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Audio at the World Cup – part 1: HBS’s stalwart setup

2014 promises to be the the most technologically advanced edition of the FIFA World Cup yet – but what about the audio side of the broadcast equation?

Few would argue that the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi raised the bar significantly for AV with regard to both the host venues and the broadcast experience being delivered to fans worldwide. But that other global sports gathering, the FIFA World Cup, is certainly no slouch in technical terms – simply witness the recently announced plans to capture a number of matches in the new 4K format during this year’s tournament in Brazil.

Audio-wise, the complete picture is unlikely to emerge until post-event, but in the weeks leading up to the tournament a number of manufacturers, OB providers and broadcasters did reveal some of their plans for the World Cup. What follows, then, is a digest of these announcements that should, at least, give a flavour of the audio workflows set to experience some very heavy usage over the next few weeks…

HBS’s stalwart audio set-up
Integral to the global experience of the 2014 World Cup is HBS, whose long track record of providing host broadcast services at FIFA events also includes the 2009 and 2013 Confederations Cups and 2010 World Cup (pictured). This year, it is again taking charge of all the multilateral and unilateral facilities, encompassing facilities and production teams, the world broadcast feed and a host of additional content for rights holders.

Christian Gobbel is senior engineering manager for HBS and is overseeing broadcast set-up at all 12 host venues. Having looked into the availability of OB facilities in Brazil and determined it to be insufficient for its requirements – “we make this kind of judgement ahead of each tournament” – HBS instead pressed ahead with the construction of 12 identical ERCs (equipment room containers) in Munich, which were then shipped to Brazil in good time.

“All active components are included; we even roll back the cables into the containers so that we can simply open the doors [at each venue], take the cables out, set up the monitor galleries, connect everything and basically be ready to rock and roll, more or less,” says Gobbel, who adds with some understatement that the build process over the last 12 months has been “quite an operation”.

Audio-wise, the set-up in each location is based around two Lawo mc255 consoles with two cores, which are networked together with ALC NetworX’s RAVENNA IP technology. In addition, teams at all venues are using pairs of Lawo crystal consoles, set up with MADI connectivity, to handle interview material and ‘infotainment’ programming for the in-venue audiences. Venues will be interconnected with the tournament IBC, which is based in a suburb of Rio de Janeiro, over a fibre infrastructure provided by Brazilian telecoms company Telebrás.

Outlining the core workflow, Gobbel remarks that “the main audio gallery more or less produces the stereo programme and sends the stems of split microphones and ambient groups back to the IBC – we are doing a remote production of the 5.1 this time. Then we have a multifeeds gallery, which is producing audio for five additional feeds: the Tactical/Interview feed; Team A; Team B; Player Cam A and Player Cam B.” Underlining the worldwide appetite for surround sound, “pretty much everyone” worldwide is now taking the 5.1.

To date, HBS has not gone down the simulcast route as it fears this would “jeopardise the stereo or surround sound”. Gobbel adds: “What we want to achieve is a consistent 5.1 mix across all matches, so this why we have two galleries in the IBC who receive the stems and whose only task is balancing mixes.”

HBS is a company that has “very good relationships with a number of technical partners” – hence, notes Gobbel, the general consistency of its technical set-up from event to event. Alongside Lawo – which is also providing audio-over-IP commentary units purpose-built in conjunction with HBS – Riedel is another stalwart with its Artist communications systems, while Sennheiser and Schoeps are providing microphones. Measurement equipment comes from Tectronics, while EVS XT3 relay and media servers are also pivotal to the HBS workflow.

With Gobbel breaking off from his conversation with PSNEurope on several occasions to advise on equipment deliveries, it is clear that the build-up to a World Cup is uniquely stressful. But before ringing off, Gobbel also reveals that this will be the first World Cup to benefit from EBU R128, which recommends the normalisation of audio at -23 LUFS ±0.1 LU (±1 LU for live programmes), measured with a relative gate at -10 LU.

“We have really been putting a lot of emphasis on ensuring consistency in loudness measurements,” says Gobbel. “With the introduction of R128, this has meant ensuring engineers understand it properly. Basically, the message is to mix it properly but give the matches the dynamic they deserve.”