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A High-flying Audiovisual Backbone, Part 2

Oct 26, 2010 12:00 PM, With Bennett Liles

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You also have a lot of control signal traffic going over the routing, and that's a huge job in itself. Is there one central control point, or was it a distributed control system so that configuration could be done from different locations?
It can be distributed, and of course you can have user rights to make sure that any controller can only control what he is allowed to do. In the case of the Red Bull Air Race, we have had one person in charge for the signal distribution, and that person really managed all else. And in this case, this was the best choice, but again the system could do it either way. You can also have several people working on it at the same time and putting it in partial areas where only certain guys only manage their area with the user rights and such. [Timestamp: 6:45]

And that requires a lot of setup and planning a head of time too. I was thinking about the huge crowd out there watching the show, and they have to know what's going on and not just be standing there and watching a bunch of planes flying around. Where was the main PA system control point, and what mixer did you use for that?
Well the main control point for audio also was in the tower—and the tower, as I already said, is basically a building looks like an airport tower and it really acts like one—and one floor was dedicated to audio signals, audio distribution, audio control. And there we have an audio engineer working with the DiGiCo SD8 console which was connected to the MediorNet as well as our RockNet infrastructure, really managing all the audio signals in and out. [Timestamp: 7:34]

Usually for a PA mixing operator, you want to be out in the sound environment where the crowd is so you can hear what you're doing.
Well we had one or two people walking around. But basically it's about really a lot of experience with the team and with the system in place—where you can listen to all signals at a time, since that's again a part of the feature of our infrastructure—then you don't really need to be there. At the same for some things you need to be there and really listen with your own ears to what's going on there, and that's why we had a group of people with walkie-talkies walking around they could listen to the sound, so that the sound guy could make adjustments to the commands that he was getting. [Timestamp: 8:18]

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What sources did they feed to the main PA system? Obviously the crowd's hearing the announcers. What else was being fed to the main PA?
Not just the announcers; there was music, certainly, and since there were big screens in all areas, there was also the sound coming with the big screens, and basically all kind of audio signals you would expect from a large PA system you would hear there as well. [Timestamp: 8:42]

And the production communication is a big job so many things have to be coordinated on so many levels. What did you use for intercom and how many com stations did you have to manage there?
Well intercom systems basically is an expertise we have for 15-plus years, since Riedel really started as a communications company before we moved into fiber-optic networks. And our product's called the Artist Intercom, which also is nodes within a fiber network. Yeah, I know it sounds familiar, and there's a reason why we are doing these things, so it's also a realtime platform. And we've had six nodes of the Artist Intercom system in several areas of the event and had about 130 keypanels—all our 1000 series keypanels—connected to it, so it was really a huge system. [Timestamp: 9:32]

Right, and those Artist 1000 stations have several features that I'm sure came in very handy for this, and they've got some more sophisticated labeling and some sound-level features.
Well most people know intercoms system which only have four characters, and our labels have eight characters and it's an LED display, which also works in the bright sunshine. You also have a listen control—volume control, basically—next to each key, so these are key features which really are very different from com systems other people might know—especially North America. [Timestamp: 10:11]

A complex enough setup just on the hardwired side, but of course you had also wireless links, telephone interfaces, and walkie-talkies. How was all that done?
Well we've used a digital trunk radio network, and that was also connected to the com system intelligently—which means you could have point-to-point or group calls, individual calls, between each key panels and a certain number of radios and vice versa, which is very different from just having a radio 4 wire connected with the com system. No, this was a real intelligent installation with about 400 radios in that network, talking via our [RiFace] interface to the Artist intercom. [Timestamp: 10:56]

And a huge amount of preplanning had to go into that. I noticed during the coverage several times, I would catch a glimpse of the big screens out there that the crowd was watching. What was used to transmit the video signal to those? That was wireless, right?
Yeah, that was a wireless video link; well figured out. Basically that's a product which our rental department has developed, and we only offer this on the rental service, which is called the Best Boys. So basically it's little boxes, waterproof boxes, which you just put next to the videowalls and provide you with digital video signals, and that's basically the way we distribute these signals on really a wide, wide area. [Timestamp: 11:37]

And right at the beginning of part one, you mentioned that you also provided data services. What else did Riedel provide for the event in terms of Internet and servers that you didn't see on TV coverage but are obviously essential for the whole thing to work?
Yeah, the whole backbone behind the scenes—I would call it the nerve system, basically, of the event—we are responsible for, and this includes not just all the broadcast and event-related technologies, but also all the IT stuff. So basically in the media center, for all the photographers and journalists, they had a need of connecting to the Internet. We had connections to servers and overseas and all this complex IT network certainly needs to be protected as well. That's why it was all the firewalls and such, we put that in as well. So it was a huge network in the IT field on top of what we have done on the broadcast, entertainment, communications, and signal-distribution side. [Timestamp: 12:36]

A huge event, fantastic coverage; I was just knocked over by the show and this was a tremendous challenge handling sound, video, and communications. I congratulate you, Thomas on, a well-deserved innovation award from IBC. It's been great having you here on the SVC podcast. Thomas Riedel from Riedel Communications and the Red Bull Air Race, thanks so much for being here.
Yeah, thank you very much for your time.

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