Rodney Murray loves a good challenge. And that’s exactly what was presented when SplashMedia asked him to design and install a network studio in a space the size of a garage. But that was only the beginning. The facility, located in Addison, TX, was on the ground floor of a five-story commercial/residential building and flanked on either side by restaurants. The existing space had to be gutted before new construction could begin, with just six months to the scheduled airdate.
Most people said it couldn’t be done—but not Murray. He accepted the position of senior director of engineering for SplashMedia and became responsible for building the studio that is home to Traders Television Network (TTV)—the first satellite television network dedicated solely to online investors and traders.
“My previous experience in building a studio from the ground up was with Primedia Digital Video where we built an 182,000 square foot broadcast facility. By comparison, this studio was hand-built—very specialized, much like a Lamborghini. In fact, when I first met with SplashMedia and they were describing the situation and what they wanted, I told them I could build a studio in a Volkswagen bus if that’s what they wanted. Little did I know they would take me seriously,” said Murray.
The network launched on schedule on June 1, 2005, and currently produces 11 one-hour live programs daily that are broadcast Monday through Friday on the DISH satellite network. Weekend programming consists of rebroadcasting the weekday shows and some training videos.
DRIVEN BY CREATIVE PROWESS AND TECHNICAL THINKING
To accomplish this seemingly unimaginable feat, Murray had to throw out the rule book. He consulted with Telemetrics to apply their expertise in developing a camera robotics system and with Orad to supply the virtual studio system to fit in a space-challenged environment. The entire facility is about 4,000 square feet and contains one control room and three studios, the largest of which, Studio A, is 22’ x 20’. Because of the size limitations, the only possible and viable solution was a 100% 3D multi-camera virtual studio from Orad and a unique camera robotics system from Telemetrics.
“At 22’ x 20’, Studio A is very cutting edge—a unique work of art,” said Murray. The virtual set is achieved with BlueSet technology from Orad and a 180∞ chroma wall which allows set changes with the push of a button. Finding a tracking system that would interface with the Orad system and have both horizontal and vertical capability in limited space proved to be one of the biggest challenges. “I was familiar with Telemetrics’ Camera Trolley Systems but what we really needed was an ‘H’ shaped configuration that would allow the camera to move back and forth, up and down and simultaneously back/forth and up/down,” said Murray. “When I contacted Telemetrics and explained what I needed, they immediately offered a solution—one they had applied many times before in similar applications with space limitations. The result was a unique ‘H’ shaped belt-driven, high-speed servo positioning system that spans 11 feet in front of the control room window and is mounted 8 inches from the wall.”
The Telemetrics EWM-PT-S2-BD Elevating Wall Mount system consists of the EWM-PT-S2-BD Motor Drive Panel and Trolley along with the EWM-PT-TRK-1 Track. The system is S2 servo controlled with convergence of all axes, and integration capability with the entire Telemetrics camera robotics product line. At SplashMedia, the camera robotics system is controlled using the Telemetrics’ CP-D-3A Control Panel and CPS-ST-S Studio Control Software which offers smooth variable speed, position preset and motion control capability.
Murray adds that the system is very fluid and noted that the programmed moves are smoother than actual operator moves. Because it is such a unique system utilizing new technology, there were a few bugs in the beginning but he noted that Telemetrics was very responsive in getting them resolved.
VIRTUAL SET NEEDS HEAVY DUTY-SOLUTIONS
“We really put Telemetrics and Orad to the test in coming up with a reliable and fully integrated solution and they were very flexible and responsive,” said Murray. “They had to do design on the fly as well as R&D. For example, we had already purchased the camera, but it was too heavy for Telemetrics’ standard pan/tilt/zoom head. The weight issue was further compounded by the large prompter we were using. Telemetrics came back to us with a new heavy-duty pan/tilt, complete with protocols for connecting to the Orad virtual studio system. We were the first to utilize this new pan/tilt unit.”
The Telemetrics PT-LP-S3 is a precision pan/tilt head with smooth variable operating speed, heavy-duty bearings and motors with isolation mounts. Up to 255 presets are available and are called using shot convergence technology. The unit installed at SplashMedia features a virtual studio interface that incorporates precision Quadrature Encoders on the pan/tilt axis of the PT-LP-S3. The encoder outputs are combined with lens zoom and focus encoder and processed into a serial data format (RS-422 in this case) and sent to three Orad DVG-10 engines that process the camera tracking data, render the graphics, delay the foreground video and composite the foreground video and the graphics with the background scene to match the real camera movement.
NOT YOUR CONVENTIONAL CONTROL ROOM
The glassed-in control room is equally short on space and it was important to Murray to keep an elegant and clean look. The Telemetrics CP-D-3A desktop serial control panel is installed in a custom made console with the CPS-ST-S control panel software installed on a dedicated computer. Dell servers and multiple PCs are networked through a KVM (keyboard/video/mouse) switch allowing operators to select and control any source. Control of mixers, lights, robotics, etc. is over an E-gig network. A 50-inch plasma is mounted on a pole, angled down and flanked by 22 VGA monitors for a “winged” look. Up to four computer screen images can be viewed at once on the plasma.
NEW SPACE FROM THE GROUND UP
From start to finish, the project took six months. Demolition of the former space started on December 27 and the new space was ready to start installation by February 15. “I had assembled a team for the installation and we were designing about three weeks ahead of the construction crew,” said Murray. “There was no place to stage the construction so timing and delivery of the Telemetrics camera robotics system was critical.”
Along with the obstacles, Murray had to face designing a studio in a space that measured 13-1/2 feet deck to deck (15 feet is normal) while contending with the location in a residential/commercial building. All of the plumbing and electricity is in the ceiling and water running through the pipes from the apartments located above the studio could be heard, necessitating additional soundproofing. The air conditioning had to be increased from a 12-ton capacity to 40, and all cabling is suspended from the ceiling along with the lighting.
TTV is also a new network, which required Murray to build a network operation center. Programming is distributed by fiber optics to Wyoming for uplink to DISH for broadcast. They are also working on streaming video with a custom Web application to cover all bases of distribution. The telecommunications infrastructure consists of 52 miles of fiber optic cabling and an IP telephone system that services the four off-site administrative offices.
“The design of this studio really pushes the envelope for efficiency,” said Murray. “There’s a lower cost of ownership and operation. In a traditional studio, our current programming (scripted and non) would consume approximately 133 man-hours/day. It’s only half that in our virtual studio. We have reduced the production crew to three people and that’s because of the Telemetrics robotics camera positioning system.”
Asked if he would ever again take on a project of this sophistication and level of difficulty, Murray responded with a resounding “yes.” “It’s the most fun project I’ve ever worked on—lots of pressure but a real sense of satisfaction when I look at the finished result.”
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