Olympics Audio Will Be All Digital From Venue to Distribution

Audio for the 2012 Olympic Games in London this summer will be the most aggressive implementation of digital infrastructure yet for an Olympics broadcast. The fully discrete 5.1 surround audio will be transported through an extensive MADI and embedded audio system among host broadcaster Olympics Broadcast Services (OBS), local control rooms, and OB vans and distributed to global broadcast clients, including NBC, BBC, and CBC.

Dennis Baxter, audio consultant to the Olympics and sound designer for Olympics audio since 1993, points out that, whereas OBS’s internal signal routing has been fully digital since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, this year, the infrastructure has been extended to all the remote field sites and OB vans, which will be using audio mix consoles from Calrec, Lawo, and Stagetec, all fully integrated with digital routers.

“This year, the audio will be fully digital from the field of play to the home viewer,” says Baxter, citing OBS’s CEO/Managing Director Manolo Romero and Director of Engineering Sotiris Salamouris for the decision to implement a complete digital signal flow from the field of play through the OB van to the IBC (International Broadcast Center) to the rightsholders. “Now that the OB vans are fully equipped with digital consoles and routers, to our specifications, the entire signal path is consistent from end to end. This year will be the highest level of sonic fidelity we’ve ever achieved.”

Baxter expects that the 2012 event will require the use of seven or eight control rooms, down from the 17 built for the Beijing Games, because more, fully digital OB vans will be available.

“The audio will be transported by MADI directly to the client broadcasters,” says Baxter, noting that OBS Audio Manager Nuno Duarte has been instrumental in implementing the more extensive use of MADI and embedded audio transport, particularly with the distribution of the audio to rightsholders. “Bob Dixon [director of sound design for NBC’s Olympics coverage] will receive the audio stream directly from OBS’s main control room in the MADI format.”

In addition to the engineering aspects of the broadcast, Baxter says, considerable attention is being paid to production of the sound. “We do not just put out additional microphones and expect a better show. We spend a lot of time implementing progressive mixing techniques [beyond] conventional methods of mixing surround sound. For example, we look at upmixing stereo to surround and not just downmixing surround to stereo through a black box or fixed formula.”

Education Is Key
OBS audio staff will be trained during sessions in June in Madrid. Using a 20-page document outlining production standards and guidelines developed by Baxter and Duarte, teams from 30 countries will converge to learn coherent practices for disparate sports events. Baxter notes that many of the events included in the Olympics are rarely encountered outside of the Olympics, including table tennis, handball, and archery.

“Baseball, football, basketball, and [soccer] get plenty of coverage, and most mixers know how to work with them, but we’ll also have to deal with other sports that don’t see the light of day until the Olympics every four years,” he says. “We need to bring in people from around the world who have expertise in these sports in order to present the best possible audio for the broadcast.”

In addition to A1 and A2 engineers and mixers, the training sessions will also instruct about 160 “A3” students and will select 120 of those students to serve in assistant capacities during the broadcasts from London.

“One of our missions is to elevate broadcast standards globally, and we think it’s working,” Baxter says. “When we left Athens [in 2004] and Beijing, capabilities when it came to broadcast sound were significantly elevated. That’s always the goal.”

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