World Cup Audio: Beyond the Vuvuzelas

The broadcast of the World Cup was a milestone for sports on the air. Not only was it the first sports event available around the globe in 3D, but it was characterized by more sound elements than ever before, more channels of audio and more systems, and all had to work flawlessly together.

For instance, somewhere between 40 and 50 Lawo audio consoles were used by a variety of broadcasters on the project. Herbert Lemcke, who helms the company’s North American operations, lost count along the way. But Lawo stationed an even dozen technical support personnel at various venues in South Africa as play progressed, including several who watched over the 30 consoles used for ESPN’s extended coverage of the matches.

“It was a challenge for all of us to have coverage on this wide a scale,” Lemcke says.

ESPN used three control rooms in Johannesburg. Control A, equipped with a 64-fader Lawo mc²56 console with 240 DSP (digital-signal-processing) channels, was the main location at the host broadcaster and handled sound for studio wraps and pre- and post-game packages.

Control B and Control C were smaller and acted as audio-integration rooms, taking in the native 5.1 feeds from the host broadcaster, mixing that with on-site commentary from the 10 game venues around the country, including Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, and transmitting the mixes to ESPN’s Bristol, CT, broadcast center. They were each equipped with a 32-fader Lawo mc²56 console outfitted with 23 AES pairs of I/O and 144 DSP channels.

All consoles were networked together in a MADI ring structure with a capacity of 128 channels per link. The two smaller consoles had full access to all the sources of Control Room A by way of Lawo’s Nova 73 HD networking technology, which managed the tie lines dynamically and provided access to additional parameters, such as labels, gain, and sources. All consoles were equipped with a redundant 8192×8192 crosspoint router and a redundant control system.

“Networking of the consoles was a crucial feature of this setup because it was designed to handle four different 5.1 program versions plus distribution of all sources,” explains Henry Rousseau, coordinating technical manager for ESPN. “The major feature was the MADI distribution setup that enabled all of the audio I/O to be taken by any room. Each control room could monitor and accept all program versions from all three control rooms as well as a left-right version, via a DTS encoder, and decoded versions, via a DTS decoder, of these signals. This arrangement assures seamless program takeover between the various control rooms.”

ESPN also needed to deal with multiple audio streams: a commercial music mix that goes directly to air, a natural sound track for postproduction and archiving, and a third non-commercial track for re-airs, all done in DTS left/right.

“Can you imagine how we would do it if everything were in discrete 5.1?” says Rousseau. “We’re currently in the process of moving our transmission facility to a new building and upgrading our plant to embedded-audio distribution. That will help facilitate our future remote events when we are able to transport 5.1 directly from the remote location to Bristol.”

In South Africa, ESPN also had to move a large number of audio channels among control rooms.

“That could not have been possible if it were not for the MADI interfaces in the Lawo consoles we used,” says Rousseau. “It makes for a very clean installation, and it’s a 20-year-old technology that’s getting a lot of exposure these days amongst the new 3D video displays.”

ESPN also used RTW’s eight-channel SurroundMonitor 10800 for graphic monitoring of peak levels, ITU loudness, and channel balance of surround signals.

Says Jon Bernegger, coordinating audio technician for ESPN at the International Broadcast Center during the World Cup, “We had one Lawo mc²56 audio console in each of our three audio booths. Our audio mixers mechanically installed an RTW SurroundMonitor 10800X to each console. They were installed on top of the meter bridge and connected to three AES outputs of the console core. The team then configured a soft key in the console that toggles these outputs between the main surround group and the monitor selector, which [helped] us to properly meter the 5.1 and stereo program outputs of the World Cup broadcasts for ESPN.”

It took a lot of gear to make the World Cup sound as good as it did. More innovation is likely to build on these achievements when the World Cup heads to Brazil four years from now.

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