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Audio at the World Cup – part 2: OB/studio upgrades, BBC’s upmix workflow

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?

In part one of this three-part feature, we took an in-depth look at 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 – which is this year 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.

OB and studio upgrades
The upgrade path that is associated with major sporting events actually gets underway long before some of the important preliminaries. For example, Brazil-based OB company Mix2Go invested in multiple Focusrite RedNet Ethernet-networked audio interfaces as part of its wider digital audiovisual network for the broadcast and recording of the World Cup final draw.

The latest additions to a truck that utilises an Allen & Heath mixer and stage racks, as well as Audinate’s Dante platform for all its networked audio requirements, the Focusrite spec includes a RedNet two-channel A–D/D–A interface, a RedNet 3 32-channel digital I/O, a RedNet 6 MADI Bridge and three RedNet PCIe cards.

“I need to give the option of delivering the programme through MADI, AES/EBU or analogue,” says Mix2Go sound engineer Daniel Reis. For the FIFA World Cup final draw, the team decided to use its RedNet 2 to deliver the final live mixes to the video OB truck. The RedNet 3, meanwhile, was employed as an additional monitoring reference via the AES/EBU outputs.

The setup for the final draw event consisted of a large Dante network that linked two OB trucks parked in different locations outside the venue to the main stage. Two stage boxes (one primary and one backup) were located in the main arena, connected to gigabit network switches using Cat 6 cables. Signals from this stage rig were sent via multi-mode fibre cables to another pair of switches inside the music OB truck, about 150’ (50m) away. Inside the truck, the fibre signal was converted back to Ethernet and routed to two Mac Mini computers, which handled the multitrack recording, using Pro Tools and Audinate’s Dante Virtual Soundcard (DVS) driver.

The signals from stage were also routed simultaneously to the live mix console, from where the final broadcast stems were routed to RedNet 2, located inside the video OB truck. Here, the stems were converted to analogue then mixed with the rest of the event’s audio and added to the final video feed, which was then sent to a distribution truck to be broadcast to television stations all around the world.

Brazilian regional TV network TV TEM has also been taking steps to enhance its set-up ahead of this summer’s footballing festivities, purchasing new digital microwave equipment from Integrated Microwave Technologies (IMT) for installation in OB vans and motorcycles used by the TV TEM Sorocaba and TV TEM São José do Rio Preto stations. More specifically, IMT’s Nucomm Compact Portable Tx-II (CPTx-II) RF video transmitters and microLite HD transmitters are being used to create fully functional motorcycle news vehicles. Meanwhile, two Nucomm Newscaster VT7.4 HD/SD ENG/SNG/OB van transmitters will be employed to expand on its traditional ENG operations along with two RF Central RMR-X6-II digital diversity receivers.

“We chose IMT’s digital microwave equipment because we have confidence in its Nucomm and RF Central brands, in addition to the local support provided by IMT and Videodata,” says TV TEM networking engineering manager Ewerton Maciel. “We plan on debuting our brand-new IMT-equipped vehicles in our coverage of several 2014 FIFA World Cup teams, including Japan, Russia, Honduras and Algeria.”

Meanwhile, another Brazilian broadcaster, São Paulo-based SBT, has taken delivery of 133 DELEC subscriber units, four oratis matrix frames and one R4000 router – all from Salzbrenner Stagetec Mediagroup – in anticipation of the live broadcasts of both the World Cup this year and Brazil’s next landmark sports event, the Olympic Games in 2016. A total of 77 DECT-connected belt packs, linked to the DELEC solution, ensure that SBT’s entire intercom technology comes from one source.

In addition to the new comms, Aspa Stagetec Brasil has also installed three new Stagetec Crescendo audio mixing consoles and four special Stagetec On Air 24 desks designed to suit SBT’s requirements. The set-up includes an extensive Nexus audio network that can exchange signals with the oratis system through MADI lines.

Clear-Com is also destined to play an important role in the summer’s events, with strategic technology specialist Larry Estrin revealing that “Brazil has been pretty much dominated by Clear-Com [intercom-wise] for quite a few years.” By way of example, he points to TV Globo, which has 28 OB vans that are used to cover sports events around the country. Five vehicles built in the last year have been equipped with Clear-Com HelixNet partyline technology, with equipment supply handled by Savana Comunicações, which is the manufacturer’s master distributor for Brazil.

BBC readies upmix workflow
In an announcement that suggests it will play a central role in the delivery of broadcast audio to UK viewers, TSL Products has revealed that BBC Sport will employ two SoundField X-1 Combined Upmix/Downmix Processors (pictured) during its production of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The two devices will supplement a further six that are permanently installed at the broadcaster’s MediaCity UK base for other regional and international major events and tournaments throughout the sporting year.

Dave Lee, lead sound supervisor for BBC Sport, comments: “The various audio elements that contribute to a sports programme – from studio location dialogue and location dialogue, commentary, voiceovers, phone calls, music, sound effects and actuality sound to crowd atmosphere – will come into us from a wide variety of mono, stereo and 5.1 sources. With such diversity of contribution quality and width, the sound supervisor is tasked with mixing a show that immerses 5.1 viewers in the surround sound atmosphere of the event whilst maintaining clear, consistent imaging of dialogue and music.”

Explaining the role of the SoundField X-1, Lee adds that the device anchors “dialogue and reality audio to the front, whilst offering near-instantaneous upmix/downmix processing. This is essential during a live, action-packed broadcast, such as the World Cup, as it helps to ensure that the sound will never fall out of sync with the associated vision.”

Long periods of transmission during the World Cup will use genuine 5.1 actuality sound and crowd atmosphere, along with panned commentary and studio dialogue. But when broadcasting out of match play time, much of the audio will be stereo or dual mono content. For this audio material, BBC Sport will route through a signal path to an X-1 in upmix mode, with the upmixed audio then contributing directly to the 5.1 mix bus.