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Audio Networking in TV Production

Audio Networking in TV Production: Why haven’t we been using this before?


20130812-1L3B1327IT and broadcast convergence immediately summons visions of video and audio signals moving across the workflow and infrastructure of a TV facility. A quickly escalating number of facilities are transitioning from purely baseband distribution to audio over IP networking, efficiently routing multichannel signals between control rooms, production spaces and technical operations with a minimum of cables and connections.

The value of digital media networking in television extends beyond the traditional studio facility, however. Increasingly, production companies are relying on these networks to increase efficiencies across the production and post cycle, from set up to tear down – vastly reducing the labor associated with TV production.

This is extremely helpful for companies like Rush Street Productions, the producers of the TV show

Poker Night in America

Poker Night in America

Poker Night in America. Now in its second season on CBS Sports Network, Rush Street Productions travels around the country with two flypacks – one dedicated to video and the other to audio. The transition to digital media networking has simplified setup for multi-camera shoots, taking as little as 30 minutes. This efficiency is a big boost given their hectic shooting and post-production schedule. In addition to their travel schedule, the team also shoots a new episode every week.

For Matt McGregor, a producer at Rush Street Productions, the biggest value lies in increased channel counts. The flypack systems, which were built exclusively on Audinate’s awarding winning Dante™ networking solution, have quadrupled channel capacity for Rush Street Productions.

20130810-MF1A1642“In previous productions we were involved with, we were limited to eight tracks,” said McGregor. “Now with Dante incorporated into our setup, we have the capacity to record 32 separate tracks to our devices. Our goal has always been expandability, and now we have it.”

The typical show features nine poker players at the table, each equipped with a wireless lavaliere. In addition to player mics, there is a backup shotgun mic hung above the table as well as the floor director’s mic.   While the production team isn’t currently utilizing all 32 tracks, having the extra capacity enhances the live recording quality today, and gives the team the opportunity to work in more audio feeds – both live and canned – in the future.

“It’s highly valuable to separate each microphone into a separate track, which we can easily do with20130812-1L3B1323 Dante,” he said. “As a result, we can more easily single out during the editing process. It makes everything more efficient.”

Simplifying the Flypack

            Cinequipt, a Minneapolis-based systems design and integration firm, was in charge of building the flypacks for Rush Street Productions.   The Dante-enabled equipment includes three Sound Devices PIX-260i recorders, which capture all the audio tracks and video; and a Lectrosonics ASPEN SPN2412 digital signal processor (DSP) to ingest analog signals into the Dante network.

Once ingested, the board operator creates mixes for the local PA system and a live webstream. The direct mixer output feeds individual microphones and sends several stereo mixes to a Lectrosonics ASPEN SPN1264 DSP, which puts all audio signals onto the Dante network. The fully redundant architecture of the Dante network ensures seamless switching between main and backup paths as necessary, with two off-the-shelf switches to support the handoff between the Dante network and redundant ASPEN inputs and outputs.

PSS970#5According to Bryan Heiber, project manager and design engineer for Cinequipt, using Dante simplified the wiring between the main audio rack and the video production rack where the recorders are located. A single Cat6 cable supports all audio networking, eliminating the need to carry heavy, multichannel analog interface cable from city to city.

“Dante has clearly saved costs across an efficient use of rack space, integration time for Cinequipt, and set up and tear down time for Rush Street Productions,” said Heiber.   “They (Rush Street Productions) have the most innovative flypack we have built to date, and it is going to be even easier to top that as more Dante-enabled products come on the market.”

As Heiber explains it, the audio flypack is built to drive 26 channels today, with expandability to 32 channels via the Presonus mixer and the Dante network.   Without a digital media networking architecture, the analog cabling for 26 channels would have been “wrapped in a coil” at the base of the flypack. There also would have been the labor-intensive process of running 26 cables through an assortment of self-drilled holes.

“For Cinequipt, it especially came down to a massive reduction in labor,” said Heiber. “We custom make20130812-1L3B1324 every cable for all of our flypacks, and would have had to make cables for 26 channels running everywhere through those cases. Making 90-120 traditional cables and installing them takes a very long time, versus a few Cat6 cables. The cost-savings in man-hours was enormous. Even though this was our first experience with the Dante technology, it was incredibly easy to use and made our job way easier.”

Authentic Benefits

            The seamless integration between Dante and Sound Devices recorders also benefitted Authentic Entertainment, a production company specializing in reality and documentary programming. The company transitioned to digital media networking for the Season 2 production of It Takes a Church, a game show that brings traditional TV matchmaking into houses of worship.

20130812-1L3B1327In addition to the benefits referenced above about using Dante on the production floor – quicker set up, less infrastructure and higher channel counts – Authentic Entertainment extends the value of digital media networking to the post environment.

“We’ve slimmed down the end-to-end production process with Dante,” said Paul Rials, audio coordinator, Authentic Entertainment. “The weight of our mixing bags is down to four or five pounds, using Sound Devices 970 recorders. We connect those to our Yamaha QL1 mixer in the field, record our feeds into a single-solid state drive using Dante, and send the whole media package off to post.”

The networked architecture currently supports between 24 and 32 channels per project, as needed. Rials notes that Dante’s low latency simplifies the process of recording multiple tracks simultaneously by keeping everything synchronized. He also stressed the significance of the Sound Devices recorders to the production workflow.

“The interface of the Sound Devices recorders, and their whole operating system, is very easy to use,” CKEsaid Rials. “Everything plugs into a single laptop, and our production staff can quickly and make all the connections between recorder and mixer using the Dante Controller. We no longer have to run around the production floor to monitor and adjust five devices. Everything is centralized.”

That centralized architecture boils down a single cart where the Yamaha QL1 mixer sits, along with a router at the rear of the mixer for patching the recorders and support equipment.

“Everything is compact and right there for the team to use,” said Rials. “We just roll it out, power up and it’s ready to rock and roll. There is no question that we have cut our production time in half, and that’s mostly because transitioning to Dante has eliminated set up and break down. It’s become a very simple process where everything locks right in at the onset.”

Extending out from the cart, the production team across the floor is enjoying a simpler workload. Typically for productions of this scale, Authentic Entertainment would assign four crew members to the shoot, each outfitted with two cameras and a hefty mixing bag. Each crew member was tasked with following talent assigned to those cameras, and tracking them with a boom mic.

20130812-1L3B1326For the Authentic Entertainment team, this meant piecing everything together on at least four different hard drives from a variety of cameras and mixing bags, each of which could be assigned to several actors. Naturally, this always made the handoff to post more of a challenge.

“The ability to have everything on one hard drive and one recording, with all track names in a single database, has been a huge help to post,” said Rials. “They no longer have to run around seeking out the right hard drives for the right tracks.”

Moving forward, Rials intends to explore bringing Dante Via, Audinate’s new computer-based networking software, into the mix. Since Dante Via turns any PC or Mac workstation into a networked device, Rials believes it will substantially reduce cabling back at the “Video Village,” which is the area where most of the directors and producers are stationed. Instead of sending isolated tracks to those sitting behind a wall of monitors, Audinate’s soon to be released Dante Via would allow them to pull everything up on their laptops – eliminating the multitude of XLR cables running to the Video Village from the production floor.

Regardless, Rials is sold on the benefits of digital audio networking in the TV and film production environment.

“I worked in networking and mobile communications systems for the military for many years, so this is a language that I speak,” he said. “Those that are nervous about transitioning to the network will get past it very quickly upon opening the door. Those I have trained on our system have been quick to ask, ‘Why haven’t we been using this before?’ It may seem complicated from a distance, but it’s really not. It makes everything simpler.”

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