Fiber and Ivy: Inside Harvard’s New Centralized Control Room
When video-production ace Imry Halevi joined the Harvard Athletics Department in fall 2012, his mission was to take the Crimson’s streaming and in-venue video offerings to a new level.
He began with a complete overhaul of the university’s video-production infrastructure, which — when he arrived — included a pair of dated, SD control rooms located in Harvard Stadium (home to Crimson football and lacrosse) and the Bright-Landry Hockey Center about 2,000 ft. away and across the street.
Drawing up plans, Halevi, who had built up Northeastern’s video-production operation before moving to Harvard, quickly determined that it would be markedly less expensive to design a centralized control room to operate both venues than to fill both rooms with new video-production gear. It would take just a bit of creativity on the transmission side.
Transmission on a Budget
In order to build a control room in the Bright-Landry Hockey Center that could also work seamlessly with Harvard Stadium, Halevi had to run fiber-optic cable, an effort that proved tricky with old conduits leading to a stadium built in 1903. In total, 12 single-mode and 12 multimode fibers could be run.
“This definitely gave us enough bandwidth to carry all our signals,” says Halevi, “but it meant that we would have to be creative in how we managed the transmission.”
He ended up sending just four HD-SDI signals from Harvard Stadium and four HD-SDI signals back to the stadium. Each signal carried four audio channels. Some were broadcast audio (commentators, ambient, etc.), and others were communications channels. He says it was the easiest, most budget-friendly solution.
“There are many solutions in the market that can combine video, audio, and communications into one fiber pair,” says Halevi. “However, since we were working on a tight budget, these products were not really possible for us. Therefore, we came up with a solution to piggyback our audio and communications on the HD-SDI video being sent from end to end.”
Harvard uses Kramer 673R/T units to transmit and receive the HD-SDI signals. Blackmagic Design Mini Converters embed the audio signals in the HD-SDI signals, and Clear-Com IF4W4 units convert the two-wire Clear-Com signals to standard four-wire audio.
“It became very, very helpful because it minimized the number of cables we used,” says Halevi. “Video back and forth is easy, but communications was my big thing. I knew we had to figure that out; otherwise, there’s really no point to having a centralized control room.”
One of the technological keys to the project was the inclusion of a Blackmagic VideoHub router to connect everything in the control room and to easily convert between sports.
“That’s something we really needed for this project, when you have so many video and audio signals coming in,” says Halevi. “With a press of a couple of buttons, you can convert the entire production from hockey to football. We invested in this router, and it has been amazing. It’s so easy to use and is very budget-friendly.”
Naturally, staying under budget was key, and Halevi did just that, building out the entire transmission and fiber infrastructure for just around $30,000.
“We tried to use off-the-shelf equipment and tried to be creative in the way that we sent information back and forth [between the venues],” says Halevi. “That’s something that I think a lot of people are trying to do.”
In addition to the video, audio, and communications transmissions — which ended up taking a total of two multimode strands — Halevi also needed to transmit scoreboard data from Harvard Stadium to the control room. He wanted to avoid needing a camera to shoot the clock. To transmit all the scoreboard data, he worked with videoboard partner Daktronics, which offered data converters to send scoreboard data from Harvard’s All-Sport 5000 through one strand of multimode fiber to the control room. Only two converters were needed — one on each end.
With the control room in place at Bright-Landry Hockey Center, Harvard’s video-production team was able to produce live streams and in-venue videoboard shows for five home football games. All the production personnel was back in the control room, with only the camera operators, on-air commentators, and an audio tech at Harvard Stadium.
Even with a master plan all laid out, Halevi acknowledges that there were some nerves when the home opener arrived. “I was worried about it at first, to be honest. It’s a distance, it’s a walk, you have to go up and down stairs. If someone calls me and says, I’m having trouble with my camera, just to get to that camera can take 20 minutes. But everything really worked out. We did a lot of tests before, and all of the equipment we used really proved itself.”
A typical crew for a live event production is around 10, with students from nearby Boston University and Emerson College representing a large percentage of the group. Inside the control room, the crew works off a suite of NewTek gear, including the TriCaster 855 production switcher, the 3Play 425 for replay, and LiveText for graphics insertion.
Harvard uses JVC cameras across the board, specifically the JVC GY-HM790 and GY-HM750.
For hockey games, connecting cameras to the control room is relatively simple, with HD-SDI signals coming out of the cameras on BNC cables right into the router.
For football games, the setup is a little more complex. The HD-SDI signals to/from the control room on multimode fiber terminate at a central rack inside Harvard Stadium. From there, the Clear-Com signals are sent on XLR cables to each of the camera locations. The HD-SDI video signals from the cameras are converted to single-mode fiber by Advanced Fiber Products’ MC2 units and are then sent to the rack, where they are converted back to copper cables.