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NBC Goes For The Digital Gold In Salt Lake City

The 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City will test a challenge NBC posed to itself prior to its broadcast of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney: to build an infrastructure that can be readily repurposed for more than one Olympics broadcast. To up the ante, the 2002 Salt Lake games, to be shown on NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, and, will provide over 300 hours worth of coverage for the network. According to the Chairman of NBC Sports & Olympics Dick Ebersol, this yearâs 375.5 total hours of coverage more than doubles the 179 Olympic hours broadcast by CBS from Nagano, Japan in 1998÷without including the daily six to eight hours of HD transmissions.

ãWe migrated to digital when we built the Sydney plant in 1999,ä said David Mazza, vice president of engineering, NBC Olympics. He noted that everything was digital there, ãfrom the remote trucks at the venues to the transmission paths to the IBC [International Broadcast Center], all throughout the IBC plant and both the satellite and fiber feeds back to the U.S. In 1995 we also got the rights for 2000 in Sydney and 2002 in Salt Lake City and, shortly thereafter, the rights to the next three cities. So we built for Sydney with the idea of a multi-game infrastructure.ä

According to Mazza, the immense effort of building a re-useable all-digital infrastructure for Sydney is now, ãpaying off big-time.ä The Aussie infrastructure was installed on twelve 8 x 20-foot steel, shock-mounted platforms, each one of which held 20 racks. ãThey were moved from Sydney to Salt Lake City and reinstalled with minimal effort,ä added Mazza. NBC added some new equipment to this yearâs Olympic setup. Among the new gear are Sony MSW-A2000 and MSW-M2000 MPEG IMX editing recorders with Betacam/SP/SX/Digital Betacam/MPEG IMX playback, which records a 50-megabit MPEG signal, takes a three-hour tape load, offers eight channels of audio, and also switches between 525 and 625. The audio feature is ãa big selling point,ä according to Mazza, since it helps in the stereo editing suites, and the three-hour tape load is also attractive, since NBC will go home with between 30,000 and 40,000 video tapes. The switchable broadcast standard is ideal for the Olympics, which goes back and forth from countries with PAL and NTSC. The IMX VTRs in the near future will allow data transfers to the Sony MAV-555. NBC is using over 35 of these units. Also new is the Sony MVS-8000 production switcher, which also offers multi-format switching between 525, 625, and HD.

ãSony is a huge partner of ours in all of this,ä said Mazza. ãTheyâre our primary broadcast equipment provider, and both Sony products and Sony support are critical to our success here.ä

Also of significance is the fact that the 2002 Winter Games broadcast marks the first time that NBCâs nonlinear editing capacity has exceeded its linear editing capacity. In addition to 14 Avid Symphonys, NBC also has 11 Avid Media station XLs and seven Avid Unity MediaNet systems, which will allow all the systems to be tied together. The Media Station XLs will be utilized for the time-consuming input, logging, and output of footage, while the Symphonys will be reserved for editing. ãBefore Avid Unity, the Symphonys were only used for feature-based work, where we had more time,ä explained Mazza. ãNow, with Unity, weâre seeing faster-turnaround items go to the Avid. It offers a higher level of polish and allows people to change their minds a lot.ä

For control of the Sony IMX VTRs during linear editing, NBC purchased 16 Editware DPE-551 Hybrid Editing Systems. The Editware DPE-551s are able to control the IMX recordersâ eight discrete channels of audio.

Also new is a range of gear from Pinnacle Systems, including the FXDeko II 3D character generator, the Thunder XL expandable clip and stillstore, and the four-channel, 10-bit 4:4:4:4 frame-based DVEXcel digital video effects system. NBC is also using the Graham-Patten Systems D/ESAM-8000, an 8-bus audio mixer with extensive surround sound mixing and monitoring capabilities, for formats supported by DVD, DTV, and other digital delivery systems.

NBC will use the Radyne ComStream Tiernan TDR-6 Integrated Receiver Decoder (IRD) to receive and decode compressed HDTV signals, for distribution and programming to NBC affiliate stations nationwide. ãOur goal is to get as much HD in front of the American public as possible,ä said Mazza.

Digital technology also enables NBC to offer unprecedented access of all footage to its entire production staff. For the first time, working with German company tecmath (recently renamed Blue Order in the U.S.), NBC is recording ten simultaneous 1.5 Mb-proxy streams, which are being put onto a 20-terrabyte EMC disk array.

ãThose proxies will be available to any of our production personnel in the International Broadcast Center (IBC) production facility through a Web browser,ä said Mazza. ãThey can screen the proxies with timecode accuracy and make a rough cut edit, create a list of shots to be digitized by the Avids, or take an EDL to one of the linear edit suites.ä

The low-resolution proxies will also be useful in other ways. ãWhen we make a history copy of the tape, there might be 30 people trying to get it, to pull a sequence off,ä commented Mazza. ãNow, theyâll be able to search the tape in low-resolution and theyâll only need the high-res tape for a few minutes, to pull off their segment. We donât have to make 30 dubs of the tape to give everyone access to it.ä

Mazza noted that the ultimate goal for NBC is to have high resolution material on the servers. But in addition to the cost of storage, he said, the risk associated with storing everything on a single disk array is still too high. Though that goal might seem like a vision of a far-off future, NBCâs engineering of the 2002 Winter Olympics proves that too may become a reality sooner than expected.