Gearhouse tackles World Cup TOC for 12 venues

When Gearhouse Broadcast, a UK-based system integration and equipment company, won a bid to work on the 2006 FIFA World Cup it set in motion a company-wide effort that required nearly as much coordination and sure-footed decision making as the national team from Brazil is expected to demonstrate on the field. Why? Because Gearhouse was responsible for building the Technical Operations Centers (TOC) that are located at each of the 12 venues.

For most facilities building one TOC is a challenge. But 12? It not only required Gearhouse to draw on its past experience building 10 TOC facilities for the 2002 World Cup in Korea but also perfect coordination and pre-planning. Eaamon Dowdall, Gearhouse Broadcast CEO, says the 12 facilities were pre-constructed in England and then shipped over to Germany for installation.

“By pre-fabricating 90% of the facilities here we were able to prevent building out facilities and instead focus on interconnectivity of what is going into and coming out of the TOC,” he says.

Each TOC serves an important function as a bridge between the remote production trucks that are sitting outside of the venue and the broadcast rights holders. Camera feeds are sent from the venues via fiber and coaxial cable into the production truck where one of six “dream teams” produce the multilateral coverage of each game. The multilateral feeds are then fed into the TOC where they are routed to the telco and transmitted uncompressed via fiber to Munich.

The TOC also sends out signals to the production trucks being used by broadcasters to create unilateral feeds. Some of those feeds will be clean feeds, stripped of graphics, while others will have the graphics produced by the “dream team.”

“Broadcasters like ESPN or ZDF will get isolated feeds without graphics that will be sent to their production trucks where they also pull in feeds from their own cameras,” says Kevin Moorhouse, Gearhouse Broadcast technical director.

Gear inside the TOC includes two Pro-Bel routing switchers (a 64×64 SDI router and a 32×32 HD router, 200 Leitch DA devices, and Tektronix test and measurement gear. There’s enough room for about four or five people in the 7-meter square portacabin,” says Dowdall.

The TOC also features a number of flat-panel displays from FrontNiche. “Right now manufacturers are forcing our hand in selecting flat-panels and there are also new regulations in Europe concerning CRT sets and environmental issues,” says Dowdall. “Some of the advances in flat-panel quality are encouraging but CRT is still the outright winner in terms of image quality.”

Despite the drawbacks of flat panels the power benefits, the size and the advent of multiviewer technology make flat panels an increasingly popular choice when precision monitoring is not important.

Along with building the TOC facilities Gearhouse also laid more than 5,000 miles of cable. “HD cable runs become an issue,” says Moorehouse. “Broadcasters working in HD have priority to be closer to the TOC because they can be more than 100 meters away.”

Dowdall says the limited amount of time made the cable installation challenging as well. “There was intensive planning where we agreed to the cable destinations and pre-ordered it for the rigging teams,” he says.