Beck Associates Builds BYU a Truck, Without the Wheels

With four television stations originating on campus, Brigham Young University produces enough content to require both home and away production trucks. However, rather than purchase a second HD expando, the university’s broadcast center decided to take a different route. With help from Beck Associates, BYU broadcasting is turning a production-control room into a multipurpose production facility, featuring a single control room that will produce sporting events from venues across the campus as well as studio programming.

“The production-control room is built to satisfy two different services,” says John Fitzrandolph, VP of engineering for Beck Associates. “One is your normal studio production facilities, and the other is to act like a truck. Basically, we’re building a fixed production truck — a production truck without wheels.”

Fiber at the Heart of the Matter
The key to the project, he explains, is to extend SMPTE fiber cables across dark fiber to each of the sports venues. “That way, you can plug in a camera head at the venue, and it will connect to the CCU [camera-control unit] in the studios, so that the shading, tallies, and intercom would be studio-driven across that fiber. It would appear as though the camera were connected to a regular SMPTE cable going into a truck.”

To implement that solution, Beck first reached out to Telecast to provide SMPTE fiber extensions on both ends of the pipe. That allows the operators to patch the CCUs to any venue on campus and be able to connect directly.

Audio Travels
The next step was to find a way to get audio back from the facilities, including announcers and IFBs. Instead of a fiber extension to handle multichannel audio, a Calrec Hydra audio-networking system will be installed at each venue and connected over the existing campus network.

“Because there is a campus-wide private network,” Fitzrandolph points out, “that path became easy because it’s inside their corporate structure. IP addressing can be organized inside the company, so there is not a conflict.”

Effects microphones and IFBs can also be plugged into the Hydra box. Once connected, in the mixer inside the control room, it will appear as if the microphones are connected directly to the mixer, despite the fact that they must first come across an Ethernet connection.

Sports and Studios Sound Different
Inside a space used for both sports and non-sports productions, audio did cause some strain.

“It creates some complexity in that sports people do things differently than studio people,” Fitzrandolph explains. “In sports, the audio guy is used to having a separate router that he uses to route audio throughout the truck, but, in a studio environment, very few people do discrete AES routing anymore; they do embedded routing.”

Embedded routing is acceptable for sports, he adds, but can create some problems when an EVS replay system locks the audio into particular sources (announcers on 1, effects mics on 2, etc.) and video is switched at will. In an embedded environment, such assignments will not work, since the audio is married to the video and switching to camera 1 will provide sound only from the microphone on camera 1.

“We ended up putting in a small AES router to work around that,” Fitzrandolph says. “This will fill the requirement for discrete routing when they’re doing a sporting event and embedded routing when they’re doing a studio event.”

A Belly Without the Bay
Because the facility is effectively a production truck without wheels, Beck Associates had to find new places to put the gear that usually resides in a truck’s belly bays.

“There is a lot of gear in the belly bays of trucks that support an event, but we don’t have any belly bays,” Fitzrandolph says. “We can’t walk down to the truck and say ‘grab another effects mic’ or ‘the referee wants a headset.’ All of that stuff has to come out of the studio facilities.”

Beck is currently building a list of the type of equipment necessary to have on hand on game day, and that gear will be put in travel cases to go out to each of the venues.

“When the cameras roll out, the travel cases will go with them, and all of that support equipment will be available to the crew at the event,” Fitzrandolph says. “We’re going to have to get all of this organized so that it stays in those cases and it will go out as needed, just like it would from a truck with belly bays.”

For Studio, for Sports
In all, the new production home on BYU’s campus houses two full control rooms and four master-control rooms with Sony switchers, Sony cameras, Calrec audio boards, and EVS for recording, playback, and slo-mo. Evertz routing is at the core of the facility.

Four streams originate there: two PBS stations (KBYU and Create); BYU-TV, distributed via cable and satellite to English-speaking countries; and BYU International, fed with audio in Spanish and Portuguese.

“Those four streams are coming out of here all the time, and they put sporting events all over the place,” Fitzrandolph says. “A sporting event can leave here and go to BYU-TV in English but can also be on BYU International.”

The biggest challenge in this project is maintaining the mindset that the new space is not just a studio control room but a sports control room as well.

Says Fitzrandolph, “There have been numerous points when we say ‘it has to work this way for a studio event, but it has to work this way when we’re doing a sports event.’ It’s been a constant discussion with people at the facility who are interested in it being a production venue and those people who are interested in it being a sports venue. We’re trying to find a common ground that says, if we do this, we can satisfy both worlds.”

Beck Associates, which recently renewed its SVG sponsorship, accepted the proposal for the BYU project last December. The company has been working on-site in Provo, UT, for two months and expects to finish the project by Nov. 1. That will give BYU a full month of mirroring the existing station before the new building goes live on-air on Dec. 1.