NBC builds infrastructure for 'Today'
(click thumbnail)NBC Universal built a new production control desk to monitor and coordinate HD feeds for "Today" and the NFL in its digital production systems facility. NBC's launch of its signature "Today" show this month marks the second stage in a three-pronged plan to transition the peacock network's programming to high definition.
"The Today show is 'step two'" in NBC's multiyear HD transition," said Larry Thaler, vice president, production and on-air technology for NBC Universal--part of a process that began with last year's HD upgrade for "Saturday Night Live" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien." No dates were given for step three's rollout of hi-def news.
A new set was built to enhance the look, provide additional production space, and ensure that camera angles work in the 16:9 HD format. And a much expanded control center automatically mixes formats, enables multizone live updates during a broadcast, and greatly improves the show's audio mix, according to the network.
The number one challenge was mixing variously formatted feeds and archival footage.
"We decided that we were going to build HD-only facilities and let our core plant do the translation and aspect ratio conversion," Thaler said. "Working with a number of vendors, we have invented technologies to enable us to identify, at the source, the aspect ratio of the material, and our systems downstream handle [conversion] seamlessly."
Miranda's XVP811i cross-converter was first installed on a smaller scale for Saturday Night Live last September, said Thaler, who noted that, "we've expanded that greatly to support the 'Today Show.'"
Notable among its expanded capacities is the inclusion of an Active Format Description-based functionality. AFD identifies video format via a flag in the VANC (vertical ancillary) timecode so that "converter cards, like XVP, can do the proper conversions automatically," said Claude Krelic, product development manager for interface products with Miranda.
According to Krelic, Miranda brought the AFD specifications to SMPTE two years ago and, as proposed standard 2016-1, it will hopefully get final approval by year-end.
Miranda has also been a key voice on SMPTE's Audio Metadata Embedded Committee (No. 829), along with Evertz, Harris/Leitch and Dolby. The manufacturers aim to standardize the embedding of audio specifications for 5.1 and other formats into the VANC.
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Last January, "Today" left its 3,700-square-foot control room at 10 Rockefeller Center for a morning time slot at the "Nightly News" hub across the street while its new 6,700-square-foot control complex was under construction. And in June, it vacated its 12-year home in studio 1A for a temporary set up outside 30 Rockefeller Center.
Production space was slated to expand from 3,000 to 4,500 square feet, spread over two floors, said David Lazecko, director, Studio System Engineering, NBC Universal.
"David and his team--in addition to building a new control room--had to completely rebuild the infrastructure to support the control room," Thaler said. "Air conditioning and power needed to be supplemented because an HD control room requires drastically more resources in these areas."
Lazecko lauded the show's new monitor wall configuration, created by Barco's mDR50-DL, a 1900x1050, xSVGA Monitor Wall display, and Evertz's MVP multisignal monitoring solution.
"We're using rear projection monitors by Barco instead of the dedicated CRTs prevalent in most control rooms, coupled with a display driver that actually puts the video on those rear projectors," he said. "It gives us a lot of versatility--we can configure the control room for other users and it allows us to put video anywhere we want on the monitor wall, [in] any size we want."
A new Sony camera system lets operators use HDC1500 HDCAMs in a studio docking station.
"Since the 'Today Show' does so much work inside and outside, this will quickly allow a camera operator to use the same camera in both locations," Thaler said.
And the show can now incorporate live anchor updates to other time zones while broadcasting East Coast programming.
"We edit, repackage and update the show for the other time zones as the clock ticks down," Thaler said. "We're using a number of different systems for that, including automation put together by NBC and electronic servers from EVS [XT2] and Grass Valley [PDR-2000]."
Other equipment in the new installation include Sony's MVS-8000 production switcher, Calrec's Alpha digital audio console, and Avid's NewsCutter and ISIS. Ascent Media provided systems engineering, wiring, testing and project management services.
Live updates for other time zones will originate from a port facility designed in-house and constructed at a studio across the street. Lazecko credits the new capability to "HD technology, fiber optics and interconnectivity between the two plants utilizing switching technology and communications systems that we own."
"It was a systems design approach," Lazecko said. "Nobody had a magic box that we saw at last year's NAB that was an 'aha' device for us to do this--just good design work."
Lazecko's team also built a separate music mix facility within the control room, which will supplant the supplemental outboard mixers used previously for, among other things, the show's large concert series.
"We designed a state of the art mixing room around ProTool's ICON mixing system," Lazecko said. Digidesign's ICON audio control service interfaces with its ProTools HD workstations, keeping the process "all in the family."
NBC and General Electric's corporate research and development arm also created automation systems to integrate programming and commercials, Thaler said.
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