Studio Berlin Re-Imagines OB Van With Two Socially Distant Yet Combined Environments

The pandemic has affected the system design and operations of live sports production in a myriad of ways. At first it was difficult for many to figure out but then evolved into the deployment of innovative types of distributed workflows and crews that drastically altered the physical positioning of technology and human resources.

In the U.S. and around the world the production truck compounds at many live events have increased significantly to help crews maintain social distancing, this despite the inclusion of cloud-based processing and remotely located crew. It has also increased cost for production companies as well as content producers, but everyone now agrees these are necessary steps in safely producing live TV shows and sports.

Among the latest examples of the industry’s resourcefulness is German production company Studio Berlin and its new Ü10 UHD/HDR/12G-SDI live production unit. It is actually two vehicles that separate the control room (the OB van) and the technology room (a support trailer housing ten 19-inch racks of equipment) but are tightly connected via fiber. Company officials say this design enables the crew to maintain social distancing while continuing to get a variety of live production done with the same two-piece package.

Indeed, the main technical components, like the production switcher and replay servers, are not installed in a single mobile unit, as usual, but are instead housed in a central equipment room in a support truck, connected to the main Ü10 production unit via a redundant fiber link. As part of the design, moving doors and monitor walls can create an open-plan control room by combining the two individual control rooms.

The Ü10 OB combination contains enough space for up to 26 people to work in a relaxed and safe atmosphere, thanks to an extension of approx. 60m² of working space. It has already been used for the German Television Awards (RTL) in September and will be used mainly for the production of the German Soccer League (Bundesliga).

Divide And Conquer
Installing much of the technology in the support truck presents several advantages for the OB truck’s productions and equipment, according to Matthias Alexandru, CTO at Studio Berlin. With the help of German system integrator Broadcast Solutions, they have “outsourced” the technology, they gain space and reduce the air-conditioning requirements as well as the overall weight of the vehicle.

Grass Valley 4K UHD switchers and replay systems are featured on board the production control room unit.

Grass Valley 4K UHD switchers and replay systems are featured on board the production control room unit.

“The room idea and technical workflow concept support a quick and ad hoc change of room sizes and structure as well as production workflows – keeping in mind that the OB works on different productions,” he said. “Moving the racks into the support van gives us more flexibility to expand or adapt capacities. By outsourcing the racks, using the decentralized router concept and the adaptable room layout and leveraging our workflow concept for UHD/HDR productions, Ü10 prepares us perfectly for the future of TV productions.”

Outsourcing provides production teams with additional workstations and expands work areas. In this way, minimum distances between workstations can be maintained, allowing Plexiglas glass shields to be extended and less of them needed; and the two control rooms can be transformed into a single control space by moving doors and monitor walls.

Due to the two-piece design, air-conditioning has been simplified, reducing the noise level and eliminating the need for AC in the production vehicle. Only the racks of processing gear inside the “machine room” unit needs to be cooled. Ventilation in both units has been improved to promote sanitized air flow.

The Ü10 mobile unit includes 26 workstations and can run productions with up to 24 Grass Valley LDX 86N UHD cameras and several additional wireless cameras. The mobile unit is equipped with a Grass Valley 12G K-Frame XP Compact mixer with Xtreme option, a Karrera K-Frame 3 M/E in the main control room and a Korona 2 M/E in the second control room. The K-Frame switcher features 4K M/Es, 4K keyers and 4K digital video effects units and provides full access to the unit’s audio mixing board.

The OB Van’s Replay complement includes eight EVS XT-VIA servers and one Grass Valley LiveTouch server.

The OB Van’s Replay complement includes eight EVS XT-VIA servers and one Grass Valley LiveTouch server.

In terms of routing, Studio Berlin has installed Reidel Communications' MediorNet decentralized routing system, which manages video, audio and multiviewer signals, as well as 38 UHD MicroN units that provides 24 3G/HD/SD-SDI video ports and two MADI ports for up to 128 audio channels—all in a single rack unit box.

Native UHD Workflow
Studio Berlin produces a number of projects natively in UltraHD HDR, largely using a proprietary workflow that it has crafted over the years and continues to refine. Tailored to each project, the pipeline has proven crucial in helping the team to extend color and luminance across projects, and extract more detail from the picture. The Ü10 relies on an AJA Video Systems' FS-HDR. For cost efficient monitoring, the truck also leverages AJA Hi5-4K-Plus Mini-Converters to display UltraHD HDR materials on consumer HDMI monitors.

To provide high-quality monitoring of the UHD/HDR images, the Ü10 has four 31-inch UHD/HDR Class 1 monitors, which allow HDR signals to be evaluated. Engineers and designers have another 55-inch monitor for testing UHD signals.

The Ü10’s UPS includes enough juice to run an entire production for 15 minutes on battery power. The UPS buffer gives the crew time to react and switchover to the power supply in case of a power failure.

Networked Audio
The audio section of the two-piece unit is outfitted with Lawo mixing consoles. Audio Control Rooms 1 and 2 of the new OB van are equipped with an mc²56 production console and an mc²36 all-in-one console, respectively, powered by fully redundant A__UHD mixing cores and a Lawo VSM broadcast control system.

This includes Lawo’s mc²56 MK III console (64 faders), with fully redundant UHD cores operating in audio “Control 1”; and an mc²36 console (16 faders) in audio “Control 2.”

The audio section of the OB unit features Lawo’s mc²56 MK III console (64 faders), with fully redundant UHD cores operating in

The audio section of the OB unit features Lawo’s mc²56 MK III console (64 faders), with fully redundant UHD cores operating in "Audio Control Room 1”; and an mc²36 console (16 faders) in "Audio Control Room 2.”

The two Lawo mc² consoles in the OB van are each outfitted with fully redundant A__UHD cores, with each stand-alone core delivering 1,024 channels of audio processing (48/96kHz) and numerous monitoring options as well as downmixing and upmixing. A__UHD technology is based on open AoIP standards such as ST2110-30 / -31 and AES67/RAVENNA, and utilizes Ember+ and NMOS for control. For large productions, the vehicle can access up to eight video and audio stage boxes.

Audio Control Room 1 uses a 64-fader mc²56 MKIII audio production console with native support for scalable networking and MADI audio streams. In addition to multi-user operation, AutoMix, upmix, downmix and Lawo KICK automated audio mixing technology, the console includes audio-follows-video functionality, integrated 3D/immersive mixing tools and parallel compression. Thanks to Lawo's IP Easy functionality (which is based on the HOME management platform for IP broadcast infrastructures and features automatic detection and quarantine routines), IP setup is easy.

Audio Control Room 2 is equipped with a 16-fader Lawo mc²36. Its built-in A__UHD core technology provides 256 processing channels (48/96kHz), local I/O, 864 channels and integrates with solutions such as Waves SuperRack SoundGrid. It also supports ST2110, AES67, RAVENNA and Ember+. The mc²36 also offers intuitive IP network management based on Lawo's HOME platform.

Slow-Mo Replays
The Ü10 truck will also carry Grass Valley’s new LDX 150 camera with triple-speed UHD/HDR Super Slow Motion (SSM) support for live 1080p/50-60 fps production sports environments.

Finally, onboard replay systems can include up to eight EVS XT-VIA servers and one Grass Valley LiveTouch server—which provide multi-angle capabilities and opens up collaborative workflows via virtual shared storage. Using LiveTouch, operators can edit files while they are still being created without needing to transfer files, saving valuable time.

To access the more than 39 computers and 25 user stations, Broadcast Solutions integrated an Apantac IP-KVM system. Since these KVM systems are IP-based, they work via a network switch that defines and interconnects computer modules or workstation modules as transmitters and receivers, rather than on the basis of a matrix with defined inputs and outputs. The different signal formats of input and output devices are converted in the extenders and are then available anywhere across the two production units.

All of the production technology onboard both Ü10 units is controlled by a VSM (Virtual Studio Manager) software system from Lawo.

All of the production technology onboard both Ü10 units is controlled by a VSM (Virtual Studio Manager) software system from Lawo.

The image processing quality is said to be excellent, even when playing back full-screen video at full frame rate (achieving a latency of less than 17 ms). The KVM transmitters and receivers work with Video over IP and offer DVI, HDMI, and VGA connectivity.

VSM Control Layer
All of the production technology onboard both units is controlled by a VSM (Virtual Studio Manager) software system from Lawo. This system controls all video/audio routers and mixers, intercoms, UMDs and multiviewers, and other third-party baseband and IP devices. The ability to create pseudo-devices within VSM makes it possible for the whole team to work “virtually”. This “embedded workflow” conserves physical resources such as MADI streams or AES paths.

“Using VSM, we can quickly route individual intercom ports from Riedel to the MADI streams of the Micron UHD cores and the AES ports of the A__stage80 audio stageboxes at the touch of a button,” said Mathias Heinrich of Studio Berlin, sound engineer for Ü10. “The fully redundant VSM system is the only sensible solution for us to be able to work in a clearly structured and, above all, fast and efficient way, not only in the intercom area, but also for the wiring of transmission lines, monitors, de-embedders, and all other video and audio signals.”

Heinrich added that two Lawo V__pro8—an 8-channel digital video processor—were installed for additional embedding and de-embedding, which enables the crew to quickly and easily shift timing in terms of an audio/video offset.

“We have built up a great deal of know-how in implementing high-quality productions in UHD/HDR that were incorporated into the planning of Ü10,” said Nick Zimmermann, Managing Director at Studio Berlin. “With this strategy, we provide our services at the highest technical level, especially in large UHD sports or show productions. In our view, for these productions, the classic OB van still has its right to exist, all the more if you pursue an innovative concept, as we have done with Ü10.”

As new advancements in mobile production and broadcasting continue to evolve, expect more innovative remote production designs like the Ü10 will certainly emerge in the future that are customized for individual production workflows. Virtualized technology is making it happen.

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