When dealing with the constantly changing world of news, broadcasters value any technology that not only makes their jobs easier, but also can reduce the time needed to move from one project to another and back again. The need for efficiency is even greater, considering the increased volume of programming that’s required to satisfy audiences who have grown accustomed to 24-hour entertainment.
Danish Broadcasting employs two Solid State Logic 24-frame C100 digital broadcast consoles. Shown here is Bertil Abrahamsson, senior engineer at Danish Broadcasting.
In 2002, Danish Broadcasting (DR) broadcast a total of 6272 hours on its DR 1 channel and 3502 hours on its DR 2 channel, an increase of 105 percent in total hours compared to 1996.
This heavier workload, combined with the company’s greater need for streamlining its operations, were the key reasons behind the decision to upgrade the technology in its studios. The first to receive new equipment was Studio 11 at the Aarhus facility in Denmark, where an existing analog console was replaced this past summer with a Solid State Logic 24-frame C100 digital broadcast console. The facility’s Studio 12 will also be outfitted with the same console by the end of the year.
The Aarhus facility produces radio and television programming, including news, documentaries and entertainment. Both Studios 11 and 12 handle audio production for television.
Not only was the existing console greatly outdated, but also maintenance was becoming exceedingly difficult in terms of locating replacement parts. Plus, it simply wasn’t able to keep pace with the daily demands of a modern broadcast production environment. The last piece of the puzzle hinged on the fact that, like just about every other broadcaster, Danish Broadcasting is making plans for the move to digital television.
In Studio 11, one of the primary applications handled by the digital broadcast console is a nightly news-magazine show broadcast on DR 1 called “19 Direct.” The show, which follows the evening news in Denmark, is produced live on-air in the studio, with taped segments appearing throughout.
One of the biggest benefits of the console for the engineering staff in Studio 11 is the fact that it is specifically designed for on-air studio applications, such as news and sports, and live-to-tape talk shows. In applications such as these, handling an array of sources and destinations efficiently and, of course, quickly, are crucial. And as more and more of the signals being managed are in the digital domain, the console allows engineering to better handle this material.
The unit also has given DR’s operators the ability to be more independent by working offline and completing parts of projects at their individual workstations. Then, when a project is in its final stages, near-complete material is downloaded to the console.
There was one feature of the console that was vastly different from traditional analog consoles and apparent to the engineering staff immediately — the ability to configure signals internally, without the need for external patching. Instead of external patch-bays with wiring, users now can configure every signal internally, including microphones, external tape machines, reporter lines and anything else. They can put all these signals on faders internally in the console, whereas in the past, users would have to patch them through an external patch panel, obviously spending time that can now be used for other functions.
While this feature is a benefit in the long run, in the short term, it did require a learning curve. For example, in addition to the more familiar buttons and knobs, operators also needed to get accustomed to more modern features such as touchscreen interfaces and menu-driven applications.
Users also can save their preferred set-up of the console on the SSL server. Then, when they come to a live situation, they can download their own set-up of the console. This, of course, would take a much greater amount of time to do manually on an analog console. The console complements the existing equipment and technology in the studio, which includes four external stereo transmission source lines, two external stereo transmission destination lines, four Sennheiser wireless microphone systems, five telephone hybrid systems, a Sony R-DAT player, a Yamaha SPX-990 digital audio FX system and a Studer A80 quarter-inch tape machine.
The console will fill an even greater role when it is installed in Studio 12 later this year. In that studio, due to the increased variety of programming handled in a typical week, total recall ability between projects will be a significant time-saver. Plus, there will be even more opportunity to use the console’s full range of features and capabilities, as the programming done in that studio often calls for filtering, gates/expanders and compression, among other functions and types of signal management.
For example, during the newsmaga-zine programming that DR handles, there is often a live audience participation aspect, as well as telephone calls from viewers. The programming often requires a variety of sources, such as lines out for speakers, and it takes a lot of time to change from one and get ready for another.
Furthermore, the console offers operators a simplified control surface, especially the ability to access all channel controls through its master channel. In addition to being able to define controls based on the input of a particular source — for example, providing dedicated access to mic gain for a live mic source or stereo balance trim on a VTR return — the master channel provides a complete set of dedicated controls on each channel bay. In addition to other functionality, through the master channel, channel layouts also may be created with the console’s offline configuration utility.
As Danish Broadcasting continues to evolve its operation, the console has kept pace, with such enhancements as a remote bay option that allows its processing to be divided between two control surfaces, as well as an enhanced third-party router integration, allowing information to be exchanged more easily between external routers and the routers designed into the console.
With the move to digital, the company is undergoing several transformations. In addition to the new equipment upgrades in Studios 11 and 12, it is currently building a new all-digital broadcast facility near Copenhagen, scheduled for completion in 2006. With these new consoles in place, a key element of that transition to digital is now set.
Note: The reflections from Peter Riis-Vestergaard in this article represent the thinking process behind the purchasing decision for the Aarhus facility. They are not reflective of an equipment purchasing philosophy on behalf of Danish Broadcasting.
Peter Riis-Vestergaard is project manager at Danish Broadcasting.