TV Azteca scores a goal with its HD production facility

In Mexico, as in much of the rest of the world, football of the soccer variety attracts huge television audiences. In light of this, it is not surprising that TV Azteca, one of the largest producers of Spanish-language television programming in the world and broadcaster of Mexico's national team matches, wanted to be the first in Mexico to broadcast the upcoming 2006 FIFA World Cup competition in HD. In addition to its near-term goal, the network wanted to create a platform robust enough to support all of its HDTV requirements for the next 15 years.

A two-phase approach was necessary to accomplish both goals. The first phase was to launch a fully functioning HD production facility in time for the start of the 2006 World Cup competition. The second phase was to develop and implement multiple HDTV master control facilities to provide the long-term capabilities the TV Azteca needed.

The broadcaster was already producing in SDI. Even so, developing and executing a plan to accomplish the HD upgrade in the desired timeframe took a major cooperative effort on the part of the network and the U.S.-based design-build integrator for the project, TI Broadcast Solutions Group.

The project began at the end of April 2005 with meetings between TV Azteca and the systems integrator. During these meetings, engineers from both organizations reviewed objectives and began the process of identifying functional area requirements, selecting the best products to meet those requirements, assigning tasks, and establishing costs and schedules.

Initial planning

TV Azteca's comprehensive preplanning made it possible for the systems integrator's engineers, who would be designing the system, to identify and begin planning the major functional areas within the broadcast center. The network also provided conceptual information for workflow between the functional areas. The information was key to effective overall planning and design, as well as for proper placement of QC functionality within the broadcast center.

From this, TI Broadcast Solutions Group identified four functional areas for the new broadcast center: two master control areas, an HD production control area and a new central routing facility.

Master control

Among requirements for the master controls were virtual monitoring capabilities and remote operation of all heat- and noise-generating devices. It was also important that the areas make an immediate, positive statement about the network's brand image and worth. The key considerations were in selecting the display technologies, multi-image processing systems, KVM switching and extension, ergonomic consoles and seating, overall visual appeal, channel branding solutions, play-to-air interface, traffic log reconciliation, and synchronization of closed caption files.

HD production control

TV Azteca's plans called for repurposing an existing facility to create the HD production control area. This space needed to be connected to the central routing facility across the broadcaster's campus, a requirement that the systems integrator met with fiber tie lines for inputs and outputs.

The plan for this area included six cameras supported by a large switcher and sophisticated audio mixing capabilities for heavily music-oriented content. Other capabilities needed in HD production control included monitoring and tally systems, via a virtual monitor wall system. And lighting changes were made to accommodate the newly created high-definition facility.

Central routing

The central nerve system of the facility is the location for routing, patching, distribution and conversion gear. For this facility in particular, it was imperative that the broadcaster and systems integrator work closely together to evaluate key components. An important consideration for this room was the selection of racks that could both meet specific seismic ratings for the geographic area and allow for easy integration of the project from off-site prefabrication through on-site installation.

The design process

TV Azteca and TI Broadcast Solutions Group agreed on a five-week design schedule. Each week of the schedule addressed a major aspect of the project and built up to the next week's activities. Staying on schedule was critical for completion before the start of the World Cup competition.

The only deviation from this original design schedule was near the end, when the broadcaster and systems integrator brought vendors to Atlanta for in-person product presentations. These presentations took place prior to final design approval, which was originally scheduled for week five in the design process. While this added a little less than two weeks to the design schedule, the team was able to complete the HD implementation on schedule and in time for the World Cup.

Week 1: Key concepts and manufacturers

During this week, TV Azteca and TI Broadcast Solutions Group laid the foundation for the entire system. This phase required that both parties be in the same city.

To facilitate the week's activities, the work was divided between two teams. The first team, made up of engineers from both the broadcaster and systems integrator, developed the major goals for the systems. This team defined the best approach to meet workflow requirements and the correct tools to achieve the desired look and feel.

The second team also was composed of representatives from both TV Azteca and the systems integrator. The team worked with key equipment manufacturers to select major system components, such as switching equipment, cameras, routers and automation, servers. As part of this critical initial planning, two representatives from TI Broadcast Solutions Group traveled to the broadcaster's campus in Mexico City and conducted a comprehensive site survey, during which they identified potential issues and mapped the existing facility and its equipment.

Week 2: Conceptual design

The design engineers used this information to develop conceptual drawings of key systems. During this week, the broadcaster's personnel returned to their regular jobs and to business as usual.

The systems integrator sent an electronic version of the conceptual plan to the broadcaster at the end of week two. This allowed TV Azteca to immediately begin reviewing the plan.

During a telephone conference, the network and TI Broadcast Solutions Group addressed and resolved issues. The broadcaster agreed that the conceptual plan was on target, and the stage was set for the third week of the design phase.

Week 3: Detailed design and integration planning

This week's focus was on two major initiatives. The first was completing the detailed design documentation for various systems, including routers, patching, conversion and I/O for demarcation points. At the end of this week, the design engineers provided completed portions of the design to the broadcaster for review and acceptance.

The second initiative was engagement of the field operations team for planning and budgeting later project phases. This resulted in delivery of the project's bill of materials with pricing and budgets for cable, connectors and other installation materials. It also yielded a detailed timeline for completion of the project and a final labor budget for subsequent project logistics, systems prefabrication, site mobilization, installation, test and checkout, training and as-built documentation.

Weeks 4 through 7: Final design and vendors

The systems integrator completed the detailed drawing set for the project, addressing issues such as patch panel layout planning, mnemonics, wire numbering, pin-outs, edit bay panels and IT network details. During weeks five and six, representatives from TV Azteca and TI Broadcast Solutions Group met with vendors to evaluate products and make final equipment selections.

Following these meetings, both groups met for final design review. Each drawing was accepted as-is or with changes. With this step completed, the systems integrator prepared final documentation and delivered it to the broadcaster in both electronic and printed versions.

Building the future

Once the design phase was complete and system components were determined and orders placed, the systems integrator and broadcaster agreed to a division of responsibility for completion of various system components. Decisions regarding which organization would handle each aspect of the project were made based on each organization's areas of expertise. The objective was to ensure the best technological and economic value to the broadcaster and to maximize resources and efficiency.

TV Azteca assumed responsibility for the completion of:

  • system power;
  • HVAC/mechanical;
  • lighting;
  • satellite encoding;
  • RF/teleport equipment;
  • fire suppression monitoring;
  • local ad insertion and cue tones;
  • acoustics;
  • nonbroadcast LAN;
  • raised flooring; and
  • cable and fiber runs.

TI Broadcast Solutions Group was responsible for:

  • integrated workflow solutions;
  • broadcast automation;
  • ingest, storage and playout servers;
  • multiformat routing and master control;
  • seismic racks;
  • ergonomic consoles;
  • quality-control solutions;
  • in-plant audio, SDI and HD cabling; and
  • ingest bay installation.

Throughout the project, the door was open for changes in responsibility if it appeared that shifting a task would be beneficial. This flexibility and cooperative approach resulted in fewer stumbling blocks to meeting the sometimes-rushed schedules.

Among the challenging aspects of this project were the long runs needed to connect the central router room and the new Studio 5. The only way to get HD signals from one to the other was fiber, which TV Azteca personnel ran under the street through a previously installed ladder tray.

Another challenge was the location of the area being converted for HD production control. This area was across the campus from the building where equipment was stored and staged. In addition, it was on the third floor of a building with elevators that were not large enough to accommodate the equipment. As a result, the equipment for HD production control was hand-carried piece-by-piece up the stairs to the third floor, where it was staged and then built, integrated and tested.

Innovative features

Several innovative features of TV Azteca's new systems have resulted in a more intuitive workflow and improved productivity. Notable features in the new HD facility include:

  • Dolby 5.1 audio with remote control in each control room enables listening to program streams on- and off-air with the touch of a button.
  • Program feeds are received via the latest Harris transmitter technology.
  • Display of all predistribution, post-on-air and off-air program signals on a large-screen LCD display enables technicians to quickly identify issues such as poor signal quality and take immediate corrective action.
  • Connections from both master control rooms to both the central router room and existing standard-definition systems enable seamless switching between systems.
  • Forty transmit and receive fiber paths facilitate performing instant on-air tasks and live cuts. These paths are currently used to connect Studio 5 to the master control rooms. Eventually, they will be used to connect all six studios on the network's campus.

Live in HD

The culmination of the first part of this project was TV Azteca's ability to broadcast the entire 2006 FIFA World Cup live and in high definition. From the network's perspective, that meant larger audiences and an enviable position among Mexico's networks. The network broadcast the World Cup in both HD and SD and continues to support dual broadcasts at this time.

The master control rooms and router room were completed before the start of World Cup competition. Installation of the studio, which was 90 percent complete prior to the World Cup competition, was completed in July 2006.

Tom Larrison is vice president of the Broadcast Integration Group, part of TI Broadcast Solutions Group.

Design team

TV Azteca
Roman Gomez, director of engineering
Jorge Pickering, director of production services
Omar Oilvera, technology development
Felipe Ceballos, master control operations manager

TI Broadcast Solutions Group
Michael Wright, president
Jay Gonzalez, vice president of Media Technology Solutions and chief technologist
Pat Matthews, senior project manager
Terry Long, lead technician

Technology at work

360 Systems DigiCart

DNF Slo-Mo controllers

Dolby E encode and decode

Euphonix Max Air audio console

Forecast Consoles technical furniture

Image Video TSI-1000 Tally Control

Leader LV5700 HD scopes

Harris Leitch
Integrator Gold router
LogoMotion branding
NEO SuiteView for monitoring
NEXIO HD servers
OPUS HD master control switchers
Platinum router

MAV-555A video disk recorder
MVS-8000A HD switcher
NDC-1500L cameras

TC Electronics System 6000 Reverb