NBA Audio Aims To Enhance Experience for Fans at Home and in Venue

The NBA on TNT is continuing an innovative fan-engagement strategy that began in 2014, in which the network pumps more of the PA-system sound into the broadcast and the fans in the venue will hear more broadcast elements, such as announcers and sound effects. The effort, going into its third season, is an attempt to create a more unified fan experience across live and broadcast environments.

nbatnt“In the arena, you hear only what’s around you, especially in the higher seats,” Tom Sahara, VP, operations and technology, Turner Sports, told SVG in 2014 at the start of the initiative. “Using things like PA systems that can be aimed much more precisely, we can help improve the sound of the game in the arena without affecting the quality of the sound of the broadcast.”

However, melding live and broadcast sound has proved challenging, especially for the NBA, which has been at the forefront of the shift in the amount and types of music associated with sports. The urban genres used most often tend to emphasize low frequencies and very sharp percussion transients. Turner Sports’ technical staff has been working with individual NBA venues and teams on such aspects as system tuning, equalization, frequency response, pattern coverage, and sound-pressure levels (SPL) in an effort to optimize the sound in the arena and, by extension, the audio on television by, for instance, reducing acoustical reflections that reduce the intelligibility of announcements.

“We continue to work with the teams on the sound,” Sahara said toward the start of the current season, noting further that some venues have been more cooperative than others. However, as arena PA systems have been upgraded to better accommodate the music, he finds that the challenge of combining the sound with the broadcast audio is only increasing: “PA volume levels continue to rise as venues update their systems and want to show off their capabilities. So, while we get them to be more receptive to ideas of directivity and frequency controls, [issues like PA] volume and when the PA is used are going the other direction.”

Getting Closer to the Action
On the other hand, he continued, “we continue to refine what we do with improved coach and player microphones.” As a result, home viewers are getting even closer to the action on the court this season, thanks to improvements in the Quantum5X (Q5X) PlayerMic system that the NBA has been using for the past several years, part of the collective-bargaining agreement signed in 2011 that calls for up to two players per game per team to be wired for sound and one player per team for regionally broadcast games. (A new CBA is being negotiated, but there’s no reason to expect that it would limit the current arrangement.)

For this season, Q5X’s QT-5100 PlayerMic, supplied to teams in kits of five units each (including one spare) through Bexel, has three important upgrades.

First, the transmitter, which is worn in a special pocket sewn along the side of the player’s jersey by Adidas, now has a more powerful 2.4-GHz radio for remotely controlling the transmitter parameters: on/off, frequency, mic gain, output power. Remote control is accomplished through the handheld QG-H1 MicCommander, whose power and functionality have also been upgraded. And the PlayerMic’s QR-2150 dual receiver now combines the three 25-MHz UHF tuning bands of previous models into a single 75-MHz wide-band receiver, matching that of the tuning band of the transmitter. The microphone element, at the end of a wire from the transmitter to the inside of the jersey’s collar, remains the Countryman B6.

According to Q5X CEO Paul Johnson, the popularity of on-player audio has grown in sports in general and particularly in the NBA. “The fans love it,” he says. “It has become a big way for the league and for individual players to build their brands. [The Cleveland Cavaliers’] LeBron James is miked very frequently.”

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