TSN Ices NHL Approach to Surround Sound

By Dan Daley SVG Audio Editor

Hockey in 5.1 surround can be a real head-turner. That’s why the sound design team at The Sports Network (TSN) in Toronto, broadcaster of home and away games for Canada’s NHL teams, created a very specific 5.1 Surround Sound image template. “We’d love to pan the sound so that it matches the visual, but sound doesn’t follow the action in hockey,” explains Michael Nunan, post sound supervisor at TSN. “You can’t pan the goals left and right, because if you cut to a close up, then the sound is skewed to one side or the other.”

Instead, the surround image is laid out in what Nunan describes as a trapezoidal shape. Sourced from a combination of 10 Crown PCC 160 microphones placed atop the rink’s glass puck shield and faced inward, and one Holophone H2 placed at or above the center camera perch, the microphones furthest away from the camera POV are set at about a 10-2 pan, just left and right of the center. The microphones closest to the camera’s POV are panned slightly wider left and right but also panned about midpoint front and back.

“If you envision it as a grid, the listener is at the center and can hear the puck whizzing around the rink,” says Nunan. “The rink microphones mesh nicely with the Holophone, which provides the ice effects.”

TSN’s audio post department was charged with developing the network’s 5.1 sports broadcasting during the 2005-2006 NHL season, thanks to its previous experience creating surround in post production. As a result, they take surround pretty seriously: all tape rolls, incidental music and other audio elements not indigenous the game itself are not upmixed but rather manually remixed to discrete 5.1.

When an element is used that cannot be remixed discretely, such as a legacy clip or a last-minute ENG bite, they run them in glorious mono, right down the center. The reason, says Nunan, is it creates a subliminal but visceral realization on the part of the listener that time has just shifted. The same philosophy extends to real-time instant replays, which use only the stereo playback from the EVS. “That distinct difference in sound signals to the audience the difference between live action and replay,” he says. “It’s very effective.”

Some NHL players are miked up at games, using Quantum transmitters and Sennheiser receivers. “The Quantums are incredibly tiny, the size of a matchbook, which makes it easier to hide them in the player’s body armor,” says Nunan. That audio is used strictly for replays. Of course, the meaning of
merde de tête! will probably sail right over the heads at the FCC, along with the puck.