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MTV does more with less

In the spring of 2010, Michael Bivona, vice president of engineering at MTV Networks, was faced with a perplexing challenge. He was tasked by the company's Music Group division with rebuilding the physical and technical production facilities of Viacom's MTV studio overlooking Times Square in New York City from SD to HD. While this might seem to be an engineer's dream project, Bivona had to do it with less space and a limited budget; and his staff still had to oversee production of a daily live show (the popular daytime show “The Seven”) they had been doing previously.

Oh, and one other caveat: He had to launch the new HD studio on New Year's Eve 2011, a mere six months after first breaking ground on the new second-floor facilities that now include a new studio, production control room, audio mixing suite, ingest/playback and video control/transmission areas. Additionally, numerous HD updates and enhancements were also required for the post-production facilities, delay rooms and updated transmission facilities that are co-located on alternate floors of the building. They also updated two rooftop robotically controlled camera systems.

Taking it in stride, Bivona said, “Our team is often asked to do the impossible with limited resources. The success of this project is a tribute to the great professionalism and expertise of the entire project team.”

Considering all of these factors, and looking to partner with an established systems integration firm with a proven track record, Bivona called upon the expertise of Joseph Policastro, a founder and senior director of Broadcast Integration Services (BIS, Union City, NJ). The two had previously worked together in 1997 to build the original SD facilities in the previously larger space. They were now challenged to develop an integrated project program that could achieve more with fewer resources.

Since Viacom had surrendered half of its original space to a new tenant in the building, a new optimized space development plan was required (based on a design by architect Neil Tucker), and a totally new mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) infrastructure was required (based on a design from AMA Consulting Engineers, NY). Most importantly, the broadcast technical infrastructure — which is based on HD and 3G-compliant equipment and systems — had to be carefully selected and integrated in a “tightly coupled” architecture in order to provide maximum flexibility, scalability and future expansion capability.

The design team also had to deliver the basic workflow processes that production and operations crews had become adept at while introducing enhancements to take advantage of new HD file-based advancements.

Policastro said the original design phase posed many challenges since there was much less space to work with, yet they had to accommodate all of the necessary systems and equipment requirements. The design plan that ultimately evolved is practical and retains its traditional production workflow, yet provides a highly flexible platform to accommodate new technologies as they become available. Several examples include the creative use of MADI systems to conserve wiring requirements and maximize the audio I/O channel capacity.

Production studio with a view

The new 4000sq ft production studio features Sony HDC1500 (1080i) cameras, used in various configurations. The studio camera system, which is wired to accommodate up to 14 cameras, is based on a predominantly SMPTE camera fiber backbone. A glass street-side view overlooking New York's Times Square, it provides a stunning backdrop for the studio, complete with an outdoor 45ft-wide electronic billboard in a large picture frame across the street that Bivona and his team often utilize to great effect as part of the show's imagery.

To support the show production requirements, the team also had to implement more than 73 wireless channels for microphones, IFB and party line in one of the most active RF environments in New York City. Since the studio also accommodates audience provisions, and considering the addition of dynamic live music-based production components, there are also audio console mixing positions for both front of house (FOH) and monitor mix (MM).

The studio lighting system is based on high-efficiency LED fixtures, which solved the problem of suitably lighting a smaller studio space for HD production while simultaneously reducing power and heat loads.

HD production control room

The newly installed, state-of-the-art production control room features a Sony MVS-8000A HD switcher, Chyron graphics and a monitor display wall composed of 20 flat-panel LCD monitors of various sizes with multiviewer software for dynamically assigning sources, aspect ratio sizing and tally. In order to optimize the space for the production and operations staff, a three-tier console configuration features the necessary ergonomics while providing suitable sight lines to the front monitor wall. Analogous to a typical mobile production truck environment, these design efficiencies fully maximize the space while providing what Bivona said was a comfortable environment for the crew.

Adjacent to the control room is the audio mixing suite, which was acoustically designed to accommodate a conventional surround-sound monitoring environment. The audio control room houses a Solid State Logic C140 console mixing surface and several roll-around racking carts to accommodate a variety of outboard audio and peripheral support equipment. To optimize space and minimize cabling, the console interface engine, audio I/O frames and jackfields are all co-located in the adjacent equipment room racks. A Genelec GLM surround-sound monitoring system provides a software-based time delay and phase alignment application to optimize the room monitoring environment. Also, considering the recent passing of the CALM Act, Linear Acoustic loudness monitoring is also implemented in the audio system chain.

Audio communications

Implementing 64-channel MADI technology within the audio console core as well as throughout the entire plant facilitated the efficient distribution of multiple channels of audio (via a fiber-based infrastructure). The MADI transport stream allowed multiple audio mixer positions, routing switcher, intercoms and ancillary interface devices to share and process audio channels simultaneously. In some areas, discrete AES signal subsystem routing and support provisions were deployed as a backup.

The overall communications system is based upon an RTS ADAM Matrix with a combination of analog, MADI and IP-based RVON interface cards. The matrix, keypanels, telephone interface units and other gear are all seamlessly interfaced to provide a plethora of point-to-point, IFB, four-wire (e.g. cameras, etc.) and party-line communications requirements. Although the majority of the IFB and party line are interfaced to the talent and operations via wireless provisions; there is also an outboard hard-wired RTS TW two-wire system as well.

Post production/playback

To support production and post capabilities, graphics and video files are shared over an extensive IP-based file sharing network. The team has also implemented an EVS hard disk system for multicamera recording and playout production support. Studio and post-production teams share resources, linking the studio EVS system to the post-production Avid Media Composer editing workstations and ISIS Interplay media storage.

The Avid workstations are located on an adjacent floor and networked to an ISIS storage system that is tightly integrated with EVS XT[2] server and IP Director interface.

This provides for tapeless studio recordings, simultaneous Avid-based high-res editing and Avid Interplay-based ingest and low-resolution review of media from either the playback or producer areas in the studio facility located on the concourse level. Additionally, this provides seamless file-based capabilities from the numerous producers' offices and workstations situated on various floors throughout the building.

Although the facility has heavily segued to a tapeless workflow environment, there is a complement of Sony HDCam SR tape decks to supplement additional production requirements and legacy tape playback and record functions.

The equipment room, from both sides

The main equipment room posed several unique challenges due to the space constraints and required HVAC provisions. Again, taking cues from mobile production trucks and the team's skillful use of space, the room features two rows of 36in-deep racks, 8ft high, with equipment and components carefully installed on the front and rear sides. To provide suitable equipment cooling in such a dense environment, the HVAC system is implemented in a hot-aisle/cold-aisle configuration (e.g. racks oriented back-to-back for hot-aisle return). Maintaining the individual pieces of gear can be cumbersome at times, but Bivona and Policastro spent many hours planning which pieces of equipment were most likely to need more focused attention and which did not. Meticulously planned cable management practices were also implemented to best utilize the available cable routing paths.

Among the key equipment system components, the plant's routing infrastructure is based on a hybrid AV router from Evertz Microsystems. The router connects the facility's production equipment, audio mixers, and utility/external sources via fiber and copper cable.

Space savers

Looking to conserve real estate, the design team used onboard processing and fiber-optic and network connectivity for subsystems like production routing, audio mixing and intercom communications. Multiplexing typically handled by multiple trays of outboard devices and cabling with patching points were replaced with a common audio standard (MADI), as well as numerous embedders and de-embedders located in the router frame itself. This saved on rack space as well as reduced cooling and power requirements.

While some engineers might cringe at having to troubleshoot such a system, Bivona said the use of Evertz Vistalink SNMP monitoring software streamlines the trouble shooting process while monitoring system health and alerting them when a problem does arise.

Video control/transmission

The video control/transmission area contains all of the respective camera CCUs, OCPs and two SVO camera shading/QC positions. Although the system is currently wired to accommodate a total of 14 camera chains, only seven camera systems were installed initially to accommodate the current production requirements. Bivona indicated that for any ad-hoc and additional future production applications, it is simply a matter of purchasing or renting additional camera chain components.

There are also several broadcast service panels (BSPs) judiciously located in the studio as well as located in several alternate areas of the overall concourse studio facility, including support areas such as the green room and common corridors. This allows the additional flexibility for stand-up camera positions as required. All of the SMPTE camera fiber drops terminate back at a SMPTE patch panel in the equipment room. Operations then has the flexibility to assign any camera to any respective CCU.

In addition to the studio camera compliment, there are also two roof cameras with remote PTZ provisions from the SVO positions. These cameras provide a stunning view overlooking Broadway and Times Square. The interface panels on the roof areas include a Telecast Fiber Systems SHED system that converts SMPTE baseband signals to light (E/O) for distribution over single-mode fiber. HD signals are then converted back (O/E) at the receive end for interface to the core systems. Leveraging existing fiber drops on numerous floors within the building, the SHED allows HD camera signals to be transported over two ordinary strands of single-mode fiber to numerous locations throughout the building.

Additional provisions within the video control/transmission area also include utility color correctors and discrete routing switcher control panels to support MTV's release transmission path assignments.

Final comments and future applications

The original concept of ultimate flexibility while minimizing day-to-day operating costs has resulted in the ability of MTV Networks operators to quickly and easily recall preset show configurations and setups as necessary with minimal reconfiguring of the infrastructure in place.

With ongoing close attention to detail and the continual liaison of all of the project team members throughout all phases of the project, the new facility is one that MTV Networks can live with for many years to come, according to Bivona. As for other potential applications, the core infrastructure even provides the flexibility of producing 3-D content by adding some option cards if the network ultimately decides to experiment with a dual-stream 3-D format in the future.

Michael Grotticelli regularly reports on the professional video and broadcast technology industries.

Project team

MTV Networks:

Michael Bivona, VP of engineering

Jim Brizzolara, director of studio engineering

Bill Anchelowitz, director of project management

Thayne Knop, director of content creation technologies

Tyler Marinello, studio engineering

Adrienne Bonfrisco, director of administration

Broadcast Integration Services:

Joseph Policastro, principal senior director

Kevin Henneman, senior design engineer

Adam Semcken, senior design engineer

Andy Morris, engineer

Robert Gilmartin, engineer

Judi Southard, logistics

Chris Butler, integration supervisor

William Frederick, lead tech

Javier Casilimas, engineer

Equipment list

ADC video and audio patching

Avid ISIS storage, Media Composer Nitris editing

Chyron HyperX graphics platform

Evertz EQX multiformat/hybrid router, VIP-X multiviewer, VistaLINK SNMP monitoring, test and measurement equipment

EVS XT[2] video servers

Genelec speakers and loudspeaker manager software

Gepco fiber systems

Image Video tally system

Joseph Electronics fiber systems

Linear Acoustic 5.1 monitoring and loudness systems

Middle Atlantic Products equipment racks

QTV teleprompters

RTS intercoms

Sony HDC1500 cameras, HDCAM SRW-5800 tape playback, LCD displays, MVS-8000A HD switcher

Solid State Logic C140 audio console

Sennheiser wireless microphones

TBC Broadcast consoles

Tektronix test and measurement gear

Telecast Fiber Systems SHED system

Telemetrics/Canon rooftop camera robotics

Vinten studio pedestals

Wohler audio monitoring