Olympic-Audio Production Is ‘Practical Research Project’

Audio played a big part in the success of the London Olympics. Here’s what a pair of audio suppliers have to say about how it was done.

Tim Carroll, president of Linear Acoustic, which had numerous editions of its new Aero.qc audio-ingest QC system in place in London, offers an interesting take on the Games. “It was a great practical research project,” he says, framing London as a point on an Olympic continuum going back to Beijing, the first Olympics that Linear Acoustic was involved with. “From Beijing to Vancouver to London, the audio just kept getting better, and you have to figure it’s going to keep going that way when we get to Sochi in 2014.”

Carroll attributes improved audio in part to a much more transparent signal path, one in which 5.1 surround sound is accomplished from the start with very little automated upmixing of legacy elements necessary. “The entire system in London, from the Avid Media Composer to the way NBC partitioned the EVS systems to the uncompressed audio backhaul to the States, was almost pristine in 5.1. Ironically, we had more equipment at the Games this year than ever before, but it was used more in a support role, helping mixers when they needed it, rather than being a primary upmix tool.”

He adds that London was an opportunity to beta-test some new concepts, including a loudness-measuring and upmix-emulation RTAS plug-in for the Media Composer. That and other new concepts suggest that future Olympics audio will be a more software-heavy environment moving forward.

One of the best advances this year was the level of confidence monitoring that A1s had access to, Carroll notes. “We were sending the 5.1 to NBC, and they were sending us back the audio from WNBC [in New York] through fiber under the Atlantic, so we could compare pre and post audio instantly,” he says. “And you could hear that what we were sending to New York is what was getting to the home viewer, in terms of quality. That was a real testament to NBC Olympics’ [SVP of Engineering] Dave Mazza and [Director of Sound Design and Communications] Bob Dixon and [NBC director/principal audio engineer] Jim Starzinski’s team in New York.”

All of this has Carroll thinking about the Winter Olympics in Russia in 2014. “By the time we get to Sochi, I think we’ll see 5.1 in every edit room there,” he predicts. “The infrastructure will be in place, and I think our focus will then be pushed further back up the chain to the creatives, the mixers themselves. All the engineering is really in place now. That’s going to let mixers really stretch what surround can do.”

The BBC’s home service had its own facility within the International Broadcast Centre, with seven Studer mixing consoles on a Route 6000 network. Feeds from the 34 venues were brought into this area as part of the broadcaster’s transmissions. The BBC’s broadcasting center, designed and built in conjunction with integrator Dega Broadcast Systems, used three 62-fader Vista 9 desks and one Vista 5, along with two OnAir 3000s and an OnAir 1500. According to lead sound supervisor Pete Bridges, each Vista 9 was “the hub” of one of three HD/5.1-surround-sound production galleries. An interactive gallery with two OnAir 3000s managed and routed 24 streams sent to online and Red Button services, as well as for Freesat, Sky, and Virgin Media distribution.

To give an idea of scale, the Vista 9 in the main gallery provided 16 line inputs, 72 line outputs, 52 mic inputs (via RELINK sharing) with 112 AES inputs and outputs (the large number of ports due to so many incoming 5.1 sources). Situated in its own room, the Vista 5 was used as a backup gallery to the main sound-control rooms (SCRs) and served as a bypass source when needed.

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