ESPN's SportsCenter begins HD production

The June 7 premiere of ESPN's “SportsCenter” in pristine widescreen HD with multichannel AES audio was made possible by a new signal distribution infrastructure and a comprehensive collection of multiformat broadcast equipment. The telecast was also the first step in an operational move to a new digital center. The 120,000-square-foot, all-digital HD facility is located in Bristol, CT, directly behind the network's existing production and post-production headquarters. Not only is the new HD version of “SportsCenter” originating from the new building, most of ESPN's HDTV operations will be moved to the digital center in January 2005.

Signal distribution

To manage the network's production workflow, the project design team combined multiple racks of Grass Valley Trinix routing switchers from Thomson (configured as a 1024×512 I/O matrix for HD video signals), with a similarly dense Grass Valley Apex router to handle all incoming audio sources. The Trinix router can handle both SD and HD video signals in the same frame, and allows the network to execute frame-accurate, on-demand switching on a large number of crosspoints simultaneously. Router control is handled by an Encore facility control system from Thomson.

All of the routing switchers are monitored and controlled via SNMP, as well as HTTP, for Web-based content. This support allows a routing switcher's status to be checked by remote. To support its signal distribution paths, ESPN installed Miranda Densité control probes and several hundred Grass Valley Kameleon 16-channel output DAs. These route digital audio and video signals to the Trinix and Apex routers and throughout the building.

Moving content from tape to servers

In the new digital center, each of six equipment rooms and seven production control rooms operate independently, although they're completely networked together, should engineers need to combine resources.

The digital center's massive signal routing architecture supports 19 nonlinear edit rooms, four master control suites (with expansion to 10 planned), and a large sports-content ingest screening facility. Signal paths can also be changed quickly to accommodate new channels and future internal growth.

The ingest area of the existing facility employed 32 PC workstations to log more than 220 hours of game footage, and record, individually screen and archive it to Betacam videotape each day. In the new building, this process is handled by 50 ingest workstations and about 35 VTRs networked to a series of nonlinear editing systems and video servers with several terabytes of storage.

Editing, file sharing and playback is handled by networked systems from BBC Technology (Colledia) and Quantel (generationQ). The Colledia software has a built-in application for screening the daily incoming video and was developed for ESPN to help quickly identify and retrieve clips. This has dramatically streamlined the video workflow and asset management at the network (in both the old and new buildings) by fostering collaboration between production departments and individual employees.

The new digital center also features a large complement of Quantel editing and server equipment. When it's completed, there will be 19 QEdit Pro (five more will be in the old building) and eQ systems tied to 68 sQ servers to move data on and off the SAN, which currently has a storage capacity of more than 360TB.

A series of SeaChange International broadcast servers serves as a set of proxy SANs that can be accessed anywhere in the building and from outside the facility with a security code.

System redundancy is handled by effectively running two independent power sources to each key device in the building.

Master control

The design team is still evaluating systems, but has installed automation systems from Pro-Bel to handle the initial load and is considering several IBIS master control switchers. Signals are routed through this area, where logos and channel bugs are inserted into the transport stream before going to air.

HD studio production

The second major goal for the facility was to provide the network with more studio space. The digital center boasts three HD studios (9000, 5000 and 3400 square feet) that will be home to all Bristol-based studio shows, beginning with “SportsCenter.” To shoot in its preferred digital format, widescreen 720p, ESPN will use 16 Grass Valley LDK 6000 mk II multiformat cameras. Evertz transmitters and receivers and SumiTomo multimode fiber gear interconnect the seven studios via 1000 fiber-optic circuits.

Each studio has its own production control room equipped with a Grass Valley Kalypso. A set of Calrec Alpha 100 and Sigma 100 consoles outfit each audio room, connected to an ENCO audio clip server, while an RTS/Telex ADAM intercom system ties all of the operational seats together from a communication perspective. Pro-Bel and Miranda supplied the master control switchers and automated playout devices (for lower-third crawls).

At the center of it all

As the network continues to expand its reach throughout the world, the digital facility will remain at the center of it all.

Michael Grotticelli regularly reports on the professional video and broadcast technology industry.

Design team

Bill Lamb, VP, systems engineering
Kevin Stolworthy, VP, production ops
Jim Servies, VP, tech. planning
Jackie Bracco, VP, facilities planning/ops
Ted Szypulski, dir., engineering special projects
Mitch Rymanowski, sr. coordinating dir., production ops
Rob Hunter, dir., new media tech
Robert “Biff” Longfield, mgr., planning/construction
John Cistulli, mgr., plant engineering

HLW International
Facilities Engineering Associates

System integrators:
National TeleConsultants (NTC)
Doyle Technology Consultants
The Systems Group

Equipment list

Thomson Grass Valley
NewsEdit edit systems
Kalypso HD video production center
Trinix and Apex routing switchers
Kameleon DAs

sQ servers
eQ and Qedit Pro editors

BBC Technology Colledia for sports

MVP display processors
fiber-optic gear

Christie Digital
GraphXMASTER CS70 70-inch rear display cubes
FP40 40-inch LCD flat-panel displays

Calrec Sigma 100 and Alpha 100 audio consoles

RTS/Telex ADAM intercom system

Stagetec MADI microphone distribution system

SeaChange broadcast servers


Master control switchers
Automation systems