It sounds like a couch potato's dream come true: Every second of Summer Olympics action available on a wall with more than 400 monitors. It's not a dream, but it's also not a place where you're likely to see spectators spread out on sofas. What is being touted as the world's largest monitor wall is part of the International Broadcast Center (IBC) in Sydney, Australia's Olympic Park.
The IBC will be the headquarters and hub of operations for the event's host broadcaster, The Sydney Olympic Broadcasting Organisation (SOBO). SOBO is expecting more than 190 television and radio broadcast groups with more than 12,000 accredited rights holders to use the IBC during the 17-day Summer Olympic Games. These broadcasters will be sending their signals to a world audience estimated near 25 billion.
To handle the design and integration of the IBC, SOBO selected broadcast engineering firm GeneSys International (GSI), a wholly owned subsidiary of MCSi Inc. This is an unprecedented third-consecutive Olympics IBC integration project for GSI. The company provided similar services for in 1996 for the Summer Games in its hometown of Atlanta, and then again in 1998 for the Nagano, Japan Winter Games.
According to GSI, the key to a successful IBC is to keep it simple and save the bells and whistles for use at the venues. The company's goals are to provide the best possible system for the operators and the deliver the highest quality picture to the viewers.
The largest IBC to date For GSI, the Sydney facility is considerably larger than either of the previous two IBCs. The 70,000-square meter, $475.5 million (U.S.) facility will accommodate an average working population of 6500 people. The facility houses studios, control operations, logistics, quality control and engineering. In addition to being the operational nerve center, the IBC contains office space for SOBO administration, as well as retail shops and restaurants.
In spite of the size of the installation, GSI engineers say the facility is not all that sophisticated - there's just a lot of equipment in one place. The equipment to be accommodated by the IBC includes more than 780 cameras, (including Panasonic's AJ-D910WA digital field production camcorders, AQ-235W full-featured studio cameras, AQ-23WU handheld cameras, and Philips LDK 23HS high-speed cameras); 1000 DVCPRO50 digital VTRs (including AJ-D960 slow-motion studio recorders, AJ-D950 studio VTRs, AJ-D940 slow-motion players, AJ-D95 half-rack size studio recorders and AJ-LT95 lap-top editors); Videotek test equipment (including VSG-204 digital sync generators, TVM-821 digital oscilloscopes and TVM-710 analog scopes); and Clear-Com's Matrix Plus digital intercoms. In addition to the wall of 402 monitors, almost 4000 production monitors are also expected to be in use.
Even under the best of circumstances, integration of a project of this scale is daunting. But the Olympics can present its own set of unique challenges. Chief among them is the fact that most of the equipment and racks are designed and engineered in separate cities, then transported and integrated to the remote site. In most cases, the racks had to be wired without the equipment, which was shipped from various locations to Sydney after the racks were installed in the IBC in February. The complete installation must be fully tested prior to transportation because once it arrives on site, with more than a million meters of cable running throughout the IBC, there is no time to compensate for wiring errors. Once the Olympic torch is lit, everything has to work perfectly.
Multiformat planning This is the first truly multiformat IBC. Although D-2 was offered as an option in Nagano, the format had very few takers. In Sydney, the distribution system is a combination of 625 SDI and PAL analog, with audio distribution in either analog or embedded in the SDI datastream. Radio distribution is strictly analog.
The IBC control room, or the Transmission and Distribution Center (TDC), is where you find the massive wall of monitors. Electronics are housed in approximately 70 racks. An additional 26 racks contain the fiber patch panels and alarm equipment for Australian telecommunications firm, Telstra. Telstra's codecs are housed with the broadcast terminal equipment for easy access. Telstra uses a separate switch room for its PABX, cellular service equipment and other systems.
A giant distribution center World broadcasters rent space in the IBC and receive a bundle of cables with video and audio feeds. Coverage of more than 300 events from the 15 Olympic Park venues will be fed via Telstra fiber back to the IBC. The TDC receives 40 analog and 20 SDI feeds from the venues. PAL-equipped OB units primarily produce the venue feeds. The exceptions are feeds from productions in the Super Dome and Stadium Australia, which is SDI with analog audio. The IBC is co-located with these two venues so the control room complex for its production is adjacent to the IBC and the feeds require only 300 meters of 7731A coax.
On the input side - referred to in Australia as the contribution - there are also approximately 250 combined analog and SDI unilateral circuits booked for the various rights holders. The SDI circuits are converted to PAL and the audio de-multiplexed for monitoring purposes only. On the transmission side, there are nearly 175 circuits.
The input signals are run through patch panels for quality control checks, then sent through distribution amplifiers to demarcation panels to the broadcasters. They then take those signals, do voiceovers, add their own graphics, and send them back to the IBC transmission area, where they are delivered back to the home country via whatever path the broadcaster has arranged.
The use of routers is generally limited to monitoring only. None of the routers are used in the critical program paths, which are hardwired or patched. The 40 distribution channels are frame synchronized by 40 Digibus systems each containing PAL-to-SDI decoding, SDI frame sync, audio delay and embedding and re-encoding into PAL. The routers are all multiformat, PAL, SDI and analog audio. They range from 64x32 to 128x32.
The commentary circuits from the venues come into the IBC's Commentary Switching Center (CSC). The IBC matrix is a 296-port system, most of it being used for four-wire switching. A rights holder's commentary travels the four-wire circuit to the CSC, then is passed on to the rights holder studio area and ultimately to the broadcaster's home country.
The IBC also houses a limited number of bookable edit suites and a format-conversion room.
The world's largest staging event For GSI, the Sydney games began months ago. Planning began as soon as the Nagano Winter Games concluded two years ago. It shipped wire racks over in February to begin installation and wiring. Third-party equipment is installed and then starting a month the games commence, everything is turned on for a 30-day burn-in period to make sure all the bugs are out of the system. For the duration of the games, GSI has an eight-person maintenance staff on-site 20 hours each day. As soon as the last broadcaster signs off from Sydney, everything comes out and is returned to its supplier.
Like many of the athletes participating in the games, as soon as the torch burns out in Sydney, GSI will begin preparing for the next Olympics. GSI will take what it learned in Sydney and incorporate that into its bid for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.