TNT All-Star game broadcast pushes audio

TNT s NBA 2006 All-Star Weekend telecasts introduced sports viewers to a new microphone system that could become popular in a variety of other sports, the official introduction of the CableCam system to NBA coverage, and set a new record with more than 25 hours of HD coverage during the weekend.

The biggest challenge is dealing with the larger scope, says Tom Sahara, Turner director, technical operations. It s not only our broadcast but we re also delivering signals to a large number of international broadcasters and NBA Entertainment and they all have different approaches to engineering.

The different approaches taken by international broadcasters meant delivering multiple formats from a single production. TNT shot everything in 1080i and 16:9 while NBA TV pulled in SD 4:3 feeds and NHK worked with SD anamporhic feeds.
Sahara over saw seven mobile production vehicles, including TNT s own vehicles as well as NEP s SuperShooter 18 and SuperShooter 24 (which handled the All-Star game production) trucks and a Bexel truck decked out with three Avid Adrenaline editing systems. More than 30 cameras were used, including Grass Valley Worldcam 6000 HD cameras and Ikegami cameras along with five robotic cameras and the Flying V or CableCam which flew around the court.

CableCam delivered a whole new view of the court, says Sahara. Previously coverage of the action just went side to side. But with CableCam you can move across the court and see the play develop.

More Emotion
Turner Sports Senior Vice President/Executive Producer Jeff Behnke, says the CableCam let TNT show the faces and emotions more easily than traditional cameras as it could zoom in on the action from above. Of course, having a camera flying over an NBA court could introduce some challenges because NBA action can quickly change direction. The last thing the NBA and Turner want is for the cables or camera to interfere with a play.

There s an agreed upon floor level that we can t bring the camera below, says Behnke. And with the ability for the action to change so quickly we don t have the liberty to go out over the middle of the floor.

The most exciting new feature was miking the players with Quantum Five wireless mics. The mics are in a rubberized casing as opposed to the traditional metal casing. Two associate producers in a production truck listened to the player mics and four cameras crews were dedicated to following the players wearing the mic. An EVS system was then used to build audio and video clips.

In many ways the wealth of trucks provided visitors with an overview of the different gear available in the market. Turner s trucks, for example, feature Grass Valley Kalypso switchers which the NEP SS24 has the Sony 8000 switcher. And on the audio side a Midas and Calrec console were used for audio effects while an SSL console was used for the actual game coverage.

Sahara says that all of the switchers and consoles are fairly similar in terms of capability and that the decision to use one over the other is often simple personal preference and previous experience. For example, the reason Turner selected the Kalypso switcher is because of the menuing, the layout and the way the time lines are handled. And while he says the SSL isn t as intuitive to live production as the Calrec, for an audio crew familiar with the SSL interface the decision to use SSL is a no-brainer.

The one thing we really like about the Grass Valley switcher is a feature called Double Take, says Sahara. It derives both the 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios on the same layer and the same mix effect so the TD can set up an effect panel for one tape machine and deliver two different aspect ratios at the same time.

Sounding Off On Surround
TNT also did a full-on Surround Sound production that puts viewers in the center of the arena. Sahara says the trick to proper Surround Sound productions has nothing to do with the mics, consoles, and encoders. Instead, he says, it s about discipline and understanding how the human ear works. Simply put, it s the ear not the gear.

A human can listen to two conversations of equal loudness coming from the same point and won t be able to differentiate them, he explains. But if the separation is as little as 10% they ll be able to understand what is being said.

The same applies to folding down Surround Sound channels. It s an important to maintain different audio levels when levels from the rear channels might spike to ensure that those listening in stereo don t have trouble hearing the announcers.

Doing that means audio personnel need to be diligent to adjusting the levels of surround channels to make sure they don t interfere with the viewers ability to hear the announcers. You also have to trust the audio meters, he says.

Despite the HD telecast standard-definition Pinnacle FX Deko 2 s are still used for graphics. We still haven t found an HD platform that matches the speed and functionality of the SD version, says Sahara.
Beam Me Up
Another new twist this year was the use of the Canon Canobeam transmission system to send an uncompressed HD shot of downtown from an apartment building. Sahara says an HD graphics overlay of players was placed on the side of one of the buildings in the shot to provide a virtual billboard that seemed hundreds of feet tall.

The Canobeam was the only wireless system used. Sahara says the handheld cameras for an NBA telecast don t need to roam as much as for other events so wired cameras were just fine. Plus you know when you plug it in you re rock solid, he says. There s no need to rely on the black magic of wireless.

One of the unique aspects of Turner s trucks are the use of NEC 40-inch LCD panels for the monitor wall. Thinner and lighter than traditional CRT monitors they not only open up about an extra foot of room in the truck but also give extra flexibility to handling signals.

A Miranda multiprocessing system is used to place up to 16 video signals on the screen at one time. In addition, the user can dynamically change the size and aspect ratio of the signals on the monitor. Ever since we ve put them in we haven t had a complaint in the monitoring-to-tape room because they can choose whatever signal they want and it s right in front of them, says Sahara.

Up next: A final report on how the broadcast went and how the new toys responded.