NBC: Olympics means more of everything

TORINO, ITALY: The International Broadcast Center at the XX Winter Games will, from Feb. 10 through 26, become "the largest operating HD facility in the world," according to David Mazza, senior vice president of engineering for NBC Olympics, which will use part of the real estate to cover the games for American viewers.

Mazza estimated that more than 60 percent will be shot in native HD by the host broadcaster, the other 40 percent in 16:9 SD. Adding in HD graphics, roll-ins, profiles and studio segments provided by NBC, native HDTV could comprise 70 to 75 percent of all airtime, he said. NBC expects to air 416 hours of Olympic coverage (the most of any Winter games in history) over its broadcast network and cable channels USA, MSNBC, CNBC, NBC HD and Universal HD, as well as its Web site, NBCOlympics.com.

NBC staffers definitely have their work cut out for them. In addition to the traditional constraints such as last minute construction delays, transportation issues, weather, red tape, etc., there's the new challenge of balancing three video formats simultaneously: 1080i HD, 16:9 SD, and 4:3 SD.

Mazza noted that the NBC Engineering team, Sony partners and systems integrator Ascent Media spent about 15 months planning the conversion of the IBC and venue facilities to accommodate HDTV. An extensive SD infrastructure precluded starting from scratch, so HD was overlaid on top. All HD signal paths and associated routing are based on newly installed HD equipment.

Upconversion will result in HD images for all events except curling (which airs exclusively on cable channels in 4:3 SD). The official IBC standard for HD is 1080i/50, which must be converted to 1080i/60 before transmission to New York. Standard-definition feeds, derived from a 4:3 center cut of the HD feed, will be transmitted with the HD signal as a dual stream using independent converters, encoders and paths. AT&T will provide transmission services.

"In Salt Lake City, we sent an aggregate bandwidth of about 155 Mbps home to New York," Mazza said. "In Torino, we're sending over 1,000 Mbps."

New York will insert SD and HD commercials separately in different control rooms.

Mazza said the 4:3 material--which will include archived and specialty cam footage--will be pillar-boxed with side panels which may be filled with a graphic.


At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, NBC had seven trucks, one flypack, seven C-worlds (smaller NBC flypacks), eight on-site announcers and 18 OT venues (announcers in voiceover booths), Mazza said. In Torino, NBC will have eight trucks, three flypacks, two C-worlds, one on-site announcer and one OT venue. This time, seven venues will have all-HD trucks and flypacks. All SD venues will be shot 16:9 and upconverted at the IBC (except for the curling footage).

NBC contracted trucks and rental equipment from Vision Outside Broadcast, PrimeVision, Cine Video, Outside Broadcast, Presteigne and Bexel.


In Athens, six venues had on-site editing; in Torino, there will be eight. The new equipment lineup includes Avid Media Composer Adrenaline HD workstations, an Avid Unity ISIS shared storage system, Avid (Pinnacle) Deko3000 HD CGs and stillstores. Several new HD graphics, compositing, storage and play-out devices--all Mac-based--share files among themselves and with the Avid equipment via Apple's Xsan and a Blue Arc server.

There's also an extensive deployment of networked SD and HD EVS equipment, specifically the HDXT server (the EVS workhorse since 2002) and its HDXT[2] upgrade. According to EVS manager of operations, Greg Macchia, the XT[2] can be configured to six channels (versus four), has an SDTI network bandwidth of 1.5 Gbps, and supports M-JPEG.


Despite the muscle, Mazza doesn't expect the experience to be a piece of cake.

"HD runs at roughly six times the data rate of SD, it only goes one-third as far on copper cable, and it requires three to four times the storage space and processing power to edit," he said.

As such, the editing system will have to run faster to keep up and could run out of space sooner. The power constraints of doing HD will also impact layout and design.

"The equipment needed to be grouped much closer together so that we didn't have any long cable runs," said Jim Kraenzel, project manager for Ascent Media's integration group in Torino. "We lose signal beyond 340 feet. In some cases we had to put in repeating distribution amplifiers to reclock the signal."

Miranda's iControl, Kaleido and Allegro technologies will be used for command and control. There will also be Tandberg transmission HD and SD encoders and decoders, Shibasoku HD motion compensated standard converters, discrete 5.1 sound acquisition equipment and custom Dolby PL II decoding software.


The MXF Proxy Encoder from MOG Solutions, a Portuguese developer of MXF solutions, will be part of NBC's Blue Order digital asset management system for low-resolution proxies, which will enable editors at the Olympics to make shot selections and clip lists as footage is being recorded.

"MOG Solutions is making the actual low-res proxies;" the technology generates an MXF proxy from any SD or HD source, said Matt Adams, director of technology for NBC Olympics. NBC also will encode on-the-fly static and dynamic metadata as part of the MXF proxy file.

The on-site Telex ADAM intercom makes extensive use of RVON voice-over-IP. Many of the telephones at the venues are also VoIP.

"We had no choice but to employ a lot of new equipment at this time," Mazza said. "There are more Avids, more EVS, more IP-based products, more IT infrastructure, more audio, more aspect ratio issues, more Macs, more lip-sync issues, more transmission circuits and bandwidth, more ASI... What there isn't more of is time."


NBC will use a variety of Sony cameras to capture the action, including the HDC 1000/1500 (1080/60p), HDW730S camcorder and HVRZ1U HDV Pro camcorder. Sony is also supplying the SRW 5500/5000 HD VTR, MVS 8000 switcher, BVM-D HD mastering monitors and LUMA LCD monitors.

A Sony PCSG50 video communication system will facilitate interviews in the Athlete's Village, according to Bob Dixon, NBC's project manager for Sound Design at the Olympics. The on-site setup will include a remote camera, plus automatic lavalier microphones (ATT899), signal-to-earpiece equipment and MX351 mixers from Audio-Technica.

The PCSG50 has an H.263 network IP connection of up to 4 Mbps and can record audio and video directly to a Memory Stick in MPEG-4 (QuickTime Media Player enables playback on any PC), according to product manager, John Garmendi.


All of NBC's Olympics coverage will be acquired through Canon lenses, according to Mazza. The list includes the XJ100x9.3 IE-D DIGI SUPER100xs, long field lens, which he describes as an "incredible 100x HD lens with image stabilization."

Other lenses meriting special attention are the HJ11ex4.7B IRSE, which is Canon's widest angle of view portable HDTV production lenses, as well as the HJ40X10B IASD-V, which captures images over considerable distances.


The biggest audio challenge is providing a pleasant experience for everyone, whether they have a 5.1 surround sound system or stereo, Dixon said. Separate acquisition and processing technologies will run simultaneously, as well as transmission provided in a 2-channel format tailored to client specs.

"A lot of the recording machines that take signals in can only record four audio channels--even some of the high-def machines can't do that," Dixon said. "We start out with 5.1 channels of audio [and] have to get down to two--to do that, we've got the Dolby ProLogic II encoder DP563."

Audio-Technica AT4050 multipattern condenser mics, housed in special Rycote shields, will record ambience, and the company's 815ST stereo shotgun will be on every handheld camera, Dixon said. Sennheiser will provide RF technology, including EK3041 receivers and SK5012 transmitters.

Calrec Alpha 100s will be used in the IBC's two main control rooms, Dixon said. Calrec Sigma and Q-2 consoles will be in the venues' mobile units along with consoles from Studer and Neve. Yamaha BM2000s will be at three smaller sites.

There will also be 5.1 surround sound monitoring systems using NHT Pro M20 loudspeakers and B20 subwoofers in every control and edit room at the IBC.