Sports production: Serving aces
Later this year, Editec, a sports production company in the UK, is launching an OB van designed to deliver all of the fast-moving features that sports producers now demand. The vehicle, currently under construction, will be equipped with up to five EVS LSM-XT units, for slow-motion and editing; a SportServer, a digital media server for sports content; a MAC-based editing system based on Final Cut Pro; and a Digital VooDoo SDI card. The package provides uncompressed SDI storage and editing as well as the ability to add graphics to edited clips.
At the 2002 Winter Olympics, an operator uses an EVS 6-channel LSM-XT slow-motion and editing server at the Olympic Park, venue for events such as the bobsled, luge and ski jumping.
The heart of the OB vehicle will be a Leitch 32x32 router with 5-level switching — SDI/AES1/AES2/Analog 1/Analog 2. This configuration will allow operators to work with current clients using standard 2-channel audio, but will also provide the ability to record four channels of audio per SDI feed using either direct AES feeds or analog via racks of 24-bit Leitch ADC/DAC 6081 cards.
The sports content server will be used to provide full resolution Super Motion material in edited highlight packages. Using the EVS SportNet, the vehicle will be able to share feeds with other broadcasters on-site or interface with other OB trucks that wish to use the Editec unit as an expansion to their usual facilities.
A tapeless focus
The company’s first tapeless application was with short duration RAM recorders. It offered them to Sky Television, one of its major clients at the time, as a solution to its slo-motion requirements. It was purely slo-motion instant replay then. Editec was able to make a slo-motion montage at the end of the program because Sky couldn’t do it using tape.
Fast forward to the present. Now the company is not only positioned to offer a slo-mo solution, but a program solution based on server technology. For example, at the recent U.S. Open golf tournament, Editec took the feed from the American source into its system, eliminated the commercials, and prepared a time-delay broadcast while at the same time offered slo-motion replays and at the same time built highlights as the matches played out. At the same time, special packages following one player were prepared.
All of these are running in parallel, and the new technology allows the producers to decide on short notice what angle they want to show of the golf tournament or which story they want to follow. But the most important thing is the ability to change their minds on short notice. Stories in sports do change and have various angels. If a package is on-air and the producer says he does not want to do that story, Editec can actually change the program while it’s on air.
Today the company is pushing the server system with networking, putting a number of systems together with the ability to get material from various machines. At the U.S. Open, there were six angles networked together. With networking, it is not necessary to dub between machines. Users can simply get a network number or a clip number, and they have the material on your machine — a time-saving feature.
Sports events are once-in-a-lifetime events, so there is not an opportunity for reshoots. Here, a German production crew uses the LSM-XT during the 2002 World Cup in Korea.
The tissue tying together the players of the networked production system is a high bandwidth (540Mb/s) SDTI network. Operators have instant access to any shot recorded on any other device on site. Clips can be copied to the server faster than real-time, but the bandwidth management handles any traffic related to live broadcast transmissions with priority. A cost advantage is the use of standard 75V BNC/coax cables. Although not a factor at the Open golf tournament, it is possible in a situation with multiple OB vehicles to add or subtract connections without interference to the current traffic.
Editec is consulting for British Sky Broadcasting on the new Champions League football contract and hopes to introduce the sports content server once it is operational.
The company believes that it can make a quality edited high lights package with the server. The main advantage is manipulation of audio. It is possible to put video over existing audio and replace video, which is not possible with its current server. The company expects the system to improve the quality of the digital high- lights packages and the flexibility of the editing. Client feedback will trigger regular contact with EVS to refine its capabilities.
In its 5RU configuration, the server features internal RAID5 storage of up to 80 hours at 30Mb/s. When installed, all shots from the company’s LSM-XT or maXS servers will be transferred automatically via a network to the sports content server. Indexing, sorting, and simple drag and drop editing can then be done during match play. The output channel, SDI video with embedded or analog audio, can be controlled locally or by external devices through RS422.
Not so tapeless
Editec is essentially a tapeless company, but it does have mixed technologies. Under some circumstances, it is necessary to dump server content on to tape in order, for example, to remove graphics and provide a clean feed or to allow commercial insertions. Two or three years ago, few would have fed a program signal direct to air from a server. But the reliability is now there. Disk recorders are becoming more reliable than tape recorders.
After reliability, the other disk issue is quality. Two or three years ago, users could spot the difference between a digital tape replay and a server replay. Today, side-by-side, the quality of the server system versus tape is the same. Few can tell the difference.
With the 4-channel system with two inputs and two outputs, the compression is quite low. As you go to multi-camera configurations, the compression will increase, but the subjective quality remains. An engineer looking at a scope may be able to see a slight difference, but the quality aspect now is no longer a question. Producers, directors and engineers don’t complain about the server.
The system has an archive feature using removable media. Editec’s application is different from traditional archiving. One of the major requirements of the Champions League is the ability to archive, not for posterity, but for safety. If there is a problem, it is necessary to get the material back into the system.
As a result, the company is looking at the EVS XFile unit. The idea is that at the end of the day, the customer can walk away with a couple of disks, and he’s got all the information stored on the systems during a sporting event. Then he goes to his edit suite and pops the disks into the digital browsing station and has immediate access to all of the material.
However, there needs to be some management of that data so that the customer can decide exactly what is stored, because the customer doesn’t want what is available on the whole network As a backup, the unit is superb. The drawback is that the company has to convince its customers to have the XFile stations in their studios, because it is no use taking their disks with them if they have no way of playing them.
A major feature is the ability to pre-load material on the disks. For example, the company is doing a boxing schedule for Sky involving 60 events in a 12-month period. With XFile disks, Sky could pre-load material in the edit suite and download it to the Editec OB. Then the opener for the program is there, the titles are there, and the break numbers are there, efficiently and effortlessly.
When Sky transmits a program, that’s not the end of it. There is a re-transmission overnight, and there will be at the end-of-the-week highlights of the games. Obviously, all the material it has on the disks is quite valuable.
Editec is a sports market specialist, but it has gone off-field on occasion with good results. Server-based facilities are capable of many programming assignments. For example, in Ireland this spring, the company did a talent show program. All the programming went to air off the server. It did an edited highlights of all the musical pieces. At the end of the program, the clients asked how long it would be until the highlights are finished, and the company said they were ready. It was a good example of using the product in a non-sports environment. There is a whole range of programming, besides sports, that can be approached.
Multi-format in the line-up
The name of the game in OB vans for sports production is now multi-format. As part of an ongoing refurbishment and upgrading program, Visions, a large UK independent TV facilities group, earlier this year decided the time was right to acquire an OB truck capable of both SD and HD production.
The Grass Valley XtenDD SD and HD vision mixers are the centerpiece of the Visions OB van for multi-format sports production.
With virtually no HD demand in Europe, the decision rested on the growing requirements by American clients. Another attraction was the fact that the SD/HD requirements had no effect on the design of the truck, HD1. It is identical to OB unit D12, which is currently SD-only. To date, the new unit has delivered several SD projects with HD feeds being archived. This enables clients to view the HD output and preserves their ability to originate future programming in HD.
With up to 24 camera channels and a switchable SD/HD design, the Visions van houses three operational areas — sound, production and engineering — in a 13.5-meter long trailer with two expandable sides.
The truck’s first assignment was to cover indoor cricket from the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Designed and built in Weiterstadt, Germany, by the Grass Valley Systems Group, the OB truck features several Grass Valley products, including XtenDD SD and XtenDD HD vision mixers; 12 SD/HD switchable LDK 6000 mk II Worldcam cameras (the truck is wired for 24 cameras); and a Trinix HD/SD digital video router. In addition, the multi-standard OB unit features more than 30 HD switchable Grade 1 monitors.
The audio capabilities of the truck are based on a Calrec Sigma 100, designed to Visions’ specifications, with Dolby E- and Surround Sound 5.1 functionality. To support its multi-format audio requirements, the Visions truck includes a Concerto Series routing matrix, which allows multiple audio formats to be mixed in the same frame. The router is expandable to a 128x128 matrix.
Although Visions does not currently own VTRs, the truck can accommodate all VTR formats — HDCAM, D5, Digital Betacam, hard disk recorders, etc. On the acquisition side, Visions wanted triax cameras. This feature is critical as many sports venues are pre-wired for only triax, and the ability of the camera to plug right into these venues makes it easier and more cost-effective to produce HD programming. But right now, Visions’ chief concern is the ability to provide simultaneous SD output from the LDK 6000 cameras for its multi-format sports world.
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