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Integrating the facilities world

Sometimes a technological idea starts in one place and travels round the world. This is the current trend in studio and outside broadcast truck design, as UK and other European systems companies, like MHz, work on projects in their home countries and then take innovations - including hybrid audio routing - to other territories.

Despite being a global business, broadcasting has a tendency to be parochial. This is as true for how studio centres and outside broadcast trucks are built as it is the programmes that come from them. Chief engineers and their design teams keep an eye on how broadcasters in other countries are approaching the ever trickier job of coming up with something that is familiar and straightforward for operators to run but which combines traditional TV engineering with the data and file-based technologies that increasingly underpin production and programme delivery today.

In many cases – particularly in France and Germany – broadcasters and facilities will commission preferred, local systems integration companies to interpret the latest trends and demands for a new centre or suite. This also happens in the UK, where several recent high profile installations over the last few years have potentially shown the way ahead in facility design.

Among the home-grown integrators that have worked on such projects is Megahertz Broadcast Systems (MHz). The company is part of the broadcast technical integration division of KIT digital, which changed its name to Piksel in August after coming out of voluntary bankruptcy and restructuring its business.

Piksel has headquarters in New York and, according to its publicity, “offices throughout Europe and the Americas, serving more than 1600 clients in over 50 countries”. MHz runs as a self-contained operation, which is reflected in it once again having its own website instead of a section of what were the KIT digital pages.

MHz has won a number of prestige integration contracts in the UK for both studios and OB trucks. The BT Sport complex proved both challenging and rewarding for the company, with its short timescale (work began in February for an on-air date of 1 August) and mix of technologies, including a LED-inset glass floor, building-wide RF network for both radio mics and in-ear monitoring and over 100 Genelec loudpseakers supplied by HHB Communications.

Such domestic projects are a small proportion of MHz’s work, with approximately 66 percent of its contracts outside the UK. Most of western Europe is sewn up by systems integrators in each country, so, says MHz technical director Steve Burgess (pictured), the company is working extensively in Southeast Asia, including Singapore and Malaysia, and South America.

Burgess comments that because these regions are “slightly behind” western Europe and the US in terms of the latest technologies and installation techniques, the client-contractor relationship is reversed from what is the norm in the west. “We tend to be able to lead them more because we have gone through the innovation process with clients in the UK and Europe,” he says.

An example of this is the resurgence of MADI, illustrated by UK OB operator SIS LIVE installing routers based on the format into its trucks over four years ago. “We did the first installation of the Evertz EQZ router, which features both AES and MADI,” Burgess comments. “That taught us about dealing with audio in those domains and we are able to use that experience for clients in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.”

Last year MHz integrated a trailer and a production truck for Astro in Malaysia (pictured). More recently it delivered a new OB unit to Oman TV. “The last truck they had built was eight to ten years ago,” Burgess says. “As well as the latest technology it is important that everything in a vehicle or facility is easy and understandable for an operator to pick up and work with.”

A key part of any installation today, says Burgess, is the fibre optic network. This allows the integrator to start with the central apparatus area and then work out in a “building block” fashion, adding other areas as work progresses. MADI and hybrid routers, he adds, are playing their part in this, being used for projects of all sizes, from large studios to small OB trucks. “It gives the clients and us greater ease of installation, with fewer cables,” Burgess explains. “Everything is embedded but audio can be broken out if it’s needed for a mix.”

From what Burgess says, everything comes down to having confidence in the technology and the installation knowledge behind it: “We have to keep things simple these days and convince our clients that what we’re doing is the right way.”

Story: Kevin Hilton