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Fore! The Open embraces 5.1 and native HD

SIS LIVE, IMS and CTV provided broadcast feeds for the BBC and ESPN, writes Kevin Hilton.

The Open golf tournament celebrated its 150th birthday during July, with the television coverage marking the event by being in 5.1 and native high definition (HD) for the first time. This followed surround-sound productions by SIS LIVE on the Scottish Open and the PGA Championship at Wentworth, a trio of broadcasts in quick succession, and the first time the outside broadcast facilities company had supplied multichannel audio on golf coverage to BBC Sport.

Host broadcast feeds of The Open were provided by the BBC, through SIS LIVE, but American broadcaster ESPN worked with IMG and CTV OBs to provide a semi-autonomous production, with shots tailored to a US audience. This was the first time CTV had supplied 5.1 audio for ESPN, coding feeds using the DaySequerra DTS Neural format.

SIS LIVE used Dolby E as the delivery carrier from St Andrews, the venue for the 2010 Open and the spiritual home of golf, to the BBC’s transmission area. Signals were distributed around the course and within the TV compound in discrete embedded form, with 16-channels of audio available for every video source in the main production truck.

HD truck OB1 went on the road earlier this year and was used on coverage of the PGA at Wentworth, the Boat Race and the Grand National leading up to the Open. Jon Mason, head of project management at SIS LIVE, says the vehicle was designed to cover golf and provided the host coverage and signals for the Three Hole Feed, which was available to many broadcasters and websites, including the BBC for its Red Button interactive service.

OB1 houses two mixing consoles; a 96-fader Calrec Audio Bluefin Alpha and a 40-fader Omega. Sound supervisor Andy James says that early in the design of SIS LIVE’s new trucks, including OB1, the decision was made to make them capable of handling 5.1 as discrete channels, “rather than using Dolby E with its inherent delay issues”. OB3 was used for the BBC’s domestic presentation, with Unit 10 as a remote scanner. Both feature Calrec 56-fader Sigmas with Bluefin.

The Open is among the last major televised sporting events to go HD and 5.1. Last year the BBC SIS LIVE tested HD cameras and fibre connections after termination boxes were installed at the Turnberry course by the Royal & Ancient (R&A), golf’s governing body and organiser of the Open. Following this trail a full fibre network was installed at St Andrews in time for this year’s event.

The R&A use this data transmission system for ticket bookings information, telephony and IPTV, with broadcasting coverage on the back of that. “The R&A was hoping to reduce the amount of cabling at the course and asked what we would like in the way of termination boxes,” comments Mason. “We had approximately 20 fibre nodes round the course and other broadcasters put in their own terminal equipment, all of it going back to the TV compound.”

SoundField DSF2 5.1 microphones were positioned at the First Tee and the 18th Green, with the rest of the course covered using the standard stereo effects mics used on the tees and greens mixed with additional units to give a surround output on the holes. When not enough mic sources were available to create surround, a SoundField UPM1 upmixer was available for creating 5.1 from stereo feeds.

“The surround element is mainly crowd ambience and applause, with the ball hits and player/caddy chat in the centre as either mono or stereo,” explains James. “We made the decision not to use the centre channel for commentary but put part of the front effects mix there instead, with the commentary as a phantom centre mix. This approach gives a more natural sounding output and makes keeping 5.1/stereo mixdown compatibility an easier task.”

Facilities and support for ESPN’s coverage were organised through production company IMG, which worked closely with CTV. IMG’s senior vice president of production, Bill Lacy, says ESPN’s coverage was “virtually independent” of the BBC host feed, with the First, Second and last four holes covered through CTV, not SIS LIVE. “We were still taking a lot from the BBC, though,” he comments. “A reason for doing this was to be able to make different editorial decisions during play.”

Three CTV trucks were connected over MADI for the surround sound, which was mixed on a Calrec Audio Alpha console, with the main ESPN output run through a Sigma. Microphone feeds from the BBC’s host signal were supplemented using high-powered RF Sennheiser 816 radio microphones to cover the fairways, with mics on all CTV radio cameras. The 5.1 mixes were fed into DTS DaySequerra downmix units, with the outputs embedded in the video with the stereo international mix, ready for transmission.

CTV OBs’ head of sound, Ian Smith, comments that lead audio mixer Jamie McCombs was keen to ensure that the 5.1 mix was also balanced for the stereo downmix. Smith says the main difference between golf and many other sports is that play is happening simultaneously over the whole course. “This can be up to 2km from the OB units, so this also complicates matters,” he observes.

SIS LIVE and the R&A were due to hold discussions during August regarding a similar fibre network at the venue for the 2011 Open, St George’s at Sandwich in Kent, to ensure HD and 5.1 coverage.