ESPN’s New Production-Control Room Is First One Designed for 5.1 Audio

Last September, ESPN began the migration of its broadcast audio to discrete 5.1 surround sound. The six production-control rooms at its Bristol, CT, plant are being upgraded to 5.1 monitoring, and, this August, the first production-control room built since discrete 5.1 became policy will be operational.

For audio control, besides 5.1 surround as an integral part of its design, PCR 7 will feature several other new wrinkles as well: smaller Genelec 8240A monitors that use DSP-based auto-calibration and the Genelec 7260A subwoofer, and a new Calrec Apollo console with Hydra2 audio networking. Upmixing will be accomplished with an Evertz UDX card.

“This is the first design we’ve had specifically for 5.1,” says Joe Olejniczak, associate director of engineering at ESPN. “We have six other PCRs, and they needed to be retrofitted for 5.1. This is also the first Apollo with Hydra2,” which he notes can mimic the operation of the Calrec Alphas used in the other PCRs, providing operational consistency across all seven control rooms.

PCR 7’s audio space also has a new acoustical design, which includes the use of an RPG quad diffuser and outboard equipment racks with heights lowered to reduce reflections in the audio-control room. Another design element placed the large video monitors away from the walls, also to reduce acoustical reflections in the room.

“A lot of work was done for improving the acoustics, including lowering and angling the racks,” ESPN Senior Systems Engineer George Parson explains, adding that the challenge was to improve the acoustics while maintaining the ergonomics of the room.

Mike Kiefer, also an ESPN senior systems engineer, notes that the latter was important to enable any PCR to take over seamlessly for another in the event of a failure: “They all have the same capabilities.”

ESPN has another control room on the horizon for Bristol; it will be an automated control room with integrated rather than separate audio and video control. That room is currently in the planning stages, undergoing design and equipment decisions. No date has been set for when it will come online.