Radio broadcasting long ago proved its worth as a highly accessible source of information and entertainment for listeners with impaired vision. Television is increasingly performing a similar role for partially or severely deaf viewers. The most popular option is sign language delivered by a presenter superimposed into part of the displayed image, often incorporated in daytime news bulletins. In the UK, programs containing sign-language overlays are often transmitted at night for people to capture using personal video recorders.
During the summer of 2005, ATG Broadcast was asked to equip a signing studio for Red Bee Media at the Broadcast Centre in London's White City. The facility was built in 2003 to cater to the future needs of the media industry. Red Bee Media is one of the largest playout and channel management businesses in the UK, providing services to broadcasters, including the BBC, UKTV, Channel 4 and Channel Five. It has more than 1400 staff and annual revenues in excess of Є1600 million. The company is rapidly expanding overseas, opening offices in Australia, China, France and Singapore in 2007.
The first in-house signing studio (now designated Signing Studio 1) proved a highly successful resource. By the summer of 2007, it was operating 18 hours per day.
Red Bee Media had meanwhile begun playing out the BBC's HD trial and decided to invest in a new facility that could serve emerging HD channels as well as the increasing amount of SD activity.
Camera and prompting
Signing Studio 2 is located adjacent to Signing Studio 1 and has an identical floorplan: a 5m × 2m control room with a double-glazed window looking through to a 5m x 5m studio. A Sony HDC-X310 camera with Fujinon XS17X5.5BRM zoom lens located in a corner is angled toward a blue cyclorama, making maximum use of the available floor area. Green, black and white backgrounds can also be used if required. The presenter is chroma-keyed, resized and superimposed over a stationary, moving or black background. The HDC-X310 camera was selected on the basis of its quality, stability and compactness. It is normally used in a fixed position on a Vinten Vision 100 fluid pan and tilt head supported by the company's two-stage tripod with lightweight spreader.
The camera communicates with the control room via a studio wall box equipped with an SC fiber camera connector, four video BNCs, four audio XLRs and a data port. A BDL Autoscript WinPlus prompter with a 12in flat screen is mounted immediately in front of the camera. The signing presenter also has eye-level view of two 30in Philips LCD panels showing source program or program-plus-presenter. An additional panel provides an alternative view of the prompt script to the presenter's right.
The studio effectively has three staff: technical operator, prompter and signer. For precorded content, Red Bee Media employs deaf signers working from a subtitle feed, which is converted into a script to feed the teleprompter. For live news, hearing signers are employed to perform simultaneous translation. The prompt operator sits just out of shot in the studio.
The lighting rig was installed in cooperation with Broadcast Lighting Systems. A Balcar Fluxlite fluorescent lighting system on a modular grid was chosen for its proven reliability, high optical efficiency and low operating temperature. Black carpet tiles prevent stray reflection from the floor. Lighting is controlled via DMX software running on a PC in the control room, while individual settings are monitored on a 19in LCD immediately in front of the operator. The lighting grid also provides a useful structure from which to suspend a Unicol bracket holding one of the LCD monitors.
The main desk located in the Signing Studio 2 control room is a five-bay 1.2m-deep Custom Consoles Modular-R. Two Custom Consoles 20RU equipment bays on castors are located behind and slightly to the right of the control room operator. The equipment bays are grey-spray finished MDF to blend in with the blue control room walls. They accommodate two Sony DVW-M2000P Digital Betacam VTRs plus an HDW-D1800 with DigiBeta/IMX playback and an HDW-M2000P with Beta-SP/DigiBeta/IMX playback.
The VTRs are ancillary to Red Bee Media's predominantly server-based activity, allowing tapes from clients to be ingested to disc or simply processed straight back to tape. An Omneon MediaDeck server with 6TB of storage shares the VT pod and can source from or feed the main server network. In-pod picture monitoring can be performed using a Teletest triple-LCD monitor unit.
A Sony MVS-8000 combines the roles of production switcher, DVE, editor and HD router. It is equipped with an up/downconverter, editing keyboard, M/E controller and routing control panel. The switcher was chosen both for its compactness and its exceptional scalability, including the ability to upgrade simply by installing additional option boards. The HD/SD version supports 23.976fps, 24fps, 25fps, 29.97fps and 30fps progressive scan. Fine sizing and positioning of the overall signing image are handled using DVEs within the switcher.
The main sync pulse generator is a DK Technologies PT5300 SD VariTime unit with dual independently timeable black and burst outputs. This is augmented by a PT8611 HD tri-level sync generator, PT8612 quad HD/SD test signal generator and PT8639 SDI test signal generator.
Video monitoring centers on a 42in Barco LCD panel fed by a 12-source Miranda Kaleido-RCP picture multiplexer. Two 17in JVC CRT picture monitors are located to the left of the LCD panel. A Tektronix WVR7110 rasterizing signal monitor is used for signal quality assessment. This is equipped with dual HD passive loop-through inputs as well as embedded audio and SD monitoring options.
An Eyeheight safeEyesMDi multidefinition safe-area cage generator ensures that the signing presenter remains visible on 4:3 and 16:9 receivers. An Eyeheight legalEyesMDi legalizer prevents stray highlights, for example, generating out-of-gamut color components, which might cause signal distortion further downstream.
The VT clock is a Courtyard CY260HD HD-SDI unit with time code/stripe generator, audio tone generator and control keyboard. This is equipped with three HD-SDI video outputs.
Video signal distribution is via an Axon modular system centered on an HD-SDI reclocking amplifier, dual-channel HD-SDI to SD-SDI/composite downconverter, HDS10 HD-SDI/SD-SDI downconverter and SD-SDI/HD/SDI upconverter. Axon fiber converters were also installed, linking to the facility's central control area.
Studio acoustics were obviously not an issue given the images-only application. In the control room, two Genelec 8040A active compact monitors are used for near-field sound monitoring. These are mounted on ATG loudspeaker brackets and fed by an ATG LS-CD volume control and cut/dim unit. An Axon HAS10 is used for HD/SD-SDI audio processing in combination with an HEB20 embedder and SDB15 extractor.
Talkback is via a Composite Video CMLS2 master station and CMLS1 single-circuit loudspeaker station. Audio distribution is via BES jackfields, a Ghielmetti patch panel and ATG/Bryant Krone frames.
Constructing a new facility is almost always easier than upgrading an existing installation because factors such as workflow interruption are less applicable. Timescale from concept to commencement of Signing Studio 2 design was about one month followed by three months from design to completion, including three weeks on-site. As with Signing Studio 1, Signing Studio 2 proved a routine and straightforward project with no complications.
JCI, Red Bee Media's service partner in the Broadcast Centre, performed the necessary changes to air-conditioning and power supplies.
Operational since the beginning of September 2007, Signing Studio 2 has proved itself as reliable and easy to operate, and it is fully meeting its design goals. As for the future, human signing may be superseded in a few years by data-driven avatar graphics on the basis that these would make more efficient use of bandwidth and be easy for viewers to switch into or out of view.
In reality, there are two strong reasons why signing studios will continue to be used in preference to animated graphics. First, a skilled human signer communicates using a combination of mouth, hand and finger movements, which would be impossible to replicate using present-day avatar technology. Second, human signers often become familiar figures to their audience in much the same way as any skilled program presenter.
Red Bee Media's Signing Studio 2 looks set to become, sooner or later, just as intensively used as Signing Studio 1.
Alan Pimm is sales director for ATG Broadcast, a systems integrator.
Red Bee Media
Hugo Allen, project manager
Andy Eisner, technical manager
Jon Brewer, systems engineer
Dave Whitaker, project director
Technology at work
ATG monitoring control
HAS10 audio processing
Synapse modular interfacing
Balcar Fluxlite series
fluorescent lighting with DMX control
Barco LCD monitors
BDL Autoscript WinPlus prompter
CMLS1 loudspeaker station
Courtyard CY260HD VT clock
Custom Consoles Modular-R desk
PT8611 HD tri-level sync generator
PT8612 test signal generator
PT8639 test signal generator
safeEyesMDi safe-area cage generator
Fujinon XS17X5.5BRM zoom lens
Genelec 8040A active monitors
JVC CRT monitors
Miranda Kaleido-RCP multiplexer
Omneon MediaDeck server
Philips LCD panels
HDC-X310 HD camera
DVW-M2000P Digital Betacam VTR
HDW-D1800 HDCAM VTR
HDW-M2000P HDCAM VTR
Tektronix WVR7110 rasterizer
Teletest LCD rack-mount monitoring
Vision 100 fluid pan and tilt head