Versus builds a unique HD studio

For Paul Koopmann, director of engineering at Versus, a Comcast-owned cable network, the task of designing and building a high-definition (1080i) production studio in Stamford, CT, was a welcomed challenge. Versus nationally broadcasts sporting events such as the NHL, Tour de France and Professional Bull Riding.

Working with a leased space, his engineering team needed to install a set, lighting grid, control room, audio suite and machine room without making any major structural changes to the proposed studio space. Twelve short weeks later, as last-minute cable crimps ran through the facility, the engineering team had accomplished what looked on paper to be an unattainable goal.

For the initial launch of Versus' NHL coverage in October 2005, the network broadcasted from a rented studio in an adjacent building provided and supported by Ascent Media Services. Upon the expiration of its lease two years later, the network found itself without a home for its “Hockey Central” studio show.

The proposed plan to reshape the potential building's bottom three floors presented the engineering staff with a risky, yet ironically ideal solution. Previously the home of IBM's Stamford-based administrative offices, the building's corporate façade actually boasted a few key structural features that worked to the team's advantage. The huge columnless glass atrium, for example, offered ample vertical clearance for the 18ft lighting grid, while the large, open rooms designed for cubicle space meant less demolition. Overlooking the scenic Stamford Harbor, Versus now has a flexible working environment that's as groundbreaking as it is dynamic.

The challenge

Because of lease limitations imposed by the building's landlord, the team devised a series of innovative solutions to work within the confines of the agreement. A giant freestanding box-truss was erected as a lighting grid and roof to avoid major structural alterations. The central machine room was positioned directly above the production control room and audio suite to allow for less invasive cable runs and core drills.

The passion project

After Comcast approved the engineering team's aggressive plan, it set out to transform the existing atrium into what is now a highly flexible HD production showcase.

Architectural plans were awarded to Jansen Design, while A&D Associates was tasked with full mechanical and electrical design for the new facility. Upon completion, all plans were handed off to Loft Development, a Stanford, CT-based construction company.

One of the biggest obstacles presented to the architectural and construction crews was the removal of a fully operational glass-sided elevator located in the center of the atrium, which would have to be extracted to make room for the set. As part of the network's agreement with the landlord, it would be taken apart and stored. The I-beams were cut and the elevator car lowered into the pit for safekeeping. The pit was capped, and a self-leveling floor was poured in the studio.

Soundproofing also provided a challenge, because the exterior atrium walls are only made of 8ft tempered glass panes. After installing heavy-duty sound deadening panels, trucks, cars and even boats operating just outside the glass wall cannot be heard inside the studio.

Power distribution was constructed from the ground up by Camsan Electric. A new 1200-amp main, 200kW UPS from MGE UPS Systems and a 500kW backup generator were among the many crucial pieces that made up the new studio's electrical backbone.

An elaborate Liebert air-conditioning system, responsible for cooling three stories of technical space, was installed by New England Mechanical.

Referred to internally as a “passion project,” Versus engineers, along with HB Communications of North Haven, CT, routinely worked 20-hour days for more than six weeks to bring the project to life. Versus' own IT staff also labored around the clock to implement the studio's expansive IT infrastructure. From Aug. 16, the seven-man crew dedicated itself to bringing the HD studio online by Oct. 3, where a six-hour NHL premier show awaited.

Intent on outfitting the new studio with the best production gear on the market, the engineering team carefully selected products to suit its needs at NAB2007. Key studio components chosen include three Sony HDC-1500L HD cameras with Canon HDxs compact-box-style 2/3in, 22X, 7.3 lenes; two Vinten pedestals; 21 Panasonic LCD HD monitors; and a Christie Digital 120in HD projection screen.

As if the team was not stretched thin enough given the narrow timeframe, it was also responsible for maintaining a 25,000sq-ft HD postproduction facility on the fourth floor. The Versus team had designed and built this facility two years prior. It features a wide array of equipment, such as a digital online editing suite, Avid AirSpeed servers, Avid Media Composer Adrenaline HD and Symphony Nitris HD editing systems, EVS XT[2] servers, and BOXX Technologies graphics workstations. All systems operate on a 100TB Avid Interplay and Unity ISIS storage network, working in tandem with SGL and a Spectra Logic archive robot.

This innovative design has allowed Versus to keep production, post and transmission under the same roof, saving the company time and money while increasing productivity significantly. In addition to the NHL season and the league's Stanley Cup Playoffs, the new studio will also be used throughout the year for other sports coverage.

Production control

Attached to the studio is a 750sq-ft control room, one of the largest Koopmann has ever built. The extra-wide consoles from TBC Consoles were designed for comfort and legroom.

At the heart of the control room is a Sony MVS-8000A HD switcher and five 46in Sharp PN-465U LCD monitors, which all feed off an Evertz MVP multidisplay system. JVC HD LCD panels were chosen as program/preset monitors for their clarity and native resolutions. The monitor wall itself is hung on an adjustable TRAC system, also designed by TBC Consoles. It allows for the monitors to be easily slid, pivoted and angled in almost any direction.

Every piece of equipment in both the new studio and pre-existing post-production space are connected via thousands of feet of Belden cabling onto AVP's HD 3GHz patchbays in the central machine room on the first floor. Harris X75 frame synchronizers, HD/SD Thomson Grass Valley Concerto routers, XT[2] servers, a Riedel Artist communication system and an Evertz 7700 multiframe are just some of the technologies deployed in the new machine room.

A transmission monitoring room was built within the central machine room. Its monitoring is connected to the same MVP multi-image display processor that feeds the monitor wall in the control room. This allows the transmission staff to monitor all available SD/HD feeds and in-house audio/video sources.

Embedded audio

All audio for the Versus live NHL production passes through a new Solid State Logic C100 HD console, which is easy to operate and versatile. The studio is currently mixing and distributing stereo audio, but will convert to full surround sound later this year. The broadcast console is capable of delivering 5.1 with a few keystrokes.

Audio signals remain as embedded HD-SDI throughout most of the production workflow, and are only demuxed via Evertz 7721AD4-HD modules before entering the console. To keep a handle on potential lip-sync issues, program audio from the console is then remuxed using Evertz 7721AE4-HD modules.

While in live production mode, the audio console and switcher act as transmission routers in tandem passing the inbound feed through the facility and directly back out to air. This allows the production crew to continue cutting highlights without interfering with the live games.

The audio suite also features a 360 Systems Instant Replay for push-button audio cues. The system is tied into a large audio library server located on the fourth floor, via GigE network connectivity, with clips and sound effects recalled at will.

Wider signal traffic

Bringing the bandwidth-intensive HD signals into and out of the building was also a challenge, as the town of Stamford is not equipped to handle wideband transmission. New trenches were dug from the building at Harbor Plaza to the local fiber-optics transmission provider, Level 3 Communications, which is about a half mile away, to accommodate multiple dedicated OC-3 and OC-48 lines for unlimited HD capacity. There's also a 48-jack fiber panel installed outside the building on a telephone pole to allow Versus to bring in a satellite uplink truck if necessary. This provides bandwidth to capture live or prescheduled feeds from around the world. Signals also come in on fiber via Level 3's VenuNet service and Intelsat circuits.

To this day, Koopmann said he's still awed by what the engineering team has accomplished. It completed a project of major proportions, within an almost impossible timeframe, overcoming obstacles of every nature along the way. The network now has an HD production infrastructure to rival any in the industry — where edited video pieces, created within seconds of air, are shuffled between the four floors during the live shows with ease. The tapeless environment it designed and built gives the “Hockey Central” team more flexibility and better production values than it ever had before.

Michael Grotticelli regularly reports on professional video and broadcast technology industries.

Design team

A&D Associates
Axay Patel

Camsan Electric
Joe Hurlock

HB Communications
Jim Burke, director, new media and broadcast
Tim Visgilio, senior sales representative
Gary Peck, broadcast engineer
Tim O'Rouke, broadcast video technician
Greg Kashuba, broadcast video technician
Teresa Aresco, video technician

Jansen Design
Joe Montalbano, partner, director of architecture

Loft Development
Beau Keen, president
Charlie Pavarini, vice president
Bob Marrone, GC

Paul Koopmann, director, engineering
David Coulombe, broadcast engineer
Jasper Veldhuis, broadcast technician
Bill Kunz Director, information technologies
Steve Nikiforow, IT analyst

Technology at work

360 Systems DR-554-E Instant Replay

AirSpeed server
Interplay storage
Media Composer Adrenaline editing
Symphony Nitris editing
Unity ISIS storage

AVP AV-DZ3ZEI-AMN75 HD patchbays

Belden 1505, 1802B, 9451 and 1514C cabling

BOXX Technologies 8400 graphics workstation

XJ22 x 7.3B IE-D HD studio lenses
HJ11e × 4.7BENG lenses

Christie Digital 120in HD projection system

7700 series multiframe
500 series high-density modules
MVP multi-image display processor

XT[2] HD server

Harris Leitch
FR-3901 1RU frame for Neo
DVR-3901 digital video recorder
X75HD-AV-2PS multiple path converter and sync
NUCLEUS-PROC network control panel

JVC DT-V20L HD LCD panels

MGE UPS Systems Comet 48 UPS

Panasonic TH-42PWD8UK LCD HD monitors

Artist digital maxtrix
Performer digital partyline

SANKEN COS-11S lavalier

PN-465U 46in 1080p HD LCD
LC-32GP1U 32in 16:9 HDTV LCD

SGL archive robot

Solid State Logic C100 HD audio console

HDC-1500L HD cameras
MVS-8000A HD switcher
BVMA14F5U 14in HD CRT monitor

Spectra Logic T950 archive robot

TBC Consoles
Custom consoles
TRAC series consoles

Thomson Grass Valley
Encore control system
Concerto routing matrix

Vinten Osprey Elite pedestals