ESPN Gears Up For Winter X Games Audio

Winter X Games (Jan. 27-30 in Aspen, CO) is one of the largest single broadcast events that ESPN does in a year. This season’s X Games edition will be the first broadcast in discrete 5.1 surround, which will pass through the plant directly as six discrete stems to HD viewers. (It’s also the first Winter Games to go out in live 3D video, as well.)
“That’s going to let us push the envelope on surround sound this year and make it considerably more immersive,” says Kevin Cleary, ESPN senior technical audio producer. “That’s harder to do when you have an Lt-Rt scenario – you have to be careful of putting too much content into the surround channels, it can wrap around and collapse the mix. With discrete 5.1, we can put more information into the rear channels and not have to worry about that ruining the downmix to stereo. It really frees up what you can do with the mix.”
Winter X Games also has a variety of sonic landscapes. The Moto venue is closer to NASCAR, where the focus is on the big mechanized sounds of snowmobiles. The Pipe and the X Course are more traditional winter sports types of venues, where the emphasis is on nuanced sound. The X Course is the most sprawling of the three, running nearly 7,000 feet long, and is the single biggest consumer of ESPN’s already massive microphone complement there.
“When they hit a bump in the track you really hear it, same with the [ski] edges cutting into the corners,” says Cleary. “That’s why we put out so many microphones.”
One other environmental aspect sets Winter X Games apart: it plays out at over 7,000 feet above sea level. At that altitude, there is extremely low humidity, resulting in crispness to the audio not found in most other sports. “You don’t have that pillowy sound that you usually get when you have snow sports,” says Cleary. “It makes for very, very good, clear audio.”

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