SVG Special Report, Part 2: Inside ESPN Digital Center 2’s Glitzy Studios, Powerful Control Rooms
CLICK HERE for Part 1 of SVG’s Special Report on ESPN DC2
The new home of SportsCenter and other studio programming, ESPN’s 194,000-sq.-ft. Digital Center 2, which launches next month, houses five studios, six production-control rooms, and four audio-control rooms.
A combined 9,700 sq. ft. of SportsCenter studio space comprises two studios separated by a towering glass wall. The 6,200-sq.-ft. Studio X will serve as the primary live set for ESPN and ESPN2 SC editions, and the 3,500-sq.-ft. Studio Annex will be home to ESPNEWS editions of SC and preproduced SC segments.
The studio space, which is twice the size of the SportsCenter’s current home in Studio F of Digital Center 1 (which debuted in June 2004) and features 114 total LED displays, is designed to support 24/7 programming and distinctly differentiate each show throughout the day. In addition, the two studios now have the ability to produce live and taped segments simultaneously (in the X and Annex studios).
CLICK HERE for SVG’s full DC2 Photo Gallery.
“In an effort to have multiple looks for the production and directorial group, we tried to make it flexible,” says John Gluszak, technical analyst/studio operations, production operations, ESPN. “[LED panels] can flatten out so [talent] can stand and do touchscreen applications or have video play on the walls, but then the platforms can come up, and they can put down a bunch of chairs, have a more casual look. We were trying to maximize the use of space by allowing the editorial group to have multiple looks.”
Inside the Studios: Cameras, Displays, Lighting Grid
In all, DC2 is equipped with 40 Sony cameras (29 HDC2400Ls and 11 HDCP1s) with Canon lenses, 13 dedicated to the SportsCenter studios. Studio X is equipped with four hard cameras and a jib, as well as a JITA (jib in the air) camera deployed overhead on a circular track — covering all 360 degrees of the studio — the first time such a configuration has been used in a studio environment.
Meanwhile, the Annex features a jib and three hard cameras mounted on Vitec Vinten robotic pedestals. In addition, a RF wireless Steadicam roves between the two studios as needed.
The two studios feature a staggering 114 video displays, including 13 large LED displays from SCT (SiliconCore Technologies), curved displays from NanoLumens, and 46- and 55-in. thin bezel displays from Primeview. The LED walls and monitors can be moved and transformed depending on the need.
The south wall features the main desk (with Annex Studio in the background) flanked by monitors, with a 10- x 10-ft. monitor sunk in the floor. The east wall can be configured into six separate panel monitors, one big monitor, or any combination, with a “catwalk” in front allowing hosts to interact with the content displayed. In the northeast corner is a 6- x 10-ft. monitor wall on rails, allowing it to be moved to the center floor to create an L–shaped wall of video. The north wall is a multidimensional display wall comprising 56 LED monitors. The west wall features an embedded riser system, adding eight stationary displays and a Microsoft Perceptive Pixel 82-in. touchscreen monitor. In the northwest corner is a stationary 16- x 10-ft. monitor wall.
All studios inside DC2, including the SportsCenter facilities, feature the new overhead SkyDeck lighting grid. The wire tension-grid system allows operators to safely walk among the lights to adjust, reposition, or repair fixtures during a live show.
SC Display Unit and Social Media Studio
In the center of the Annex Studio, a large glass cube serves as a workstation for the SC Display Unit, which oversees what appears in the set’s 114 displays. The team consists of preditors, motion-graphics operators, researchers, and graphics producers with a set of workstations for those actively working on the on-air show and a second set for those working preproduction for the next show of the day.
Feeding the 100-plus displays is the Vizrt OctoViz, a new system composed of eight Viz Engines working simultaneously.
“[The OctoViz system] runs on Viz software, but it has features that we requested,” says Stefanie Gjørven, senior director, graphics technology, engineering, ESPN. “We needed the ability to output multiple graphics from a single system. So it’s actually only one version of the application running, and we’re taking a graphic out of the eight outputs from the GPU and then converting it to SDI.”
On top of the Vizrt software, ESPN uses NVIDIA’s Mosaic and Sync board, allowing the SC Display Unit to time and sync the GPUs so that they’re timed accurately to the video signal.
“We had a workflow that we didn’t want to change, so we wanted to have this new OctoViz solution fit into our existing workflow,” says Øyvind Gjørven, manager, application development, emerging technology, ESPN. “That was the biggest challenge: to take advantage of something that is the new format from OctoViz and fit it into our existing framework for our production-graphics build workflow.”
On the balcony are four Craft Edit Suites for content editing, and at the far left of the balcony is the Social Media Studio, where analysts and guests will be invited to conduct live-streaming or blogging sessions before or after appearing on SC, to help drive fans to linear or digital platforms. In addition, each control room has, for the first time, a social-media producer.
Control Rooms: What’s Inside, What Ties Them Together
All five control rooms are essentially carbon copies, with three separate suites: a main control room, an audio room (separated by glass), and a media room for recording and playback of clips. Depending on the needs of the show, the main control rooms can accommodate 12-18 positions.
Built around a 4.5M/E Grass Valley Kayenne with K-Frame switchers, the control rooms feature Grass Valley K2 Summit servers for studio support, Riedel RCP-1128 intercom units, and Image Video TSI-3000 tally control and RDU-1510 tricolor UMDs (under-monitor displays). In addition, all control rooms run on ESPN’s established Quantel production system for playout and feature Vizrt character generators for graphics. In addition, 16 NEC displays cover the monitor walls.
“The display walls are entirely driven from the JPEG 2000 infrastructure, so every single source in the entire plant is available to any [monitor], which has never been possible before,” says Jonathan Pannaman, senior director, technology, ESPN. “It’s just utter freedom and flexibility.”
On the audio side are Lawo mc2-56 audio consoles with DALLIS stagebox and ENCO audio server. ESPN is also using AVB (audio video bridging) to transport audio throughout the facility, including in the routing core, control rooms, and intercoms. ESPN’s audio transport previously ran on MADI.
“One really big factor is, the entire system is based on a standard MPEG-2 transport stream, and you can put anything in a transport stream,” says Pannaman. “So that router is not only carrying all the video signals, it is carrying every group of audio separately. We used to build a completely independent audio-routing system, but that is on top of this now. Audio boards are taking audio streams out of here.”
Thinklogical fiber-optic KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) signal-extension and -routing technology has been deployed in a hub-and-spoke configuration throughout DC2. At the hub are two Thinklogical Velocity VX320V video routers working redundantly as well as providing KVM signal-extension and -switching capability for the studios. Each spoke is connected to a control room via tie-lines to a dedicated Thinklogical VX80 matrix switch servicing 18 video-content servers or computer-data sources shared among more than 30 user-workstation destinations.
“[The Thinklogical KVM system] is a real beast in the most positive sense,” Pannaman says. “We overbuilt that as we think about the future.”