mtv's Times Square Studios

Traditionally, when a facility build is complete, the as-built documentation is handed over to the client and it becomes the reference point for all future amendments to the facility's design. What becomes of that documentation after the systems integrator's departure will be determined by two factors: the orientation of the end-user by the SI as to the documentation standards and the discipline of the end-user's engineering staff to regularly update the package.

Initial systems design considerations must always take into account the future needs of a client in their facility architecture. Is there a limit to what future expansion entails? Is there a budget limitation? Is there an architectural or physical space limitation? Is there a more clever means of providing future expansion than just leaving extra space in racks and empty distribution slots? The project design team needs to look ahead in order to provide the extra "handles" that not only prepare the facility for future growth, but also provide a fast and furious means of implementing an expansion if it needs to happen quickly.

The Systems Group (TSG) recently had the opportunity to put these considerations and the respective TSG approach to the test.

The call MTV Networks contacted TSG and requested help to implement a plan to upgrade its teleproduction studios in Times Square. The network's production needs had expanded beyond the practical capability of its existing facility, and the limited real estate in its concourse-level home was creating some unique expansion challenges. TSG had worked with the MTV engineering team in the design and build of these same studios just over three years prior, and welcomed the opportunity to perform this upgrade with them now.

The original Times Square Studios were designed around a serial digital video and analog audio infrastructure with a level of the facility's routing switcher being dedicated to analog video monitoring and those devices that were to remain in the analog format. The project included the construction of a production control room, audio control room, tape record/playback area, camera control room and a central equipment room. The primary performance spaces are two traditional studios, but numerous broadcast service panels were distributed about the facility to allow for ad-hoc productions, providing a variety of on-air looks. A small insert control room was added late in the project cycle and soon proved to be a worthwhile addition, as much of the overflow from the main control room was brought here.

For the upgrade, MTV's orders were direct. The Systems Group was to replace the existing insert control room, audio room and tape room with upgraded facilities capable of advanced productions on par with the primary control room. This necessitated an expansion of the existing SDI routing to 256-by-256 which, because of extreme space limitations, required the elimination of the existing analog video level of the router and changing the monitoring "philosophy" from direct NTSC to SDI with converters. Additionally, TSG was tasked with improving the BSP connectivity necessary to support the increased level of production MTV was planning for the upcoming year.

The engineering plan Because TSG had completed the original project, it did not have to wait to receive documentation from MTV to begin the "research and discovery" portion of the upgrade project. A copy of the documentation was requested from MTV nonetheless, and a meeting was arranged to discuss the changes that had been made to the facility since the original Systems Group integration had been completed three years earlier. Fortunately, the MTV engineering team had done an admirable job of maintaining the facility's drawings and wirelists, and acknowledged the importance of this phase of the project by providing TSG the time necessary to collect information and evaluate the nature of the facility upgrades and changes that had taken place.

The next step required TSG's engineering and integration team to review the tactical goals of the expansion plan, the nature of the existing plant infrastructure, and the proposed timing and integration strategy, as well as identify some of the less obvious pitfalls that might be faced during the project. The upgrade was going to include a substantial increase to the existing equipment complement and cabling infrastructure. It was critical to identify, within the AutoCAD drawings and cabling wirelists, what the new and revised elements were, what was existing and what was to remain untouched. With the MTV-provided documentation in hand, TSG identified it as the logical baseline, developed its procedures for identifying changes and began the engineering process.

The goal for this upgrade was to achieve a nearly full-digital video plant. It became clear that much of the monitoring conversion could be replaced with high-density, lower cost, one-in by one-out encoders. So TSG continued to develop the upgrade engineering plan, identifying the new conversion products required and those that could be made available for re-purposing by decommissioning the existing insert control room.

During this phase, TSG established a timeline for the appropriation of those modular devices to be performed either by removing them physically from the frame in which they were currently operating or by rewiring their new source signals to that slot. It became evident that many of these products could be removed without issue after decommissioning that control room, but others served dual purposes and could not be removed until the infrastructure for the new model had been laid. This quickly became a disjointed list of products and frames, and it seemed that once the upgrade was complete, there could be a cost-inefficient loading of modular product frames. With client-approval, TSG revised its modular product allocation list to shuffle the new devices and certain less-critical existing devices into common frames. The leftover frames would then be available as spares or utility conversion frames. This may have been viewed as an additional, unnecessary level of complexity at the onset of the project, but it ultimately proved to be a worthwhile undertaking.

The project management team next focused on the configuration and requisition of the necessary equipment for the initial phase, as well as on the client-driven product selections for the upgrade of the insert control room, soon to be renamed Control-B. The common devices were ordered right away: equipment racks, patchbays, modular products, audio/video monitoring, tape machines and, of course, the new router.

Based on the level of production that was to be expected, MTV staff identified the more user-definable products. Control-B was to include a new Grass Valley Group four-M/E Kalypso video production center, an AMS Neve Libra Live II digital audio console, an Image Video under-monitor display system and a Grass Valley Group Profile XP MPEG file-server with external, removable media storage. The balance of the graphics and communications equipment would be re-purposed from the original control room, and added where necessary.

With the equipment purchases complete, the project management team established an integration timeline based on numerous factors: the estimated arrival date of the equipment, the Control-B construction schedule provided by the general contractor and the anticipated - though limited - downtime of the production schedule. The timeline was developed, and it looked as though the week and weekend preceding Labor Day was the optimum time to remove the analog router and upgrade the SDI router. The production staff would be at the MTV Beach House in California for the week, and when they returned, they would be operating in seemingly the same environment as they had previously. The digital upgrade would be transparent to them. The TSG project team moved to the installation phase.

The installation plan A systematic and well-timed approach is the key to a successful on-air upgrade. Identifying the areas within the facility, or the core equipment areas, that can be altered without concern for the on-air signal integrity is a reasonably simple task. Identifying critical signal paths requires more attention. Developing a timeline and a comprehensive scheme for flagging any cabling being replaced, moved or abandoned will ultimately determine the accuracy and efficiency of the process. Given the nature of on-air operations, this critical path step often determines the success of an upgrade of this nature.

For this move, TSG chose the simple yet effective method of flagging the various cables with colored tape and attaching the new cable labels, with the "move to" information immediately behind the originals. After the cable was moved to its new address, the original cable label was removed. This gave the numerous installation technicians involved in the process the ability to understand where the areas of concentration were, as well as their level of sensitivity, without being intimately familiar with the facility as a whole. This, joined with the proper identifiers in the documentation, provided nearly all the information necessary to perform the work accurately and quickly, with limited supervisory attention.

The TSG cabling upgrade plan called for laying new cabling in the floor first and connecting it to any of the new equipment. Next, the team moved to the more sensitive items, such as the existing router cabling and reference systems, then on to distribution and conversion products. With a nod from the MTV engineering staff, TSG took advantage of the many, short-lived breaks in the daily production schedule to make the appropriate cable moves. With each of these many moves feeling like its own "point of no return," the integration team took the time just prior to each move to confirm all the new cabling and move-to documentation was accurate and consistent. This provided an opportunity for a "go, no go" decision to be made prior to proceeding and - while prolonging the process somewhat - was a critical component in the drive to avoid mistakes that could impact the MTV on-air operations.

The end result The MTV Concourse Studio upgrades proceeded smoothly, on time and with no significant impact to any on-air operations. The collaboration between the MTV engineering staff and the TSG integration team once again proved how important it is to develop and maintain accurate systems and engineering documentation. The seamless integration of new equipment and infrastructure in an existing plant depends on setting realistic goals, assigning strong technical personnel, managing good communication among the project team and implementing the changes according to an agreed-upon plan. The best approach to planning that integration starts with developing and maintaining solid plant documentation.

Grass Valley Group SMS7500WB - 256x256 Wideband Routing Switcher

Grass Valley Group Kalypso4 - 4M/E Production Center

Grass Valley Group ProfileXP - MPEG file server

Grass Valley Group GVEous - Dual Twin DVE

AMS-Neve Libra Live II - 48 fader digital audio console

Pro-Bel 5698/5699 - MADI transcoding frames

Aphex 800 Series - Modular audio distribution products

Ensemble Design 5250 - Avenue Series high-density signal conversion products

Miranda Symphonie - Digital Video modular conversion products

Image Video - Dynamic Under Monitor Display system

Sony DVW-A500 - Digital BetaCam tape machines

Ikegami - TM&PM Series video monitoring products

Audio Accessories - Audio/Video patchbays

Time Base Consoles - Production Consoles, misc. millwork

MTV Staff:

Mike Bivona - Director of Engineering, Technical Facilities

Allan Rider - Chief Engineer

Jim Brizzolara - Assistant Chief Engineer

TSG: (Systems Integrator) - Senior Project Manager

Robert Degnan - Senior Systems Engineer

John Zulick - Project Engineer

Mattias Allevik - Integration Supervisor

DJ Rice - Lead Technician