Extreme makeover: Court TV

The expansive, new control room has no CRT monitors because viewing is done in the video shading room.

It's a familiar story: Someone has a brilliant idea for a new TV network, he cobbles together a basic system to get it going, grows it a little, and then it sits. While the engineer hopes to one day move the station to a larger facility, the system continues to grow into a success beyond its creator's original dreams. Then, finally, the station realizes it needs to do a major overhaul of the systems in order to continue to better its product.

Court TV is no exception. Founded in 1991, it has lived at its current location for 13 years. It now fills 10 floors for its three studios, two control rooms, multichannel master control, post production and many other areas. In 2002, the graphics and post areas were rebuilt, and in 2003, master control was moved to a separate floor and a new technical core was built to support it and other future upgrades. Then, in 2005, enhancements to one of the production control rooms created an extreme makeover.

The new Court TV control room uses 4M/E Grass Valley Kalypso switcher.

Initially retained as a consultant, Ascent Media Systems & Technology Services (formerly A.F. Associates) helped define the operational goals and concepts for a new production control room. To make the upgrade possible, one control room was taken offline, and production doubled up in the remaining room while the new system was built out.

Spacious design

Because Court TV is on the air live nine hours each day, it was important to create a comfortable work environment — one that was a break from the ordinary technical space. The new control room is comprised of a generous video control room, audio control room, green room and makeup area, a media and producer room, and a video shading room.

There are three tiers of consoles in the video control room. The front section is for the TD, CG ops, director and assistant director. The middle section is for production staff, including the lead producer and prompter operator. The rear section is for a dial-in phone operator, and space is available for executive guests wanting to sit in on the production.

An operational leap

In a dramatic break from tradition, there are no glass monitors in any of the control rooms. This decision was made because color-critical viewing is done in the video shading room, not in the control room. The virtual monitor wall is based on a 72-input Evertz MVP processor system used with four Barco 70in DLP-based rear projection units. It is mounted flush with the front wall soffit and is flanked by a pair of Martin Logan Voyage speakers.

In Court TV’s old audio control room, staff members used a Wheatstone SP6.

All displays at the desktop are LCD-based. This concept was extended from video production to audio production, where an additional Evertz MVP-fed LCD panel monitors video signals. The executive producer also has an MVP-fed display that monitors inbound feeds and uses the MVP control panel to select which audio feed to listen to.

The production video control room is based on a Grass Valley Kalypso Classic SD 4M/E switcher, Chyron Duet character generator and Aprisa RePlay still store, Grass Valley Gecko and Kameleon Series modular gear and BDL Autoscript teleprompter control, NEC LCD panels, and RTS intercom panels. An Evertz HDSD9545-PRO profanity delay creates a 10-second delay for live events. The production system is tied to an SDI/embedded AES Thomson Trinix house router and master control via a frame sync and AES embedder processing chain.

The new audio control room for Court TV features a Wheatstone D 5.1 audio board.

The audio control room is based on a Wheatstone Bridge digital audio mixing system with a D5.1 control surface. Additional equipment includes RTS TIF-4000 hybrids, patchbays and miscellaneous gear in a two-bay-wide equipment credenza located beside the operator. The main console contains the D 5.1 board, and above it is a ceiling-hung 40in NEC LCD with its own output of the Evertz MVP processor. A 360 Systems Digicart/E provides audio clip playback. Audio post operators can drag and drop files onto the Digicart hard drives from the Digidesign Pro Tools system.

To tie the new production environment to the existing studios, new BSPs with empty triax panels, mic connections and other I/Os were installed in each studio. The triax panels will be populated as the video shading system gets moved and rebuilt. New local routers were also installed in the studios to support on-camera monitoring.

An Evertz remote control panel for monitor reconfiguration sits at the executive producer’s position in the middle of the control room.

Equipment selection

After weighing many factors, Court TV decided that standard definition was the most prudent choice for its facility. The vast majority of the video feeds that originate in courtrooms are analog, not SDI, and certainly not high definition. The Kalypso platform was chosen not only for its power and flexibility, but also because of the staff's familiarity and comfort level with the Grass Valley product. The technical directors had been switching on Grass Valley's 250 Series for more than 12 years.

The facility evaluated audio consoles from several manufacturers. The audio operators wanted a more traditional TV-specific console, so the Wheatstone D 5.1 was the best choice. One of the big pluses of the system is that it is based on a router, making it flexible. It has an architecture that supports the use of multiple control surfaces using a single router core. In the long run, this is a great advantage, as Court TV can provide all control rooms and the radio studio access to all signals in the production environment.

The facility chose the RTS TIF-4000 for IFBs and PLs. The operators were used to standard telco couplers, so the new system provides improved flexibility, allowing anyone to check in any feed from any location, as well as enhanced operator friendliness, with better displays for conditions.


Court TV has always used Chyron graphics products, and this job was no exception. Two dual-channel Duet LEXs were chosen for CG work. The facility selected two four-channel Aprisa RePlays for stills and clips. It picked the RePlay because of its database and search capabilities. Each televised trial has its own extensive set of graphics files. Having these elements organized and easy to find was important for the production staff.

The old Control A was on-air for at least nine hours a day for the last 13 years.

To help manage and publish graphics to all of the production devices, a VertigoXmedia Vertigo Xmediaserver media server system was implemented. Using specific rule sets, the server publishes content out to edge devices from a central repository for all of the graphics at Court TV. This product has greatly streamlined the creation and distribution of graphical elements.

Integration challenges

Because Court TV had been working in the same control room for 13 years, there definitely was resistance to change. To minimize this, the technicians and production staff were involved early in the process. Equipment was demonstrated, feedback solicited, workflows reviewed and training provided. All of these things helped prepare for the changes to come.

Modifying the signal chain to accommodate the new control room while leaving enough of the infrastructure in place to stay on the air in the legacy control room made the project particularly difficult. Without the benefit of previous system drawings, it was an adventure.

This project was often delayed due to construction issues. Some materials took time to arrive, but even that time was well spent getting the rest of the technical system built. The control room portion was completed just a couple weeks after construction was complete.

In addition to rebuilding the control room, the facility expanded the intercom system by adding a new RTS Adam frame located in the equipment center. This was trunked to the legacy system located in the old SVO room, which allowed for a clean, phased implementation and migration strategy with minimal system downtime. In due time, the intercom system will be consolidated in the equipment center.

A lesson learned from using a virtual monitor wall was a lip-sync error present within the control room. Multi-window display processors generally yield a small video delay. To create a simple fix, the control room audio monitor output was delayed three frames. While the Wheatstone system can delay any input, it can also delay the monitor output. So with a small adjustment, the problem was solved.

Operational results

Court TV's staff has been impressed with the system even during the construction phase. Operators visited the new system during construction and were consistently blown away by the system's look and feel. Now that the system has been on the air for some time, the results are spectacular.

Tom Michales is senior project manager for Ascent Media & Technology Services. Joe Schwinghammer is senior vice president of engineering and facilities for Court TV.

Design team

Ascent Media & Technology
Tom Michales, sr. project manager
Bruce Giuriceo, site project manager
Eddie Ly, sr. project engineer
Tim Caldecott, project engineer
Craig Kellingbeck, project leader

Court TV
Joe Schwinghammer, sr. vp of engineering and facilities
Paul Kelly, director of engineering
Mike Rosker, project engineer
Tom Schoenwandt, project engineer
Mitch Silberbush, project engineer

Janson Design Group, architect

Forcast Consoles, Ernesto
D'Angelo, vp of design and engineering

Technology at work

Barco rear projection displays

BDL Autoscript teleprompter control

Aprisa RePlay still store

Digidesign Pro Tools

HDSD9545DLY-PRO profanity delay
MVP display processor

Grass Valley
Gecko signal processing system
Kalypso Classic 4M/E production video switcher
Kameleon media processing system

Martin Logan Voyage in-wall loudspeakers

NEC LCD panels

Adam intercom
TIF-4000 hybrids

Thomson Trinix house router
360 Systems Digicart/E audio server

VertigoXmedia Vertigo
Xmediaserver graphics server

Bridge router
D 5.1 audio board