ESPN live production goes tapeless

ESPN's recent live coverage of the 11th annual Winter X Games from Aspen, CO, was more that just a spectacle of athletic prowess in the snow. It also provided the opportunity to experiment with a virtually tapeless post-production environment, providing a template for how most remote events will be produced in the future.

Perhaps the biggest feat was putting together a system that equaled a traditional all-digital studio environment. The technology was not new — video servers, nonlinear edit systems and a shared storage environment — but it has rarely been used with such tight integration and technical sophistication.

Material from each event was captured on Sony BVP-900 hard cameras and BVP-950 hand-helds with an assortment of Canon lenses at three venues via on-site production trucks (ND-2, SS-12 and SS-16) provided by NEP Supershooters. This footage was stored locally on EVS XT servers. Program feeds, wow reels and melts were transferred via XFile network to the main production truck (SS-25) that served the anchor elements of the on-site broadcast center. This center also included a core signal routing framework that was set up by NMT Productions, with Bexel Broadcast Services providing additional XFile and IP Director facilities within several NLE edit rooms built out in conference rooms in The Inn at Aspen hotel. The truck housed 11 EVS XT[2] servers that stored and transferred the material as Motion JPEG files. Both clean and dirty program records were also recorded on the truck's XT[2] servers.

Inside the hotel portion of the broadcast center, 18 EVS IP Directors and three EVS XFile archive devices were set up in edit bays, screening rooms and at logging stations. These devices served multiple functions — transferring media between venue mobile units and the broadcast center mobile unit, moving media between the EVS network to the AVID unity network and logging the raw programs and ISO feeds from the individual venue. Additionally, these stations could transfer media between the active EVS storage network and a 9TB Windows-based server with the combined capacity of 30 EVS XT servers.

This allowed ESPN editors working in 11 edit rooms (with two Avid Symphony and 9 Adrenaline systems) on an Avid Unity server environment in the broadcast center to access clips and create finished segments for air instantly.

Edited segments were pushed back to the EVS XT [2] network in the truck and played back directly to air or sent to the venue trucks' XT network if they were being incorporated into a larger venue segment.

EVS servers handled the bulk of the data while the extended storage array Windows server was used for accessing offline clips from past events (for adding background perspective to segments on particular athletes) and for archiving.

The most significant challenges facing this new workflow were configuration issues, such as getting all the systems to communicate and work together. EVS was able to provide a custom application to help automate the file transfer processes between the mobile truck XT system, the BC truck XT[2] system and the Windows server.

While the Winter X Games coverage was handled and broadcast in SD, ESPN is making plans to produce the Summer X Games completely in HD as part of the network's companywide initiative to broadcast all programming in HD.