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EQUIPPING OB

TRUCKS FOR HDTV

The Olympic Stadium viewed


from the International
Broadcast Centre

JASON POWER, Market


Development Manager, Dolby
Laboratories, explains some of
the implications of HD for
OBs.
igh Definition TV services have
been available for several years in
the US and Japan, but the launch of
HD services in Europe has only recently
been announced with many European
broadcasters planning to go on air with
HDTV by early 2006. The falling prices of
living room friendly flat-screen displays
and the availability of new coding
technology that enables HD broadcasts to
be squeezed more easily into Europes
crowded broadcast spectrum are often
mentioned as factors that make HD more
viable in the region than ever before.
From the viewers point of view, the
overall HDTV experience is more vivid,
more realistic, and plunges them into the
centre of the action. This experience is
created not just by larger images with
greater resolution, but is completed by
immersive 5.1 surround sound. It is
expected that sport will feature significantly
in early HD programming in Europe one
of the three new satellite channels planned
to launch later this year by German
operator Premiere will be devoted to sport.
So how is Europes outside broadcast
industry preparing for this rapidly

24 LINE UP Sept/Oct 2005

developing demand for live HD


programming with 5.1 sound?
Several major outside broadcast facility
providers have already equipped trucks
ready for HD production, but providing
surround sound involves more than just
installing a 5.1 capable mixing console and
suitable monitoring. The truck needs to be
able to deliver the mix in the format that
the broadcaster wants to use to feed it back
to the broadcast centre via their telecoms
link, or to record onto tape. The most
common format used for this purpose is
Dolby E, which enables up to eight
channels of audio to be fed over a standard
digital stereo AES link.
Additionally, where the final mix is
being generated in the truck, the mixer
should ideally also be generating the
metadata that will ultimately be broadcast
alongside the audio. This metadata is used
to control how the mix will sound when
replayed on different home systems, and
can be used to optimise stereo and mono
compatibility.
OB Trucks at the Olympic Games
Never were OB trucks tested as much as at
last years Olympic Games in Athens.
Twelve trucks covered more than 14
venues and 16 different sports in surround
sound at the Games and many engineers
had never mixed in surround before. The
surround sound feeds they produced were
offered to broadcasters around the world to
transmit their Olympic coverage in Dolby

Digital 5.1, or in Dolby Pro Logic II for


those limited to stereo sound transmission
channels.
Just two weeks before the Games
began, Dolby consultants flew to Athens to
support the final installation of equipment
by the host broadcaster Athens Olympic
Broadcasting (AOB), prepare their mixing
teams, and provide assistance throughout
the Games coverage. In total, 51 Dolby
units were employed by AOB throughout
the broadcast chain, including encoders,
decoders, test tools, and loudness meters.
Dolby sound consultant, Andrea
Borgato visited each of the 12 outside
broadcast trucks in turn to install and
calibrate the equipment, and helped to train
the sound mixers in surround production
techniques. Broadcasting live sport is a
complicated process and so surround audio
production is generally kept relatively
simple. However, the mixers at the
Olympic Games still managed to provide
several mixes simultaneously using a single
mixing console (International TV mixes in
5.1, Pro Logic II encoded stereo, and plain
stereo plus the International Radio
Stereo Mix).
Preparing the OB trucks for mixing and
monitoring was made that bit more
complicated as many of them were
designed only for stereo production. So
each truck was equipped with a rack
containing a DP571 Dolby E Encoder for 5.1
sound feeds, as well as a DP563 Encoder
and a DP564 Decoder for the Dolby Pro
Logic II feeds. Vistek units to compensate
for video re-synchronisation delays were
included in the rack, and Voice Systems
BEEE 5.1 loudspeaker monitoring was
provided, with SPL model 2380 surround
monitoring controllers.
Capturing the Sound
In the production of 5.1 extra microphones
are typically used to capture the rear
channel ambiance and to help give the
viewer that sense of being in the midst of
the action. Generally, standard stereo mic
configurations were used for the frontal
image, supplemented in most of the venues
with a spaced pair to provide the rear
channel contribution of the environment
and crowd.
By far the most complicated
microphone setup at the Olympic Games
was in the main Olympic stadium which
played host to the athletics, the football
gold medal match, and the opening and
closing ceremonies. A number of miniature
shotgun microphones covered the action
on the track, supplemented with additional
stereo microphones. The crowd was picked
up with five microphones hung around the

stadium, as well as by extra crowd


microphones for smaller localised events.
A strategy was developed to enable a
single audio mixer to create all of the
various stereo and surround mixes needed.
For example, in the 5.1 mix, the centre
channel was kept free to simplify the
addition of commentary by local
broadcasters and to simplify mixing on
stereo consoles. This also meant that the
front left and right channels of the 5.1 mix
could be used as the international stereo FX
mix. The disadvantage of this approach was
that the centre speaker could not be used to
anchor the sounds of on-screen action for
5.1 listeners, but this was considered to be
an acceptable compromise.
A basic set of metadata was created
within the Dolby E encoder at each location
for the rights-holding broadcasters to use as
a guide, but it did not prove necessary to
monitor or adjust metadata in the truck
whilst mixing. Since the 5.1 was an
international mix, each individual
broadcaster was left to create or modify the
metadata once they had added their local
elements (such as commentary in the
centre channel). Each events 5.1 mix and
accompanying metadata was encoded as

Dolby E, embedded into an SDI signal and


transmitted to the Olympic broadcast
centre via a standard fibre-optic link.
Production Challenges
The complexity of the coverage and the
sheer number of events to cover presented
some unique difficulties, which often
resulted in some equally unique solutions.
For example, the sound mixer for the track
events shared a console with the mixer for
the field events yet even in this difficult
environment, he was still able to create and
monitor a surround sound mix. When his
colleague was using the surround
monitoring in the truck, he used Dolby
Headphone technology to listen to a guide
version of the 5.1 mix. Of course, the odd
nudge was needed to alert him to important
calls over talkback!
Examples such as this demonstrate that,
even in circumstances where production
facilities are not optimised for 5.1, a
convincing surround soundtrack can be
created without compromising the
production of the other required feeds.
Fortunately, in Europe where use of 5.1 is
spreading even on standard definition (SD)
television, many broadcasters are already

devoting more care and attention to 5.1


production without adding prohibitive
complexity. With demand for 5.1 audio
growing, there is every chance that live
surround sound production will continue to
be an area of innovation, and with
international events such as the Winter
Olympics and the football World Cup taking
place in Europe next year, it should be an
exciting time for audio in outside
broadcasts.
www.dolby.com

Dolby Processors in OB truck rack

LINE UP Sept/Oct 2005

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