Turner Studios’ new 53-foot TS2 truck covers home and road games for the Atlanta Braves (MLB), the Atlanta Hawks (NBA) and the Atlanta Thrashers (NHL), as well as other sports and special events that are broadcast by Turner networks. Such a diverse range of programming requires that the trucks employ high-quality equipment that is flexible and can integrate well with other equipment. And, like every other company in the broadcast industry, Turner is exploring its options in its migration to digital television and HDTV.
The 53-foot TS2 truck covers home and road games for the Atlanta Braves (MLB), Atlanta Hawks (NBA) and Atlanta Thrashers (NHL), as well as other sports and special events. Photo by Dave King.
The audio console is the centerpiece of any mobile truck, and Solid State Logic has been providing Turner with large-format consoles dating back to 1982. When Turner decided to replace its SSL SL6000 analog console, it was confident that the company’s MTP digital audio production console was the logical next step. The console features 208 inputs, 192 active processing channels and 80 outputs, and is configurable for 5.1 surround mixing.
The console is strikingly similar in many ways to the SL6000, which helped to greatly reduce the learning curve for the truck’s operators. The console’s in-line architecture is familiar to engineers and allows them to get up and running quickly. In addition to its intuitive presentation, the dedicated knob-per-function control surface allows immediate access to all channel functions and provides an excellent overview of all of the console’s settings. Also, the fact that the console provides 192 faders in an efficient footprint was key, considering the limited amount of usable real estate in any truck.
Moving quickly from sport to sport requires the use of different settings for each venue. Certain configurations such as announcer booths and sideline interview positions remain fairly constant, but the placement of effects microphones in figure skating, for example, can vary greatly from those used in baseball or other sports. When the truck’s crew goes back to its baseball or basketball setups, the ability to precisely recall all of the settings is an incredible time-saver.
The console’s total recall and proprietary DSP technology simplifies setup for specific games. Projects can be saved for each venue or event. When the truck comes back for baseball season, the crew just loads its baseball project right in again, and the settings are where they left them six months before.
Solid State Logic’s MTP digital audio production console, installed in Turner Studio’s TS2 truck, allows for faster recall of settings between events, more flexible routing, and also helps to add more realistic audio elements to a broadcast.
This came in handy after a recent Braves game at Turner Field lasted 16 innings, obviously running much longer than anticipated. The truck was scheduled to do a figure-skating event at nearby Philips Arena immediately following the game. The truck crew simply loaded in its baseball project and then made changes to create the proper setting for figure skating and resaved it. Thus, they were able to create a project for a completely different sport that was actually built from a baseball project. The ability to quickly and easily reconfigure the entire console by simply loading a new setup file makes these quick turnarounds between events a simple procedure.
Knob per function
In addition to the console’s recall capability, the knob-per-function design provides quick access to all routing and processing functions. There’s a lot to be said for being able to reach up in-line on the channel strip above a fader and make the appropriate changes. Many digital consoles force you to operate the entire console from a master-control area in the center of the console with one set of knobs. The console’s design greatly improves the speed and flexibility of setting up routing for output feeds to other locations inside the truck, such as announcers’ IFBs or camera programs.
The console’s digital-to-analog converters (DACs) allow the crew to feed prefade mics to other trucks and store them in a project for reuse in the future on a similar event. This way, when they are feeding the visiting team’s truck, they know that certain DAC outputs will always be the same effects mics, prefade.
The crew often needs to create mirror-image feeds for ESPN. There are also quite a few times (with the Braves being as good as they are) when there are as many as three trucks at Turner Field for a 3-way broadcast. The console has a built-in digital audio router, which means that if ESPN or FOX comes in for a game, the TS2 crew can easily make all of its microphones available to other trucks. In such cases, the crew can give these other trucks its outfield wall mics. Routing setup for channel inputs, mix busses and multitrack busses uses a central control section for speed and convenience. The crew can make routes individually or in arrays, and the console always displays each input’s source and bus routing on the meter bridge above the associated channel. This way they always know where their signals are going.
The truck’s tape area features 64 routable monitors that center around a Thomson Grass Valley 3000 production switcher. The area also includes four Sony Beta slo-mo decks and five Sony Digital Betacam decks.
The crew uses the console’s 48 multitrack busses to feed recorders, generate clean feeds/mix-minuses or even extra FX sends. The console also has 12 aux busses, which can be mono or stereo, and which are fed simultaneously from both upper and lower fader paths. Alternatively, any channel aux control can be split from its aux bus and feed any of the 48 multitrack busses. This can be useful in providing an individual resettable level control to a clean feed output for a channel.
Capturing the sounds of the game
The average Braves’ home baseball game can feature up to 14 effects mics across the field and surrounding areas, including the dugouts and bull pens. There are also 10 mics around the outfield wall that start at the left-field tarp area and stretch all the way to the right-field tarp area. In addition, there are mics pointed at first base for the toss-over, or when the pitcher throws over to first with a man on base. There’s a similar mic at third base, and two positioned behind home plate on either side to capture the “crack” of the bat hitting the ball, as well as other sounds of the game.
In a recent game, Braves’ centerfielder Andruw Jones was seen on camera walking back into the dugout, taking a drink and then flipping the cup onto the ground. You could hear the sound of the cup hitting the ground. Also at Turner Field, when an outfielder is going back on a fly ball and hits the warning track, you can hear his spikes hit the dirt, followed by him hitting the wall. That’s the type of detail the TS2 crew strives for in its broadcasts, and the fans appreciate it.
But such in-depth audio coverage also has its pitfalls. In another recent game, both opposing pitchers were upset with umpires’ calls at different times, and both were caught on camera uttering an expletive. Upon hearing it, one announcer turned to the other and said, “This place is really wired!”
Obviously, TV is first a visual medium, but audio can play just as big a part. Instant replays started out as just a video-only enhancement to a game’s coverage. With the audio quality Turner is getting from its trucks, many times it’ll run an instant replay for the sound only. For example, there was recently a dispute over whether or not a ball hit a batter. The TS2 crew played it back at normal speed, and the viewers could clearly hear the ball hitting the batter’s arm. The key is to show the viewer the most complete “picture” of a game possible, whether it’s video or audio.
The layout of the console has made setting up for games easy. The crew has the console arranged so key signals such as bat cracks and base mics are on group faders. The left and right bat cracks may be at the extreme left side of the console in the first eight faders, but the operator will have a group master fader right in front of him. Any fader can be a part of a group or a group master. It’s possible to create a setup where one channel on the console opens every other channel. The ability to arrange different inputs and control them as a group from anywhere on the console is a useful feature.
The complete picture
The MTP console forms the core of TS2’s audio operations and capabilities and works with the array of equipment that completes the truck. This equipment includes 12 Ikegami cameras (seven HK-377s and five HK-377Ps); a Thomson Grass Valley 3000 production switcher with 64 inputs, three M/Es, EMEM and frame store; a Thomson Grass Valley 7000 (96x128) video router; and a dedicated 64x64 router for tape-room monitoring.
Digital video effects include a 4-channel Accom DVEous system with Ultrawarp, 3-D light sourcing, combiner and Orbital FX; and a Feral Key West 2-channel DVE. The truck is also equipped with two Chyron iNFiNiT!s with version 10.0 software, and a Pinnacle FX Deko II CG. Replay equipment includes four Sony BVW-75 Beta slo-mo decks, five Sony DVW-A500 Digital Betacams (each with Lance slo-mo controllers), two Fast Forward Omega 2-channel DDRs (with removable hard drives), a 4-channel EVS DDR, and VHS and DVD machines.
Enabling communications between the truck’s different production areas and among the crew is an RTS ADAM intercom system with 11 KP-32 master stations, 18 MKP-4 user stations, 12 2-wire channels, 16 IFB channels and a 2-channel TIF and 8-line Partner telephone system. The truck also can be configured with a variety of other equipment available on request, including an eighth Ikegami HK-377 camera, Panasonic 3-CCD LPS cameras with Fujinon lenses, Lectrosonics and Vega wireless microphone systems, and a Motorola wireless IFB system.
The end result of all this technology —the audio quality of the MTP console, the placement of the field-effects mics and the range of state-of-the art equipment in the truck —is a “you-are-there” experience for viewers at home.
Bob McGee is director of technical operations, and Jim Budka is an audio engineer for Turner Studios.