CBS Sports Goes For A Virtual Intercom for the Final Four

By Dan Daley

SVG Audio Editor

When the NCAA Men’s Final Four showdown in
San Antonio plays out April 5 and 7, the CBS
Sports crews that have been chasing the 65 teams around the country since
mid-March will have become experts at IP-based intercom. The network chose
Intracom’s VCOM system, an all-software IoIP (intercom-over-Internet Protocol)
consisting of a server-side Virtual Matrix summing/mixing engine
and client-side control panels for multi-channel/multi-access
intercom operations.

“It’s a very cool system,” says Bruce Goldfeder, director of
engineering/sports for CBS. “The NCAA finals are complicated, so we were
looking for a simpler solution for the intercom. The way we’re using it, we can
have a dedicated and very configurable trunk between the broadcast center [in New York City] and
San
Antonio.”

Goldfeder says CBS has a conventional telco solution as a
back up, but says the IP-based solution seems to be working out well. Phil
Adler, one of the event’s audio mixers, says it’s a strategy that’s transparent
to the crews in the trucks.

“Once the intercom audio comes back to us, it’s converted
into four-wire audio by a Roland DAC and then interfaced with our Adams intercom,” he explains. “We can configure it any
way we need to: we have producer-to-producer channels, director-to-director
channels and so on. As long as the Internet stays up, we’re good.”

One of the reasons the transition has been smooth is that
Intracon’s VCOM is designed to virtualize the operation of a hardware-based
solution. For instance, the summing aspect of the system is analogous to the
functionality of a conference bridge used over a public or private
switched telephone network. VCOM runs on standard computer and network hardware
and is based on a dedicated server with multiple client architecture. Multiple
group and individual voice paths can be established simultaneously and multiple
conferences can be accommodated in any complexity, according to Intracom’s
documentation. Users may talk and/or listen in a single conference or multiple
conferences, in any combination and in any sequence.

Other news from the audio front for this year’s March
Madness is that a combination of Calrec Alpha and Sigma consoles have become
the de facto standard in all the remote trucks. “It’s been nice and
consistent,” says Adler. That’s good because CBS Sports has placed a higher
emphasis this year on making the commentator audio more intelligible. “The
mandate is to pull the [ambient sound] effect back in the mix and push up the
announcers.”

Adler says he’s using a combination of EQ and compression
techniques as well as riding the faders to achieve this. He’s also mixing at a
much lower overall level in the truck than in the past. Acknowledging that even
mixers can get caught up in the excitement surrounding the game while still
mixing and taking cues from directors and producers. Adler says he pushed
himself to mix at lower volumes. “The idea is to make your mix stand up at
lower volumes and to not make it a race between all of the sound elements,” he says.

Like last year’s games, a Dolby E-encoded 5.1 surround mix
is the only feed. After decoding in
New
York, the 5.1 is sent to HD customers and a LTRT
fold-down via a Dolby 563 encoder goes to standard-def channels. Adler can monitor
the LTRT mix in the truck, as well.

The surround channels get a mix of ambient sound, crowd
noise and music. But unlike cinematic 5.1, Adler can’t use the surround
channels for much of the ambient noise in order to free up more of the L-C-R
array for commentators. “The idea is that you want the viewer to hear it as if
he were at the game, and you don’t get that that surround effect at the game,”
he says. “You just have to keep checking the mix in every configuration.
Sometime, I still check it in mono.”