Surround Sound the Goal for HD Sports

Today's consoles sport ergonomic design, flexibility, programmability


(click thumbnail)Inside Game Creek's Patriot Expando HD production truck
While many of the latest digital audio consoles offer the ability to mix 5.1 channel surround sound, most live sports telecasts are still produced in stereo audio. But there is strong demand to have 5.1 mixing capability available on any new console so that it's there and ready to go when HD productions finally go all the way with surround sound.


CBC Canada is ahead of the pack in that its live coverage of the Canadian Football League and National Hockey League games are broadcast in 5.1 surround sound on CBC's HD channel.

"Premiere," CBC's all-digital HD truck, has an SSL-C100 digital broadcast console, which was designed with 5.1 surround mixing in mind. It was also designed to make it very easy to move between the 5.1 surround mix and the stereo show.

"I can always see all my inputs and outputs at a glance, and for a live guy, that's very important," said Howard Baggley, freelance audio engineer for CBC in Toronto. "The console has intuitive metering, so if I make a 5.1 channel, I automatically get a 5.1 input meter, which can also be easily broken out on the console to its separate channels."

Baggley said that another critical factor for live audio mixing is the console's ability to store all user settings for recall at a later time. On the SSL C100, settings can be stored by project, such as CFL; and by event or location, such as Ottawa, Montreal, or Toronto, because different arenas require different set-ups. Also, if an NHL game must be covered between two CFL games, Baggley said, "the board can be instantly restored to its last saved positions-EQs, faders, signal routing, everything-saving considerable time."

While Baggley is taking a very conservative approach to mixing 5.1 channel surround sound to protect for a good stereo fold-down, he's looking forward to the day when 5.1 channel surround sound is more widely received and supported, and he can really explore its creative possibilities.


The fleet of 17 trucks at Game Creek Video in Hudson, N.H. includes three all-digital 53-foot expando trucks: the Patriot, Yankee Clipper, and Freedom. Patriot and Yankee Clipper are equipped with Calrec Alpha 100 digital audio consoles. Freedom has a Calrec Sigma digital console.

For Fox Sports, Game Creek Video is taking delivery of a third Alpha 100 console with Calrec's new Bluefin processing technology, as well as another Sigma with Bluefin. Also on order is a third Calrec console, another Sigma to be installed in Game Creek's Intrepid, an SD truck being converted to HD.

"Bluefin has been designed specifically with 5.1 surround in mind," said Kevin Emmott, Calrec's marketing coordinator. "By utilizing improvements in chip size and speed in an innovative way, Bluefin technology meets production needs for HD production and live-to-air delivery far into the future."

ESPN books Patriot for live Major League Baseball, college football, and NBA basketball. Yankee Clipper is primarily booked by The Yes Network for Yankees baseball and N.J. Nets basketball.

"There is an expectation on the part of high-end clients that you're going to have a Calrec on the truck. It's become an industry standard for very high-end events like Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, and Stanley Cup Finals," said Pat Sullivan, president of Game Creek Video.

"Since our HD trucks are used by many different networks and audio professionals, the fact that Calrec audio consoles let operators store their setups is a huge plus," said Sullivan.

While the Calrec Alpha 100 consoles are easy to use, Sullivan said they have enormous power and capabilities that really sophisticated audio directors can take advantage of. They're also flexible enough to handle all types of surround sound. For example, ESPN uses Circle Surround, while Fox Sports does its shows in Dolby 5.1 channel surround sound.


Sure Shot Transmissions, a Youngstown, Ohio-based production/uplink truck company, has a fleet of trucks that serve the "mid-market" of live productions, including live college, high school, and community sports events. When the company began building its newest truck, a 40-foot HD unit called Abbey Elizabeth, they chose a new digital audio mixing console from Yamaha, the PM5D.

While the system looks like a streamlined 24-channel console, it offers 130 input connections, simultaneous mixing of up to 64 inputs to stereo or LCR stereo, and 24 mix busses. It also offers 500 scenes of total recall, advanced digital patching capability, sophisticated monitoring, and surround panning up to 6.1.

NHK Japan often books the Abbey Elizabeth for 1080i HD coverage of Major League Baseball, including the Chicago White Sox and Seattle Mariners games.

"NHK uses this board to full advantage," said Timothy Dailey, chief engineer for Sure Shot Transmissions. "Everything audio engineers need for live sports is integrated into the system, including digital motorized faders, delays, equalizers, and digital controlled amplifiers."


Flexibility in handling the unexpected is a big factor in choosing the right audio equipment says Jamie Dunn, western regional sales manager for Studer USA in Northridge, Calif.

"During live sports productions, audio technicians must react quickly to many common challenges, including inclement weather affecting the game, and last minute changes to the show rundown, all while operating the board."

The Studer Vista 8 and (compact, lower-priced version) Vista 5 digital audio consoles' control surfaces tackle these problems head-on by mounting rotary encoders and switches on top of a TFT screen-a patented technology from Studer known as "Vistonics."

"This graphical user interface approach provides the user with not only a highly comprehensive and immediate overview of console settings but, equally important, a 'where you look is where you control' philosophy," said Dunn.

Vista consoles can activate automatic fader ramps from video switcher tallies. "In this case, cross-fading in and out of the correct channels corresponding to the camera selection, is automatically handled without user intervention," Dunn said. "This frees up the operator to focus on the production elements and commentators. This capability is especially useful for sports productions, such as motor racing or downhill skiing where camera selections often correspond to camera mics."


Fox Networks Engineering and Operations (NE&O) in Los Angeles chose Studer's Vista 8 as part of an extensive upgrade of the audio facilities on two of the production stages used for Fox Sports. A 96-input Studer Vista 8 will replace an analog console on Fox Network Center Stage A for pre- and post-game coverage of Major League Baseball, including "MLB on FOX Pregame Show" hosted by Jeanne Zelasko. Starting in September, the console will also be used for "Fox NFL Sunday." Prior to selecting the Studer Vista 8 console, the Fox NE&O engineering team called users of the console, including the BBC and Chelsea Television Studios/All Mobile Video in New York to see what they thought of the console.

"A number of freelance mixers sat in on a few of the meetings where we discussed the Vista 8 and their comments were they had personally used the desk and really like it-particularly the Vistonics interface which makes it easy to use," said Fox NE&O Vice President Chris Bauer. "Knowing that this desk was embraced by that community assured us that it would be a good choice in helping us smoothly transition from analog to digital."


Denver-based Mobile Television Group has installed the Euphonix System 5-B digital audio broadcast console on six of its 53-foot expando HD trucks, including the 7HDX, 8HDX, 9HDX, 10HDX, 11HDX, and 12HDX. The trucks are primarily used for live sports production on Fox Sports Net, including Major League Baseball and NHL Hockey events.

Mobile Television Group selected the Euphonix digital mixing console because Euphonix worked to integrate their console with the Jupiter and PESA router control systems on the truck which use the ES-Control protocol.

"By taking advantage of the System 5's router integration capabilities, we have one system that handles both audio and video in the truck," said Phil Garvin, general manager of the Mobile TV Group and president of Colorado Studios. "We were looking for a manufacturer with the ability and willingness to adapt their console's routing control system to the same one we use for the video side of our operations, and Euphonix stepped up to the plate and made it happen. With the System 5's PatchNet feature, it's very easy to configure your signal routing requirements and it enables us to make changes to the mix by simply pointing and clicking."

Euphonix offers two digital audio mixing systems suitable for sports broadcasting: the System 5 for complex applications and the compact version, Max Air. Both use the same DSP core, router, I/O, and redundancy features. In particular, System 5 features a built-in programmable interface for audio follow video; and high-resolution stereo LED meters next to each fader for fast recognition of source levels.

"All our sports clients need surround capability which comes standard with our consoles," said Andrew Wild, vice president of marketing for Euphonix in Studio City, Calif. "Currently very few events are mixed in surround, not because the operator or the console can't handle it but because of the server and distribution infrastructure. As more events are broadcast in HD, 5.1 surround will become more commonplace."


Wheatstone's D12 Television Control Surface for its Bridge Audio Network Routing system packs 64-channels on 32 faders in a surface 52-inches wide, ideal for mixing surround sound, especially on trucks.

"A 32-fader D12 can generate up to 72 mix-minus outputs with direct talkback interrupt...[plus] full input surround panning, surround subgroups, and a channel spread feature that allows individual surround elements to be mixed on individual faders and then recombined to a single fader," said Phil Owens, sales engineer for Wheatstone in New Bern, NC.

"Audio techs need to create surround mixes of their commentators, interviewers, crowd elements, field audio, and special effects," Owens said. "The live sports field is one area of broadcast that is making extensive use of surround sound. [It] can help capture the excitement and 'feel' of the venue, whether it's a large stadium or indoor arena."