New MSG Studios Couple Nostalgic Look With Cutting-Edge Tech

When ESPN’s 3D efforts descended on Madison Square Garden last week, it was only the latest in a string of new technological changes that have hit MSG this NBA and NHL season. The biggest, in fact, is MSG Network’s new studio facility that has made the move across Seventh Avenue, ending a 35-year run within the Garden itself where production staffers and talent made do in cramped quarters that were less than ideal. Those days are over.

“When I saw the new studio space it felt like we arrived,” says Mike Bair, president of MSG Media. “It’s something that is uniquely ours.”

The new facility begins with two new studios (one is located on Seventh Avenue with a window on street level) that feature 23-foot ceilings that allow for a cooler work environment and better lighting. Five Sony cameras are located in studio A and four in studio B, all with Canon lenses.

The new studios, designed by Keith Raywood Production Design, thematically echo the old Penn Station, something that Raywood also did with another project he was involved with: the studios for Saturday Night Live. But while the look may be nostalgic, the technology is anything but as The Systems Group completed the integration on a facility that has ultimate flexibility (studio A is shared with the Fuse Network), full HD monitoring capabilities for on-air talent, and a sharper look.

A big change in the new facility is improved editing facilities. Mike Mitchell, MSG Media, chief engineer, says that 12 Harris Broadcast Velocity editing systems work in tandem with six Apple Final Cut Pro systems with content created and pushed and pulled between a Harris Nexio SAN storage system and Apple Final Cut servers.

“The Final Cut server is new to us and a new direction because it automates the ingest process and knows what kind of file is coming in,” says Mitchell. Sony XDCAM is the house format and the Harris and Apple systems both work with 35 Mbps flavors of the format.

“Using 35 Mbps works very well and is a sweet spot because it allows for devices to share content simultaneously.”

The editing area is also improved with a number of widescreen flat-panels mounted within view of all the editing stations. That allows editors to view up to 12 games, making it easier to build highlights packages and stay on top of the action.

“They like to be able to see the game while they are editing,” says Jerry Passaro, MSG Media, SVP, Network operations and distribution.

Adds Mitchell, “With Harris and Apple working joined at the hip [in terms of interoperability], it became more lucrative for us to use their systems. We can transfer files, ingest them, and play them back through either the EVS or Harris servers.”

The studios are both connected to two identical control rooms. Sony MVS-8000G production switchers, Chyron HyperX3 graphics, Harris multiviewers driving Sony monitors, and Solid State Logic C132 audio consoles are standard in both control room operations. A media operations room with Harris and EVS servers and Sony multi-format VTRs round out the operations and communications are handled via four nodes of Riedel Artist intercom.

“We looked at several switcher models but the 8000G made the most sense because it has 3D upgrades and is the best fit for what we are doing,” explains Mitchell. “We can reconfigure the room in about 50 minutes for different types of shows.”

The new facility continues to be a work in progress. TVIPS transport recently closed the fiber loop between the new facility and the Rainbow Media facility in Bethpage, Long Island (where master control resides). Future plans include closing the gap between the deep archive and the nearline storage system. And don’t forget about a move to discrete 5.1 Surround Sound.

“A large percentage of our sports events are done in stereo and then sent out to master control and emission in Long Island where the Surround Sound is created,” says Mitchell. “But now we have a console that can do Surround Sound as well as the Dolby tools.”

While the staffers and on-air talent appreciate the new digs, it’s the viewers who are benefiting the most. The move to fiber-based, and uncompressed signal transport between MSG across the street other venues in the area, and Bethpage in Long Island makes for sharper, better pictures.

“The fewer times the signal is processed and transcoded, the better it is for the viewer,” says Mitchell. “And when it’s only done once, the signal quality is twice as good. With more and more HD sets in homes, viewers will notice that.”