Article Overview

The Broadcasting of the Vancouver Olympics

The first time the Winter Games were fully HD and in Surround Sound

Every four years the world’s greatest athletes get together at the Winter Olympics to accomplish competitive first and break records and the games in Vancouver, Canada in February this year were not different. But the athletes weren’t the only ones doing things better and faster: OBS, the Olympic Broadcast Services, created by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in May 2001, also stepped to the technology podium with a winning effort that included a number of Olympic broadcasting firsts. It was the first time OBS was fully in charge of operations as there was no longer a host broadcaster from the host nation organizing committee and it was the first time the Winter Games were fully HD and in Surround Sound.

OBS served as the backbone production unit for all Olympic events and ceremonies, and has delivered images to broadcast partners assuring that rights holders didn’t have to worry about covering the action but rather enhancing it with unilateral cameras that focused on their own favorite athletes and events.OBS had two primary “homes” during the Winter Games. The biggest was the international Broadcast Center (IBC) in downtown Vancouver. The 31,000 square feet facility was located in the expanded Vancouver Convention Center and was the home to 10,000 media representatives from around the world. A second IBC measuring 3,000 square feet was located in Whistler, about 120 kilometer north of Vancouver and home to the alpine events. And while the Whistler Mountain IBC was smaller, the alpine events actually required more cameras, microphones and technical support to help viewers to see every second of record-breaking downhill runs, Nordic skiing treks, luge and bobsled runs. It also had communication links to and from the main IBC in Vancouver.

Remote Production Facilities and Technical Innovations

The OBS relied heavily on remote production facility providers at the venues. HD OBVans provided by Alfacam and SBP from Europe worked alongside with a North American fleet that included units from Coreplex, Dome Productions, F&F, Game Creek, Mira Mobile and Trio Video. Altogether more than 24 HD OBVans were in operation throughout the Games.

In terms of technical innovation two quite different systems were competing at the IBC in Vancouver. On the ground floor the EVS server farm has reached a new dimension. It was bigger than the one at the Beijing Games, because it could store the entire Vancouver Games and not only three days of competition like in Beijing. On the first floor Canada’s Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium CTV/Rogers had standardized much of its live event production and transmission operations on Harris Broadcast servers, editing, graphics and low resolution video browsing solutions. These solutions provided a critical underpinning to CTV’s seven HD studios and 21 edit suites, which received up to 65 lateral and unilateral feeds simultaneously and hauled up to six terabyte of video across a fiber optic network that was running the 120 kilometers from Vancouver to the Whistler IBC. In addition the Harris Broadcast servers in Vancouver were connected to servers across Canada to enable anyone within the consortium to go online and to see what’s available on the Vancouver server. If they were looking for a particular highlight, they only needed to type in a few keywords to find it on the server and to play it back. They also could request a video to be sent to them as a file for use in a local newscast.The OBS Mountain IBC also had its own server, the first time ever that an Olympic venue had its own server that could be accessed by all rights holding broadcasters. The venue server was connected via gigabit Ethernet connections to the EVS servers in the HD OBVans that were handling the specific events. The Mountain IBC server had enough recording capacity for a full day of alpine events, enabling the broadcasters to pull any clip from the server into their local program schedule.This concept was accepted by all broadcasters and OBS now is considering to have venue specific servers at every venue at the London Games in 2012. This will be an advantage for the right holding broadcasters, because with media servers at all venues they can more easily create their own productions without having to bring additional equipment and personnel to any location.In addition to the coverage of all the events in Vancouver in HD, a number of acquisition innovations were introduced. At all the high speed competitions UltraMotion cameras and virtual reality technologies enabled the viewers on the TV sets to understand where the winner has found his 1/100 of a second compared to his competitors. But also at Curling we found an UltraMotion Camera this year.


High Definition, Surround Sound and a 24/7 News Channel

The production in HD and Surround Sound made a difference for the worldwide viewers but the launch of two new services for broadcast rights holders, an Olympic News Channel (ONC), and an Olympic data feed made a big difference for the partners. The multi-channel content was distributed to different parts of the world like Asia, the Pacific Rim and South America and provided non-stop content to those broadcasters who didn’t send production teams over to Vancouver. These broadcasters could simply downlink the signals in their home country and distribute them over the air and via cable to their viewers. In Beijing the concept of this 24/7 news channel was proofed and in Vancouver the production was carried out. 20 ENG teams with Panasonic P2 CamCorders created the necessary content that supported the live signals. Two importand technical enhancements were making that service incredibly timely. Each crew had editing facilities at each venue where they could pre-edit packages using laptops with P2, Apple FCP and EVS editing systems. The latter allowed for metadata to be logged in with the content and when the content was received back at the IBC the content prepared with the EVS system immediately could be available for playout. For rights holders with shrinking budgets, being able to pull such high-quality footage with English language commentary directly from the ONC is a boon to their Olympic coverage. OBS is already looking to expand the offering by adding Spanish as well as Arabic language feeds to the channel for the 2012 Games in London.

As always the OBS team was looking already forward to the 2012 Games in London to find out which new technologies and workflows would make the move to London, which ones will be expanded, which ones should be included and which ones would have been a one off. The focus also will be on new encoding technologies and more efficient workflows like the EVS workflow at the OBS installation and the Harris workflow at the CTV/Rogers installation. Already a few months after the Vancouver Games the decision will be made for the London Games which of the new technologies will be included in the production process to make sure all the necessary products and solutions can be tested sufficiently.

Specialty cameras at the Vancouver Venues

More than 400 lateral HD cameras were installed by OBS to cover the 86 competitions in the 15 Olympic disciplines, the medal ceremonies in Vancouver and Whistler and the opening and closing ceremonies at BC Place in Vancouver. Among these 400 HD cameras various specialty cameras have brought fans closer than ever to the Olympic Gold. The competitions were highlighted by a wide variety of specialty cameras from more than 10 different vendors, the most diverse assembly of specialty cameras ever, and for good reasons, because the demand from the producers of the vast number of events can quickly outstrip the supply of a single vendor. “The ideas for specialty cameras were driven by the producers who might want a shot two feet above an athlete,” said John Pearce, manager of specialty equipment at OBS. “We then have to find a solution to put a camera in that position.”


An Olympic first: The Helmet Cameras

The newest camera technology in action at the Olympic Games were the helmet cameras that have been used at Cypress Mountain, home of events like snowboard cross, skiing cross, parallel grand slalom, aerial skiing and snowboard half pipe. The cameras were especially useful during the cross events giving viewers at home a first-person view from the track as competitors raced to the finish line.. The challenge for OBS was finding a system that would not compromise the athlete’s performance, considering that going for gold is often the highlight of an athlete’s career. “The last thing you want is having an athlete fall and blame the camera, so we worked in concert with the skiing cross and snowboard cross federations,” says Pearce. From a physical standpoint, the system needed to be as small as possible and Pearce and OBS began working with UK-based specialty camera provider Camera Corps. Step one was to physically separate and miniaturize the camera electronics and place most of the guts of the camera and the power source into a belt pack. But following tests with athletes at various FIS World Cups, even more streamlining of components was required as athletes were concerned that it could cause injury if they fell on it. So Camera Corps and the OBS team took apart the small box that contained the transmitter and the battery components and realized that they could be placed next to each other in a belt instead of on top of each other. The result was a belt that weights 60 grams and is 2.5 inches tall and only 0.75 inches thick. “Most of the belt is batteries to make sure the power lasts long enough for the competition,” explained Pearce. Multiple antennas were place along the course and the signal was fed back to the production compound via a single mode fiber, where diversity receivers have used the most stable signal before passing it to the HD OBVan.

Rope Cameras, Blimps and Helicopters

Shots from above were ubiquitous, as seven aerial cabled camera systems, two helicopters and two tethered blimps were in action to give the viewers on the TV sets fascinating new perspectives for everything from snowboard and skiing cross to cross country skiing and biathlon, downhill skiing, medal ceremonies and more. Cypress Mountain, for example, featured a cable camera system from CamCat for the moguls and a cable camera system from ACS France for the snowboard cross competition. “We spent a year putting the CamCat system for the moguls together for a two-day competition, but I was blown away by the coverage,” says Pearce. Cineflex gyro-stabilized heads played a key role in getting steady, clear shots. “Their heads can get a very stable shot using a 42x lens despite a huge amount of vibration,” adds Pearce. The Nordic Centre at Whistler Park featured two ACS France cabled camera systems that were running over 354 meters at cross country and 454 meters at biathlon. Due to the lengths of the runs, semi-permanent towers have been constructed and more than 2 tons of tension were applied to the cables to ensure proper operation. As for the camera systems themselves, they included a compact gyro-stabilized open mount head with a Thomson LDK-6000 WorldCam and a Fujinon 22x lens.


Rail Cameras and Cameras on Snowmobiles

Additionally, there were Railcam systems. The biathlon, for example, featured a curved Railcam that lead up the hill into the final lap. It was great to see the athletes powering towards the finish line. It placed the coverage of the action in the center of the stadium, which was a new angle for biathlons. Furthermore to the camera signals from the Railcams, Cineflex gyro-stabilized and wireless HD camera systems were mounted onto snowmobiles to cover the fights of the athletes at the cross country and biathlon events in the field outside of the stadium. The wireless Cineflex kit was developed by Pictorvision and consisted of four pairs of fiber-optic and radio transmitters and receivers. It allowed up to four Cineflex camera systems to be operated remotely.

Adding the wireless remote head to a one-man snowmobile allowed the producers to be inside the broadcast compound a mile away from the action. Cameras could be painted as snowmobiles moved around and through the action. With a range of up to 15 miles (depending on conditions) and a frequency of 2.4GHz – 2.483GHz, license-free band, spread-spectrum hopping and error-detection technology, the system achieved reliable, noise- and interference-immune operation. Aerial Camera Systems (ACS) supplied a wide range of its Specialist Camera systems. Installed, maintained and operated by more than 30 crew, the ACS provision included three High Speed Railcam systems, two 19m Thered Blimp systems, ten HD Cineflex V14 stabilised mounts, four whip-pan cameras and a number of HD RF systems including downlinks and mobile RF receive sites.

Across a range of sports and venues the specialist systems and experienced crew provided coverage of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, the Bobsleigh, Mogules as well as all the live aerials for the Games. The Tethered Blimp systems, unique to the ACS inventory, provided coverage of the Biathlon, Cross Country and Ski-Jumping. ACS also supplied a Railcam systems for speed skating that relies on magnetic levitation, thanks to a magnetized track. ACS' provision for the Vancouver Games follows on from a long standing and succsessful track record in the supply of services used in the coverage of both Summer & Winter Olympic Games dating back to the 1980's.


UltraMotion Cameras from Arri Media, DVS and LMC

Among the specialty cameras the OBS team has overseen also 20 UltraMotion camera systems from the three manufacturers Arri Media out of the UK, DVS out of France and LMC out of Germany were in action at various events. “With 20 systems spread throughout the venues, there was no way one company could provide all of those systems,” Pearce said. The Arri Media system, which uses the HiMotion camera system developed by NAC, was used for figure skating, short track speed skating, speed skating, ice hockey and the moguls and aerial skiing events at Cypress Mountain. The LMC system, which relies on the Antelope camera system, was found at snowboard cross, skiing cross, ski jumping and biathlon. All the pictures of the UltraMotion cameras were fed to EVS servers in the HD OBVans and the UltraMotion replay pictures were increasing day by day due to their very good motion resolution of the action of the athletes at their various sports. “The cameras were shooting up to 300 frames per second, but outdoors they were shooting a bit faster at 450 to 500 frames per second,” Pearce explained. The Antelope at the biathlon events was shooting with 1,500 frames per second and was able to show the impact of the flying bullet on the target.

PoleCams nearly everywhere

Finally more than eight Polecams with Toshiba IK-HD1 cameras were in operation (wired and wireless) at various locations (bobsleigh, biathlon, cross country, ski jumping, speed skating, alpine competitions and medal ceremonies). The Polecams were operated by a crew from TV Skyline (Germany) except the Polecam at the alpine venues where Bernhard Carduk (booked by tpc) operated a Polecam supplied by PMT (Germany). The Polecam was part of the “start package” for all alpine competitions. Video, audio, tally, shading and intercom signals were transmitted bi-directional via a Copperhead fiber-optical system from Telecast. This allowed the direct connection to the broadcast compound kilometers away from the start position of the athletes. The Copperhead was integrated into the temporarily installed fiber-optical infrastructure which also transmitted the signals from the other cameras located at the start gates. In total the Polecam was re-positioned twelve times during the alpine events, sometimes during quite heavy weather conditions. Due to its compact transport size the Polecam could be always transported by Bernhard by Skis from one start location to another one.


Virtual enhancements make Winter Games debut for OBS

Swiss Timing Sports was the virtual graphics provider, relying on Vizrt graphics systems for traditional virtual effects and Dartfish Technology for the system that allows for two athletes to be ghosted over each other (SimulCam), making it easier than ever to compare how two athletes fared in their competition. The other intriguing video effect, called “StroMotion”, repeatedly freezes athletes in motion during a given segment of their routine to demonstrate, within a single frame, the entire evolution of their movements. At the Winter Games the StroMotion technology had enhanced the coverage of the moguls’ competition and the ski jumping competition along with several other events.

The SimulCam technology involves “background recognition”, a process that identifies the pixels that belong to the background and calculates how those pixels move throughout a series of successive images. Those calculations were possible by leveraging the power of the NVIDIA GPU. Differences in the camera angles between every two images of two videos are determined and then every image of the second video is geometrically modified so as to match the viewpoint of the corresponding image in the first video. SimulCam then blends the two images together.

The Austrian broadcaster ORF had installed its own system at the alpine events at Creekside consisting of a EVS XT2 HD server, the DartStudioHD software, two AKI PaintHD systems and two ELO Touchscreens. The analyzed camera signals were coming from an OBS camera and an unilateral ORF camera which was located on top of the ORF commentary cabin. The system was installed and operated by LMC.


StroMotion similarly compute the camera movement between every two successive video images. Once determined, it stitches the images together by using a high level of redundancy. Actually it is able to remove the moving object from the image. Then, from the computed camera movement, StroMotion can determine how each video image relates geometrically to each other and to the panorama. The identification of pixels belonging to moving objects is based on the change-detection of each video image within the corresponding area in the panorama.

The OBS sees a lot of new virtual enhancements for the next Winter Games, e.g. to show how much distance an alpine skier spends in the air coming over a jump, or to show how far above the half pipe someone like Shaun White gets. And as always the focus of the OBS is to start with the basics and as the technology evolves realizing the dreams.

BC Place: Opening, Medal and Closing Ceremonies

At the Games BC Place was a critical venue for OBS. Although no events were contested there, plenty of medals were awarded inside the stadium and every athlete had the opportunity to march through the stadium twice – BC Place was home to the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games, as well as to the nightly medal ceremonies and performances. So OBS had outfitted it with several specialty cameras and two backup systems, to ensure a flawless show.

BC Place was equipped with 43 cameras, including a helicopter camera and a beauty shot of the building from across the bay. Canadian broadcaster CTV and US rights holder NBC had HD OBVans parked outside of the arena to supplement coverage of the ceremonies, but for the host broadcast, OBS relied on two HD OBVans from F&F Productions that were dedicated to BC Place and fully redundant. “We split up the CCUs,” explained James McCauley, technical manager of BC Place for OBS. “If camera 1 and camera 2 are side by side, one will come out of one truck and one out of the other, but they are both available in both trucks. If we lost a truck or lost a switcher, it wouldn’t really matter because we would have a backup in the other truck.


If a whole truck went down,” McCauley continued, “some of the cameras would be lost, but the host broadcaster could still provide some coverage. In addition to that redundant system, OBS placed five emergency backup cameras behind the five prime camera positions inside the arena. Basically these cameras were put on the back of the platform, behind our prime cameras and were not used,” McCauley explained further. “We made sure they’re set up and ready to go, so in case we lost the main camera, we coukd plop them on the mount and keep broadcasting.”

In addition to the traditional hard cameras, the building’s 43 cameras included some robotics, a vertical tracking camera, a mat camera, an inverted tower camera that hung from the grid and could drop down three meters from the ceiling and a point-to-point Spidercam with the possibility to move in three dimensions. All of those cameras were proven technologies. “I don’t think we’d ever put a first-time gadget on the air in this particular environment. We’d try it in a test event first,” McCauley said, “but every spearheading technology I have seen proven – from UltraMotion cameras, to helmet cameras, to robotics and 5.1 surround sound – has been incorporated into this year’s production of the Olympic Games,” and McCauley added, “every year that goes by, there are new things coming out, and we will look to add more gadgets for the next Games.”

Clear-Com Eclipse for the Communication during Opening and Closing Ceremony

Clear-Com’s Hybrid Network was chosen as the intercom solution for the opening and closing ceremonies and other events of the Vancouver Olympics. Powering the solution was the Eclipse Omega digital matrix intercom system with 192 panel and 4-wire ports and two IVC-32 high-density IP connection cards providing an additional 64 channels of high-quality IP connections. A total of 80 V-Series matrix intercom panels, both standard and IP-enabled in both 12- and 24-lever varieties, were deployed for directors, producers, show callers, stage managers and other key users. Eighty beltpacks were connected to the Hybrid Network for use at key positions at the venue. Finally, Clear-Com’s Concert intercom software system, accessible on a PC with internet connection, was deployed at remote locations to provide additional intercom access points and communication backup.


Cypress Mountains: Snowboarding and Ski-Cross Events

A world-first in dynamic sports coverage with the successful use of live RF helmet cameras during the Games was carried out by Camera Corps. Working in co-operation with transmission specialist Broadcast RF Ltd, Camera Corps was able to deliver some of the most dramatic video coverage ever obtained from a winter sports event. "Using high-quality miniature cameras mounted directly on the contestants' helmets, we were able to deliver the actual visual experience of participating in snowboarding and ski-cross events," explained Camera Corps' Technical Director Jim Daniels. "This was the first time any athlete has ever worn a camera live during either the Winter or Summer Games. The equipment required is now so light and compact that it can be worn with no adverse effect on sporting performance."

Eight fully operational live camera systems were available during the two-day snowboard-cross and ski-cross events at Cypress Mountain, feeding live video via a wide-area diversity receiving system. Up to four cameras could be used at any one time, each assigned with a distinct transmission frequency. Multiple receiving sites interconnected via optical fibre were installed by Broadcast RF, the receive antennas being positioned to ensure optimal coverage from each camera for the entire course length. Each camera measured just 7 cm long by 1.9 cm diameter with a total height of 7 cm including aerial. Camera and transmitter were powered by a 295 gram rechargeable battery belt with a capacity of 90 minutes. "Live video from the driver's viewpoint has long been extremely popular in motor-racing," adds Camera Corps' founder and Managing Director Laurie Frost. "We introduced bobsleigh cameras several years ago, three of which were in use during the 2010 Winter Games. The technology has now advanced to the point where we can, in principle, deliver live video from individual contestants at almost any sports event. It is a great tribute to the Winter Games contestants that so many were willing to share their experience in this way with the millions of people who watched the events on television."

Whistler Olympic Park: Ski Jumping

Ski jumping coverage at Whistler Olympic Park had been a veritable specialty feast with 28 cameras that included a mini-blimp camera, a larger tethered blimp camera, a Towercam, a Railcam and a helicopter feed. Three SuperSloMo systems and one UltraMotion camera system were also part of the camera complement. Slovenia SLV was the production team for the ski jumping events but also ARD/ZDF, ORF and SRG/tpc teams were on hand with unilateral cameras to ensure that the Austrian, German and Swiss viewers didn’t miss a single minute of the actions. Audio, as always is a big part of the production and 35 microphones were located along the competition venue. The ski jumping event also benefitted from some tricks like frequency bending. The challenge was to let the viewer hear the sound of the skier hurtling down the track over the din of the Railcam which was prone to being noisy but was able to grab stellar images of the long jumpers. “Right now we had the skis sounding like a jet because we equalized the Railcam to be an octave lower than the crispy sounds of the skis and then blended them together,” Dennis Baxter (sound designer for the OBS) stated, “this made for a nice effect”.

SpeedCam from TV Skyline at Ski Jumping

Whistler Olympic Park: Biathlon and Cross Country

Putting the biathlon on television is a completely separate process from televising the nearby cross-country events. Bjorn Bjorklund, venue tech manager for OBS, was responsible for both the biathlon and the cross-country events contested at Whistler Olympic Park, and it was up to him to keep both production arms running separately and smoothly.

Three to four snowmobiles, equipped with unmanned RF cameras, were used for coverage of the cross country races, while one snowmobile was used to cover the biathlon course. “There was a camera with a robotic Cineflex head on the snowmobile and the operator sat down in the broadcast compound and operated the camera,” Bjorklund explains. “We had just a driver on the snowmobile and all of the other controls were RF.” The Biathlon competition utilized 42 cameras, including a look from a helicopter and a blimp, and four SuperSloMo cameras. But there were more camera positions along the course than physical cameras were available. “We had more camera positions than cameras because we always were moving cameras back and forth,” Bjorklund said. “We had the CableCam overhead and also the Railcam on the ground in the stadium for the finish and also another Railcam along the curve leading up to the stadium.

This was a Speedcam from r-t-s which brought the athletes into the stadium.” The biathlon competitions were produced by a crew from the Norwegian broadcaster NRK. In addition to being the world’s experts in biathlon production, NRK had developed a proprietary system called TargetCam, which ensured easy access to each of the targets as the athletes took their shots. “The TargetCam is a rail camera designed specifically to cover the targets,” Bjorklund explained. “It’s pre-programmed for a tight shot on each one of the targets, so the operator can push a button for any one of the targets and the camera will go directly there. It’s a production decision as to which target we go to and when, but the operator can move pretty quickly between the targets.”

While the Norwegians are the experts in biathlon, the Finish are the best in the world at cross country production, so a crew from Finland’s YLE handled the production of the cross country events. “Cross country has a totally different setup,” Bjorklund stated. “We had 57 cameras on the cross country course, and that included photo finish cameras, a blimp and a helicopter. Except for the snowmobiles they were all manned.” All of the cameras on both courses were wired by triax, which took nearly three weeks to lay down completely.

Both courses had microphones laid throughout the length of the course, but according to Bjorklund, there weren’t as many microphones in the snow as one might think. “The microphones on the course were mostly atmosphere mikes,” Bjorklund said. “we also had a whole room inside the control area for audio because a lot of the sounds were sampled for both biathlon and cross country. You can’t cover all the sounds you want live, so you need to fill in the audio, and we also wanted to get rid of the PA sounds. We added in the effects in the proper places for cross country and biathlon and the samples really helped enhance the effect of the audio in 5.1 surround sound.

Whistler Creek: Alpine Competitions

Home to men’s and women’s downhill, super combined, Super-G, giant slalom and slalom events was Whistler Creek, a steep and unforgiving hill, made all the more difficult to navigate because the rest of the mountain remained open to the public throughout the games. In addition the OBS alpine team had to shift equipment back and forth, because they didn’t have a fully rigged women’s course and a fully rigged men’s course. It was a quick move from the women’s downhill start to the men’s downhill start, but the move from the the top of the mountain to the start of the slaloms at midpoint on the opposite side of the mountain was quite lengthy. Mainly the specialist equipment like the jib and the Dartfish system with its special cameras had to be moved. There were effectively 40 camera positions for each course.

. It was simply impossible to shift everything, so both sides of the mountain were cabled and operational and in addition to the six SuperSloMo cameras and the UltraMotion camera, the start group with the handhelds including the Polecam was shifted. The heavy equipment was moved into position either on helicopter, snow cat, snowmobile or by using special skis with sleds. Some of the boxes were 60-plus kilos and were very difficult to handle down from the platforms and onto a snow cat. The downhill and Super-G courses were about three kilometers long and were covered by three HD OBVans – a Corplex truck for the top part of the course, a Mira Mobile truck for the middle part and another Coreplex truck for the bottom part of the course. In this truck also the integration of the top and the middle part took place.

. It was quite difficult of getting an audio mix, the visuals and the communications to all three. And because this were the first Winter Olympics produced in full 5.1 surround sound there were 170 microphones out on the course, some mounted on cameras and shifting with the cameras, others at fixed locations. It was very difficult to cover an acceptable surround sound following the athletes travelling with quite high speeds from A to B. For the power supply up in the mountains Aggreko was responsible. Already in November Aggreko was sending 20 guys to install all of the cables on the mountain. It took two and a half months to install about 200 kilometers of cable. The same was true for the installation of the camera cables. OBS had decided to use Telecast sheds where six cameras could be send on fiber via one cable.

Whistler Sliding Centre: Bobsled

From the 42 cameras that covered the bobsled competitions at the Whistler Sliding Center, 19 were delivered and monitored by Camera Corps from the UK. "We have 16 cameras mounted in the roof of the bobsleigh track to follow the passage of each bob down the course,” Laurie Frost, Managing Director of Camera Corps explained and continued, “there are also two special pop-up cameras mounted in the ice which can be remotely lowered with the ice surface if a bob has turned on its side. That removes any risk of the competitors coming into direct contact with either pop-up camera. The pop-up cameras can also be lowered during ice-grooming operations.” In addition to the video coverage of a sport known for heavy sleds with burly men hurting down a track with a speed upwards of 130 km/h also the sound design for the 5.1 surround sound signal plays an important role. And one of the favorite sports of Denis Baxter, sound designer for OBS, is bob sledge, wanting to bring a vision of grandness to this sport. “I approached it similar to car racing, with handheld cameras and cranes equipped with Audio-Technica mics,” he said. To create the motion from right to left he first laid out an approach mic that would be fed slightly on the phantom side, carried the sound of the bobsled passing with the mic on the camera, and then a trailing mic that picked up the sound of the bobsled leaving the frame.

The bobsled surround sound experience began at the starting gate with four lavalier mics placed as spaced pairs to pick up all of the action that took place as the teams pushed the sled out of the gate. The same approach was taken at the finish line with additional mics picking up the crowd. In fact, the goal for the surround sound on many of the racing events was to not deliver crowd noise until the competitor was near the finish line. One of the innovations for bobsledding in Whistler was the use of audio-follow-video. The Lawo audio console was tied to the cameras, so when the director was cutting to a new camera the audio from the camera automatically was activated. With the 42 cameras on the track and the potential for the director to occasionally get lost the move minimized the risk of the audio mixer also getting lost.

With more than 80 broadcasters receiving the host broadcast feed Baxter was attempting to keep as many of them happy, despite the wide range of subjectivity when it comes to judging great surround sound experience. Broadcasters could receive two signals: a discrete surround sound mix and a stereo signal. “Our stereo and front channels of surround sound mixes were very similar and we did not inject any commentary into our signal,” Baxter said. “So it was a little simpler than if a broadcaster was doing their own show.” Looking to the future Baxter has one simple request: no cowbells. “A cowbell clanging next to a mic can hit 140 dB and there is no way to control that,” he explained. “We need to ban two things: thunder stick and cowbells. They sound hideous.”

Vancouver: Curling

About one third of the broadcast hours at the Vancouver Winter Olympics were dedicated to curling. With 25 cameras covering four concurrent matches nine hours a day for eight days straight – before the medal rounds – there was plenty of curling coverage being produced. During each of the three three-hour broadcast windows scheduled for the eight days of round-robin competition, four sheets (playing surfaces) were in play simultaneously, requiring four concurrent productions. That worked out to nine hours of curling each day, times four simultaneous games during those nine hours, or 26 hours per day.

Producing a separate feed from each of the four side-by-side icy playing surfaces required four of everything – four HD OBVans with four switchers, four audio consoles, four producers, four directors and five dedicated cameras for each play ground. In addition to the 20 standard cameras five specialty cameras were on location: a jib, a Polecam, a POV for beauty shots, a UltraMotion from Arri Media and a roving wireless ENG camera that gave color from the stands. “The Polecam gave you great angles that we’ve never had before of the house (the rings on the ice) from behind,” Curtis Saville, executive producer of curling for OBS, said. “We’ve got the overhead, but the Polecam gave you perspective of the house and where the players were. When the rock came in you could also see the path well in advance, which was new.” Some might see a UltraMotion camera in a sport played at the speed of curling as excessive, but the Arri Media HiMotion camera offered plenty of new insight.

“The UltraMotion has given some great color of the sweepers,” Saville stated and continued, “sweeping is key in curling and if you got good sweepers who are fit and athletic, they can make a rock go an extra 10 feet, or go straight for an extra three feet. With the UltraMotion you really can see that. You can almost see the sweat coming of their faces.” The four HD OBVans were all provided by Dome Productions and taking into account the need to multiply every personnel position by four, the crew assigned to curling was upwards of 150 people. Rather than renting out four A-Unit production trucks to support the four productions, OBS got creative. Utilizing the A-Units from Dome Productions’ Horizon and Majestic trucks as they are (with Grass Valley Kalypso switchers and Calrec audio consoles), the A-Units were also home to the EVS servers and intercoms for all four trucks. OBS then turned Horizon B and Majestic B into A-Units of their own, outfitting them with Lawo audio consoles and Ross switchers consistent with the equipment in the IBC. Due to the fact that only two HD OBVans contained EVS servers the SloMo operators in all four trucks needed to discuss all the replays quite intensively.

OBS outfitted each of the 32 players in the venue with wireless Audio-Technica microphones during every match. No other sport is using live microphones on every player, which means “Mics make curling”. Each of the coaches was also miced, so spectators could hear the discussions amongst the players about strategy and execution during the downtime between each action, as well as during each throw. “Throwing a rock only takes 20 seconds,” explained Saville, “but you might have five minutes of discussions between that. You have to find a non-linear way to tell the story on the ice. I think the player microphones really drive your telling of the story. Once we began micing curlers it changed the entertainment of the sport.” In addition to the player microphones, effect mics were hung on overhead rigs, attached to cameras, and hidden on the side of the ice in the carpeting. These mics have recorded the great low rumble sound of the rock on the ice which in 5.1 was coming through the subwoofer with that nice low, deep bass sound.

Canada Hockey Place: Ice Hockey

Canada Hockey Place, where the Olympic Hockey games were played, is a hockey venue year round, so it did not require many changes to make it Olympics-ready for the Vancouver Games. The HD OBVan compound outside of the venue, however, was a different story. In addition to the OBS host feed, domestic broadcaster CTV, American broadcaster NBC and vendors from around the world had set up to help and support the hockey broadcasts in full HD and 5.1 surround sound. 26 cameras were positioned inside Canada Hockey Place, including robotic cameras stationed on the plexiglass, hanging cameras over the goalies, cameras in the goals, SuperSloMo cameras and UltraMotion cameras from Arri Media and DVS. In the replays from the UltraMotion cameras it was possible for the first time to see in perfect detail how the puck got into the goal.

In addition to the OBS trucks and trailers in the compound, NBC had a truck on location and CTV had a truck for its English-language coverage and a separate truck for French-language coverage. CTV supplemented the 26 world feed cameras with four of its own – a booth camera, a tight isolated shot, a left splash position and a handheld. CTV also added its own look to the broadcast, using branded teasers and billboards from the Chyron Duet and the Harris Inscriber machines. One of the Dome HD OBVans was utilized for the CTV production. On three of its own EVS servers in the Dome truck CTV created even its own replays. The audio was taken directly from the host feed and CTV dropped in its own commentators, as well the additional sound that was part of its graphics effects packages.

The Vancouver Games were highlighted by Team Canada’s 3-2 overtime victory against the US in the gold medal men’s hockey game. On NBC the gold medal hockey game was the most-watched hockey game in 30 years with an average viewership of 27.6 million (only topped by the gold medal game 1980 in Lake Placid USA vs. Finland with a 32.8 million viewership). As expected the game was an even bigger event in Canada. The gold medal showdown was the most watched television broadcast ever in Canadian history, with an average audience of 16.6 million viewers. The men’s hockey final also capped off an Olympics record for Canada’s Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium, which delivered the top five most-watched television events in recorded history in Canada.

A maximum performance communications infrastructure

Efficient communications are the key to produce smoothly run and well coordinated operations at large events such as the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. With a long history in equipping major-scale events such as the Winter Games 2006 in Torino or the Olympic Games 2008 in Beijing, Riedel Communications was predestinated for installing such an infrastructure. The German-based manufacturer and rental service provider of intercom, radio, video and audio solutions supplied the entire complement of radio equipment as well as the communications system for VANOC – the organization committee of the Vancouver Games. More than 70 Artist digital matrix intercom systems and 10,000 digital radios were used at the Vancouver Games. In addition, Riedel facilitated several wireless video links for the host broadcaster OBS.

Radio Infrastructure
On the behalf of Bell Riedel installed an extensive digital radio network infrastructure with 26 RF sites with over 500 repeater channels and two dispatch consoles covering the whole Vancouver and Whistler region. More than 6,500 mobile and installed digital radios with thousands of Riedel AIR, PRO and MAX headsets and additional accessories were used at the Games. Two network management terminals provided intelligent trunked organization of the frequencies and channels.

Comprehensive Venue Intercom
 Although mostly invisible to the audience, one of the most important factors at major scale events is the communications infrastructure. Riedel provided the communications backbone for VANOC consisting of over more than 60 Artist digital intercom matrix systems, which tied the entire configuration together. Referees, time keepers and assistants communicated mainly over 20 digital Performer partyline systems, which were seamlessly integrated into the matrix intercom. A total of more than 500 digital beltpacks were used at the Winter Games. Furthermore more than 2,000 analog mobile radios were used by VANOC to coordinate the Winter Games 2010.

Thrilling on-site pictures and information
For transmission and distribution of additional video and result content at the venues, the OBS utilized 14 venue information systems from Riedel, which were specially developed for this operation. This way journalists, representatives or even visitors could utilize special video receivers provided by OBS to get additional information and video content on-site. To ensure thrilling pictures from the events, Riedel furnished several wireless video links for OBS to realize for instance Skycam operations at Cypress Mountain.

Harris streamlined HD workflow for Canada’s Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium

The Consortium, the official Canadian broadcaster of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (and also the London 2012 Games) is the result of a $153 million bid for the 2010 and 2012 games by CTV and Rogers and had resulted in more than 4,800 hours of coverage being delivered in 22 languages across Canada. Twelve Canadian TV networks and 19 radio stations (plus the newspaper “The Globe and Mail”), have been working together in a 40,000 square feet facility within the IBC. English-language networks included CTV, Rogers Sportsnet, TCN, OLN and MuchMusic. The French-language networks were V, RDS, RIS Info Sports and the multilingual networks included OMNI.1, OMNI.2, APTN and ATN.

The Consortium had standardized much of its live event production and transmission operations on Harris Broadcast server, editing, graphics and low-resolution video browsing solutions. “We have had seven control rooms in the IBC (with Ross video switchers and Lawo audio mixers) going full tilt all the times,” said Allan Morris, CTV senior vice president, Operations ant IT. “The control rooms brought together a combination of live feeds, edited highlight packages and profiles that were then delivered to Toronto where they were either passed on to our viewers through CTV stations or passed to other networks that, in turn, delivered the content to their viewers.”

At the core of the 40,000 square feet facility were the Harris Nexio servers on which all the incoming feeds from the venues and related events were ingested (as well as field material shot on Sony XDCAM). 65 feeds were received simultaneously including the feeds from Whistler ski resort which were provided via a 6TB fiber optic network to the IBC in Vancouver. From all these materials the Consortium personnel could build sub clips for use on highlights and profiles. “The Nexio system does not touch the video essence of the clip,” explained Albert Faust, Senior Director of Media Technology Systems at CTV. “The 32 Nexio ingest applications were used to log the clips and then the assignment desk attached slugs to the clips.”

Once the content was on the Nexio server (with a capacity of 35TB = 1,345 hours @ 50Mb/s MPEG 4:2:2 Intrinsic Mirroring) a sub clip was created and stored on an Isilon near-line server system that could hold 7,000 hours of content. Staffers at each network could then build highlights clips and packages using 13 Harris Velocity EXS and eight Avid editing systems. The IBC servers were all connected to servers across Canada so that anyone in the Consortium could go online to see what was there. If they were looking for a particular highlight, they needed only to type in a few keywords and the system immediately played back the requested materials.

They also could request that a video was sent to them as a file for use in a local newscast. “We had to use Isilon because we have 32 ingest and 28 playout channels,” Faust continues. “The transition to HD stressed our Fiber Channel-based SANs to the limit, so 10Gbps capabilities became attractive. We’ve been playing with Isilon for the past four years and once they had the 10Gbps capability we began to look at them seriously.” The Isilon servers were the main communications point for the Consortium, as the Avid and Harris editing systems (and an Avid ISIS storage system) pushed and pulled content between each other. To supply video feeds from the IBC to the venues of the Winter Games, the Consortium was using 30 Makito encoders from HaiVision. The Makito was the first compact encoder that combined the efficiencies of H.264 video compression and the image quality of full HD video of up to 1080p60. The encoder enabled the Consortium to distribute, capture and rebroadcast signals from the venues in high quality and low latency.

Another big challenge was to make sure the system could meet the server and bandwidth needs of staffers who were pushing the system to its limits. In the first five days of the Games more than 5,000 clips were published, 16,000 were logged and 7,300 were transferred from the Harris Nexio server to the Avid ISIS. “We’re trying to catch up to what the editors want to achieve,” Faust stated. “We’re really stretching the Harris Nexio system’s capabilities beyond anything it has done before.” But the Consortium’s set up was about more than just massive servers. There were 38,000 IP network ports in use by a very large RTS intercom system and an Evertz EQX video router and an audio router with a capacity of 6,000 x 6,000 in- and outputs. To generate stunning graphics, the Consortium had standardized on the Harris Inscriber G7 graphics system (21 dual-channel systems were in use) and the Connectus graphics management system.

. It was also using Harris NetVX products to compress and decompress voice, data and video as it flowed to affiliate stations across the country over the Bell Canada network. A variety of fixed and handheld Harris Videotek test and measurement solutions helped monitor video and audio signals live from the venues, while assuring signal integrity and compliance with national broadcast standards.All the content was delivered from Vancouver to Toronto via two OC48 circuits and a C-band satellite signal for backup. In Toronto commercials and interstitials were inserted before delivery out to viewers. “And then there was the opening ceremony that required a nine-camera shoot to follow Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretzky through the streets of Vancouver as he lit the Olympic flame.

Three microwave trucks, two satellite trucks and even another network’s microwave frequencies were required to deliver coverage to our viewers,” said Morris, “and it lasted all of seven minutes”. The ripples, however, were part of the fun of the project, giving the Consortium staff their own Olympian task to overcome. “If we had subcontracted this out, there would have been no way this could have been done, because everyone involved lived in the environment and knows the needs from scratch,” Morris concluded. And after 17 days of the Winter Games the results have been nothing short of podium worthy. But the team already was reviewing the lessons learnt at Vancouver and to achieve the first steps for the implementation of an even bigger Harris Nexio installation at the London Games in 2012.

German Broadcasters came together for HD Games

German broadcasters ARD and ZDF were working together to deliver their first HD Olympics to Germany, giving German sports fans the clearest look ever at hot spot sports like biathlon, ski jumping and alpine sports. A staff of more than 600 was on hand covering the action for TV and radio and the networks unilateral coverage at five venues. Three of those venues , the sliding center, Whistler Creekside and the Richmond Oval (speed skating) were operating out of flypack units while NEP was providing two HD OBVans at the biathlon (SS19) and the ski jumping (NCP12).

“The quality of the world feed has been improving so we mainly were supplementing a few things,” said Volker Frank, technical leader ARD. Thomson LDK-8000 cameras recording to P2 decks were on hand to capture the different start and finish zones, interview athletes in the mixed zones and to cover coaches. The biathlon also featured HotHead camera systems with 86x lenses that allowed for tight coverage on the eye of the biathlete as they zero in for a shot. The two networks were delivering 18 hours for the main channel and an additional 8 hours each on two digital networks that showed complete end-to-end coverage of events that were edited for the main channels. The core of the German IBC area included an Avid ISIS that could store 1,300 hours of content and an EVS IP editing system (the IBC system was installed and monitored by the German system integrator Wellen+Noethen). “We could transfer material both ways with the Avid Airspeed ingesting content into the Avid world;” Frank continued, “ because our compression codec was DNXHD at 145 Mbps.” Five Vizrt graphic systems were also being used for the broadcasts and the networks were using the Dartfish virtual enhancements provided by OBS. “I especially liked the Dartfish at sliding and skiing,” said Frank. In terms of planning, ARD handled the IBC set up while ZDF was in charge of venue operations. “It was a big job to get everything going but it worked out very well,” said Gunnar Darge, ZDF, head of engineering and operations, special projects. At the venues he relied on a team of broadcast specialists from Gearhouse Broadcast UK for the setup and maintenance.

At home the German HD viewers were treated with extra sharp pictures, courtesy of uncompressed signals that were delivered from Vancouver to Germany via STM16. An MPEG2 HD signal was also delivered via satellite for back-up needs. “Vancouver was the culmination of two years of experience moving from SD to HD,” Frank concluded. “We have learned a lot and had a system that was stable, running and working well.”

YLE created blueprint for remote Broadcasting

Finland’s premier broadcaster Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) had devised a clever solution to the problem of escalating travel and accommodation costs for the 2010 Winter Games. Using Lawo’s integrated technologies, YLE devised an original production network for the collection and distribution of reportage for the Finish audience that required fewer personnel on site in Vancouver, yet did not compromise either quality or creativity.

In a joint venture with SVT, Sweden’s national broadcaster, YLE’s main production concept was to gather every commentary and intercom signal in Vancouver and Whistler and route them to Helsinki, where they were distributed to YLE production units for mixing. Close collaboration between YLE, Lawo’s hardware engineers and DSA Volgmann, Lawo’s R&D partner, had delivered a system for real-time audio routing and simultaneous scheduling, remote control and monitoring of all matrices which worked across half the world. Matti Helkamaa, Senior Technical Advisor for YLE, explained. “For budget reasons, we decided to send only the commentators and reporters and a small technical core to the actual Olympics site. Instead, we were using our own Studio 25 in Helsinki, which is equipped with a Lawo Nova73 HD Matrix and mc²66 digital console, as the main production unit for our broadcasting. For HD production, we have used the resources in our HD-1 OB.”

“Commentary and intercom signals were gathered in two location facilities in Whistler and Vancouver, equipped with Lawo Zirkon and Crystal consoles and Nova 73HD Matrices, and supplemented by SVT’s two Lawo mc²66 digital desks. From there, signals were scheduled with DSA Line Scheduler systems and routed to and from Helsinki via EBU’s FINE Network’s Nimbra AES Service. In Whistler, Vancouver and Helsinki, commentary audios in two languages were inserted in the Nova 73 HD’s cards to the correct SDI signal’s audio channel for the EVS farm, which operated on an SDI basis only. The return audios from the production units were collected to a Nova matrix in Helsinki and distributed via two matrices in Canada to the venues.”

In such a complex signal gathering set-up, and to ensure no compromise on quality or flexibility, all elements were totally reliable. With an increased risk of bottlenecks because of capacity and the time zone difference, very precise routing was required. Lawo’s proven Nova73 HD and DALLIS systems were the obvious choices for YLE and the use of Lawo mc²66 consoles at SVT added to the integration of all the technical elements. The Nova73 HD with a capacity of 8000 x 8000 cross points was configured for 1024 inputs and 1024 outputs. All the systems had considerable built-in redundancy.

YLE’s criterion for production quality was the same as if everyone were actually stationed at the Winter Olympics venues. Originally the transfers Whistler-Vancouver and Vancouver-Helsinki were going to be over an IP but finally this was used for backup and intercom services. Instead, PGM audios were transferred between the venues via EBU’s Fine/Nimbra network in AES format. YLE’s Helkamaa commented, “One of the tasks I feel was only possible with Lawo equipment was the extensive real-time routing and scheduling of the audio signals. Whilst the switching took place remotely in Canada, the main mixing was done in two units in Finland. The production was transmitted on two SD TV channels as well as on HD.”

This production model should certainly appeal to broadcasters and producers who are feeling the financial pinch of sending full technical teams all over the globe to gather and produce high-end programming. The unique integration of Lawo technologies was key to keep on-site budgets down whilst sustaining YLE’s ability to deliver quality output for their broadcasts. In the past, many TV companies would have baulked at the idea of remote gathering the content of their programmes. However, the ease of operation and programming, along with the speed and reliability, made possible by a chain of Lawo products, now has made this a professional reality. The success of YLE and SVT in Canada will persuade other broadcasters to send only essential on-site crews to the host country, releasing the budgets to upgrade studio equipment at home.

BBC in Vancouver on the way to London 2012

The BBC had a small workforce of 70 staffers in Vancouver for the Winter Games that was working closely with BBC staff in London. The time difference between London and Vancouver, 8 hours, for the smaller staff as the on-location crew was primarily in place to add commentary to European Broadcast Union (EBU) HD feeds that were received in London. The key part was to have visual presence in Vancouver and to bring UK viewers to the Vancouver Games. Three stand-up positions, two in Vancouver and one in Whistler, were used for coverage that began at 5pm on BBC2 and BBC HD in London and continued through to 6am and there was also a highlights program that aired in the late morning. In terms of hours that was more coverage of a Winter Olympics than ever before.

Of course, 2012 was a big focus for the staff as well, as BBC will broadcast the 2012 Summer Games that will take place in London. BBC executives were in Vancouver meeting with broadcasters, in particular CTV, to learn about workflows, staffing strategies and delivery of content via digital platforms like the internet, mobile devices and IPTV. These platforms are driving everyone to reassess how to produce and distribute content, because there are now multiple platforms that drive the production process. The traffic on the web sites and the live video portals of EBU, NBC, CTV or Yahoo exceeded all expectations. The EBU video portal alone enabled 14 million video streams to be viewed via its 38 channels. In total, over 12 million hours of viewing time was logged by EBU Member broadcasters' internet sites and the EBU aggregated live video portal

And while 3D appears to be on the BBC roadmap for the 2012 Olympics there is still much work to be done to figure out just how this will happen. And because there is no 3D distribution platform currently available, it maybe that something like IPTV is a potential candidate as a carrier for 3D content.As if the challenge of broadcasting an Olympics held on home soil is not enough the BBC will also broadcast the Summer Games following a move of its base of operations from London to Manchester.And after London 2012 Sochi 2014 already is on the horizon.

2014 in Sochi