Whenever you process the video or route it to a different machine, you stand a chance of losing sync. Multiple delays often occur in video equipment, so it's absolutely necessary to have an audio delay line with each piece of video gear, every time we up- or down-convert. It's less of a problem with embedded audio, especially when the metadata is there, as well.”

There are other less-obvious, but still important aspects to maintaining A/V synchronization. “All the video monitors in the audio studios have to be HD-capable,” Claytor warns. “When viewing an analog monitor that's been down-converted, you could be seeing a lip-sync issue that's not really there, with two or three frames of delay. A lot of thought needs to be put into that process.”






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