TNT NASCAR Coverage Taps Into LED Lighting Advantage

By Ken Kerschbaumer

TNT’s coverage of NASCAR racing from Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania this weekend will feature a TNT first: a broadcast booth that uses only an LED-based lighting system. The move will result in not only lower power bills but also in cooler studios, because the system, built by Litepanels and provided through equipment-rental company Bexel, offers an efficient means to transmit light without transmitting heat.

“The LED technology we use is proprietary and can be dimmed via software control without any change in color temperature,” says Litepanels co-founder Pat Grosswendt. “Being able to variably dim the lights without shifting color is important.”

Color temperature can be dialed in via the onboard dial or digital color-temperature settings or via a built-in DMX lighting controller. The fixture features a full-range integrated dimmer that enables instant dimming from zero to 100% with minimum shift in color.

The advantages of LED lighting are that it requires only 10% of the power of traditional lighting systems, uses 100% recyclable materials, uses no mercury, and emits 10% of the heat of traditional lighting systems.

“This is the most efficient means of transmitting light without heat, as the heat is transferred out of the back of the unit,” explains Grosswendt.

Tom Cox, Turner Sports senior director of remote operations, says the decision to use the system came about after he and his colleagues saw it at the Bexel booth at the NAB convention in April. “We saw the advantages for both the talent and power consumption,” he explains. “It overcomes the shortcomings of LED systems in the past. The old systems had light that was pretty flat, and you couldn’t change the color temperature.”

ESPN has been using LED technology in its NASCAR pit studio since early 2007. Turner Sports used the system during the NBA Western Conference Finals for on-air talent Craig Sager’s reports from courtside and around the arena. The network will use it in the NASCAR booth and also with ENG crews in the pits and even on MLB telecasts.

The system used by Turner is based on Litepanels’ 1×1 Bi-Color Light, a single fixture capable of generating a color temperature of either 3200 K or 5600 K or an infinite range of color temperatures in between.

“It also has a focusable range of light dispersion,” adds Grosswendt.

The Bi-Color name comes from its design, which incorporates both 3200 K and 5600 K LEDs. The fixture can vary the mix between tungsten and daylight LEDs to set the resulting color temperature. This allows a crew to carry one light or set of lights to cover both tungsten and daylight ambient conditions. The Bi-Color can also be powered from a variety of 12V to 30V sources, including an optional battery, car battery, or AC adapter.

The disadvantage of the LED systems is cost and figuring out how to integrate them into existing lighting systems. But the advantages, such as happier crew and on-air talent plus energy savings (and even the public-relations benefits of “going green”), provide strong benefits. The systems can also run off of shore power, and there are huge savings in terms of air-conditioning because users don’t need to pump as much AC into a studio or booth to keep it cool.

“The advantages,” says Cox, “are just being discovered.”