While the transition to HD programming has created new opportunities for creativity in the studio, it also places far greater demands on the equipment needed to produce such content. The broadcast production division of Turner provides turnkey services for film, video and audio production for all of the company's entertainment networks. The sheer number of audio channels and the need for better control over numerous multichannel sources placed increasingly insurmountable demands on the previous mixing system in our largest live audio control room. After evaluating numerous products, we purchased and installed a Lawo mc290 production console for our Audio Control Room 22 (ACR22) in August 2007.
The key consideration was channel count/DSP horsepower. The new console is built around the Lawo Nova73 HD core. Our system includes seven 48-channel DSP cards — with six in use and one for failover. The production control surface is configured as 48 channel faders with four free controls each, plus 16 center-section faders in a 12ft frame. The system's I/O structure encompasses 256 AES, 96 mic/line, 48 line, plus 112 MADI inputs for 512 total inputs, along with 256 AES, 64 line, and 112 MADI outputs totaling 432 outputs.
We took advantage of the flexibility of Lawo's MADI-based DALLIS I/O system so that there was essentially no rewiring of the existing infrastructure required. Other than adding fiber for interfacing MADI with the new I/O frames, there were very few changes made, as this was primarily an issue of expanding DSP capacity.
Using the system in a 5.1 studio
The changeover took three weeks: one for the physical installation, another for commissioning of the console and a third for staff training. The system was first used Sept. 2, 2007, for an Atlanta Braves baseball game on TBS.
ACR22 handles live studio shows for “Major League Baseball on TBS” and “Inside the NBA on TNT,” both in 5.1, as well as TBS franchise shows, including “Movie and a Makeover.”
A 5.1 studio show typically requires more than 200 channels-to-mix. Many elements arrive as pre-mixed 5.1 sources, including content from remote venues, 5.1 music beds, and four upmixing engines for making 5.1 from any stereo source. Because most sources are already surround, joystick surround panners typically are not used in this application.
With our previous console, a control group with six mono channels was employed for each 5.1 source. However, with no metering available on that group, it was impossible to visually monitor activity.
For this application, a 5.1 channel entity that controls those six channels as a single unit is essential, and the VCA metering feature of the production console handles this very well. Most of the time, the 5.1 sources are managed as if they were a single channel. Nevertheless, there are times when it is desirable to reveal the six individual channels and, perhaps, tweak one or more of them independently. This crucial function is also included in console.
Multiple operator control
Another important feature for our large 5.1 shows is multiple operator control made possible by the IsoBay feature that essentially makes each section of eight faders into its own autonomous center section. This enables additional operators to work independently with full control over banks, layers and parameters without affecting the primary mixer's control at the console's main center section.
The console's visual color coding capabilities are also a big improvement over our previous system. Each type of element — such as VCAs, auxes, groups, sums and input, EQ or dynamics parameters — has its own color identification. This type of visual feedback is important, as speed and ease of use are critical considerations with our live-to-air or live-to-tape productions.
A large number of sections in this console have redundancy that simply was not available with other production consoles we evaluated. We have redundant DSP and core router cards, along with redundant MADI ports to all of the I/O frames (mic preamps, line returns and control room monitor I/O). The reliability of the system is improved substantially such that just about anything — a kinked fiber line, a bad card or a failed power supply — has a backup, and that's a big plus for our operation.
Erinn Thorp is senior production engineer for Turner Studios Engineering, and Rick Perry is studio audio manager for Turner Studios.