More fiber, demanding viewers push live sports audio to the next level

LOS ANGELES—Whether over standardized network protocols such as SMPTE ST2110 and AES67 or formats like Wheatstone’s WheatNet, Calrec’s Hydra2, RAVENNA, Audinate’s Dante, and others, audio mixing consoles are supporting remote television broadcast audio productions as they move in new directions. In sports broadcasts, especially, consoles are leveraging networks to implement a variety of applications, from at-home production to ensuring consistent audio quality at every connected mixer, to enabling remote control of, and set-up through, distant desks.

Glen Stilwell, audio operations manager for PAC-
12 Networks

Glen Stilwell, audio operations manager for PAC- 12 Networks

Glen Stilwell, audio operations manager for the PAC-12 Networks, which handles more than 450 at-home productions in a nine-month period each season, observed that IP audio networking is introducing efficiencies for remote broadcast operations. He hopes that new technology from console manufacturers will help him lower costs as the number of productions inevitably increases.

“With our development partners like Calrec, and their new RP1, we’re going to start eliminating the need to carry around big, heavy copper,” said Stilwell, who noted that all the schools in the conference have installed 10-Gig networks. The RP1 unit offers local DSP and an IP connection back to the plant where the mixer has full control of the remote inputs.

“We’re still precabling venues with copper mic cable, per season,” said Stilwell. “As we become more efficient and reduce personnel, we can’t spend the time to do that.” With devices such as the RP1, “We can put down either fiber or, over the long-term, build network drops in the field and just leave them forever,” he said.

PLAYING TOGETHER

But even with networking infrastructures in place, setting up AES67 streams between devices from different manufacturers is not yet as easy as it could be. Even using a common discovery protocol like mDNS/Bonjour, it’s currently necessary to log into a device using one brand’s web UI and create an AES67 stream, then switch to another brand’s web UI, log in, find that stream, and register to receive it.

According to Pete Walker, senior product manager for Calrec several companies are working on the problem—indeed, there is already a solution in the works. “NMOS [Networked Media Open Specifications] is going to take it to the next level,” Walker said. “You can use a central piece of software to control all your devices.” The initial NMOS tool will be IS-04, managing device discovery.

Walker says the protocol is still developing and Calrec doesn’t want to have to wait for it. “Calrec and others are looking at implementing cross-platform control systems, software that discovers all the devices on the network,” he said.

Calrec’s solution, “Connect,” will identify media streams and devices on the network regardless of their registration or discovery protocol. “You can filter, search, then drag and drop devices and interconnect them,” he said. “It visually represents all your streams and workflows.”

At this year’s three-part U.S. Open (Women’s, Senior’s, and Men’s) for Fox Sports, Senior Audio Engineer Dana Kirkpatrick leveraged Calrec’s Hydra2 network to QC the very large number of audio channels coming from the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club course in Southampton, New York. “We were feeding the router and six Calrec Brio consoles in the iso, two digital feature groups, and feeding another Brio, as well as a submix console, a Calrec Apollo,” Kirkpatrick said. “And I was creating two MADI streams for the world.”

The huge network enabled Kirkpatrick to achieve consistency across the attached consoles, he said. “The idea was that I would take everything from the golf course into the Calrec Artemis [in Game Creek’s Maverick remote truck] and EQ and distribute it. When the wind kicked up, I could adjust EQ and it would globally pass to all the mixers, so that the final product had the same EQ and the same gain structure.”

DOLBY ATMOS

Although some features need to be beefed up or even added to meet new production demands, the current generation of mixing console technology has enabled broadcasters in Europe to regularly generate programming, specifically for premium customers, in the Dolby Atmos immersive audio format for the past year or so. In the U.K., for example, all live Premier League soccer matches on Sky Sports, including a double-or even tripleheader on Sundays, have been produced in Dolby Atmos, as well as 5.1, since the start of the season in August 2017.

Lawo’s mc²96 audio console

Lawo’s mc²96 audio console

At a recent month-long competition hosted at multiple sports venues, U.K.-based freelance sound supervisor Pete Mercer produced both a Dolby Atmos mix and a 5.1 mix in a control room at the International Broadcast Center. For each event, Mercer received discrete feeds from the mixer in the remote stadium, including the outputs from a Schoeps 3D microphone suspended above the field of play, created a Dolby Atmos 5.1.4 mix plus six objects on a Lawo mc²96 console, and returned that mix to the competition location for encoding. He and his colleague, Felix Krückels, Lawo’s director of business development, in a second control room on a second mc²96, each mixed one or two games per competition day, Mercer reported.

The two mc²96 consoles were on the same network as the Lawo mc²56 (for stereo production) and mc²36 (for multifeeds) consoles at the competition’s 12 venues. “We could connect via a PC and Lawo MXGui software to check settings, re-patch signals, and even line up by ourselves,” he said. All audio was sent between the venues in each city and the IBC via Lawo’s Commentary system using Ravenna, according to Mercer.

Any console that supports multiple 5.1 buses may be used for Dolby Atmos immersive mixing. In Mercer’s case, the height component had no LFE or center channel information, so was, in effect, a 4.0 bus.

Mercer could monitor the 5.1.4 mix for the UHD feed via Dolby’s DP590 unit. But loudness metering of immersive mixes is still a work in progress and not yet available in consoles. However, said Mercer, “Having a separate value for the 5.1 and the 4.0 height was extremely helpful to make sure the height detail wasn’t too prominent or distant in the mix, especially when mixing extra elements into the 5.1 that didn’t appear in the 4.0 height.”