Installation Profile: Investing in HD
Jan 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Jack Kontney
The Crystal Cathedral upgrades its production chain.
The Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., is a landmark megachurch. Twelve stories tall and constructed with more than 10,000 rectangular glass panels on an intricate steel frame, this unique building is familiar even to those who have never been to a service on its campus. As worship aficionados have known for years, the cathedral is home to The Hour of Power, a syndicated weekly evangelical program.
Faced with an aging infrastructure and staring at the high-definition future of broadcasting, Crystal Cathedral Ministries (CCM) recently decided the time had come to invest in the future by upgrading to HD.
The challenge was considerable. The inhouse production staff for The Hour of Power had been successfully creating weekly programs for many years using composite video and linear editing. The change to high definition would require a fundamental reworking of the organization's approach to postproduction. Peter Richardson, Crystal Cathedral's chief engineer for video production, worked with Executive Producer Jim Penner as project manager for the upgrade.
“We'd been evaluating going to HD for a number of years,” Richardson explains. “Until now, we had been completely composite video, but that equipment was slowly dying and needed to be upgraded. What I've been seeing at NAB for the past several years is that there is less and less SD product available, and while HD equipment is expensive, the price has been dropping. Working for a nonprofit ministry, I have to look at what is the most cost-effective means of getting to our goal, and looking at the long-term, it was clear that this was the time to go hi-def.”
That meant changing the entire production chain, including acquisition and production control, located in the church itself, plus postproduction. Crystal Cathedral chose San Diego-based TV Magic to act as designer and integrator. “We've done several projects with the Crystal Cathedral, so we have a relationship with them,” says Stephen D. Rosen, president of TV Magic.
TV Magic Executive VP and Chief Engineer Gus Allmann spearheaded the project design and integration. “From what they had done previously to where they were going, the degree of change made it a major undertaking,” he says.
Two weekly Sunday church services serve as source material for The Hour of Power program. It's a five-camera shoot, switched for live capture. Postproduction happens on a very tight schedule, with the primary version locked and ready for satellite transmission early on Wednesday morning. The program airs on between 95 and 120 stations in the United States, with three separate domestic versions produced to meet the needs of various affiliates.
PLANNING FOR SUCCESS
The first issue to address was the remote location of the church's existing post facility, more than one mile away. With no interconnectivity between the post facility and the acquisition facilities in the basement of the cathedral, the design would need to accommodate the physical movement of the captured media assets for postproduction. TV Magic's original design called for seven Avid Media Composer Adrenaline systems with Avid DN×HD. Three would be deployed at the cathedral, using a full Avid Unity as a central storage system. The plan was to capture the switched feed and two isolation feeds (dedicated and switched), then pull the hard drives from their chassis and drive them down the street for upload to another Unity system, for postproduction on four additional Avids. While somewhat unwieldy, this system would preserve the accustomed workflow, easing the transition into the nonlinear world of HD production.
But, like any major undertaking, an element of the unexpected came into play. About halfway through the planning phase, Penner decided to move postproduction back to the Crystal Cathedral campus, on the third floor of the administration building. Although that meant a reassessment of equipment needs, it also created opportunities. Most obviously, it meant that the existing post facility could stay in operation while a new room was built. And more importantly, it meant that the production control room could achieve direct connectivity with post via fiber-optic cable, creating a tapeless workflow between the live church service and the postproduction environment.
The Crystal Cathedral campus did have an existing network of multimode fiber, but unfortunately, it was originally designed to be an IT-only network and was right on the edge of being able to move HD signals seamlessly between the church and the administration building. So TV Magic recommended a more reliable solution — installing NextGen single-mode 10Gbps fiber-optic cable from General Cable.
“Because a path already existed, we were able to go to single-mode fiber with a shorter actual cable run for a very reasonable cost,” Allmann explains. “And we now have plenty of headroom.”
The change also eliminated the need for separate Avid editing hardware in two locations. Instead, all seven Adrenaline decks could now reside in the postproduction facility within the administration building. That created a great opportunity for HD capture and ingestion into the editing infrastructure.
“Suddenly, we were able to take all five HD cameras,” Allmann notes. “We use aux busses off the switcher as dedicated ISO feeds and/or switched ISO feeds. We send these over to the new post facility and capture everything live right there on the Avids.”
As a result, the production team now has a wealth of resources to use in the post process: all five cameras, the switched line cut feed, and a switched ISO that provides redundancy and reference. Rosen is unaware of anyone else in the worship arena who is recording directly to an Avid editing system, as opposed to a storage server. This gives Crystal Cathedral the ability to go directly to a nonlinear editor to record so that when the show is complete, operators can do multi-camera editing and audio sweetening without any repurposing.
All seven feeds are captured on the Avid Adrenaline systems in HD and include eight channels of embedded audio — a full live 5.1 surround feed, plus a separate live stereo mix. Although current distribution of The Hour of Power is done in stereo, the audio crew still does post work in 5.1, which created a technical issue since the Avids cannot support eight embedded tracks directly. The solution was to use an Alesis AI-4 converter to move the signals from AES format to optical ADAT, which the machines do support.
The front end of the production system consists of five Grass Valley LDK 4000 HD studio cameras, each outfitted with viewfinders, tripod mounts, and Canon zoom lens systems as appropriate.
“We got them because they're available in a 1080i-only version, and they're very reliable performers,” Allmann says. In addition, the LDK 4000 HD system was available in a triaxial cable version, matching the existing infrastructure within the cathedral. This eliminated the need for a cost-prohibitive change from triax to SMPTE fiber, which would have been required with some cameras. The cathedral was wired for nine camera positions overall, to accommodate extra production requirements for The Hour of Power special events productions at Christmas and Easter.
The system design was modified to take advantage of the unexpected connectivity, but the hardware remained largely as originally specified. Located in the basement of the cathedral, the production control room houses a collection of monitoring equipment along with the video switcher, including two 50in. TH-50PHD8UK and two 37in. TH-37PHD8UK plasma monitors from Panasonic. The sizes were chosen because, according to Allmann, “They just barely fit into the size of the room.”
The screens are mounted on a movable-track uni-strut system to allow vertical adjustment. “Because this is a new style of work for these guys, we set it up so we can easily move things up or down and fine-tune the position of the console if it's needed,” Allmann says.
The switcher is a Grass Valley Kayak HD 2 M/E. Sized perfectly for its environment and the facility's production needs, the Kayak features 48 inputs and 24 mappable outputs. The switcher's small footprint was an important consideration for the modestly sized control room. Using one of the mix-effects busses for the Jumbotron feed and the other for the production switching eliminated the need for a second switcher. But the key feature of this switcher is its ability to handle three levels of tally, showing all operators the status of program, preview, and Jumbotron feeds at a glance.
“Plus,” Allmann adds, “the extra aux busses on the Kayak switcher meant we didn't have to specify another HD router in the basement. So it really filled their needs and saved on space and money.”
The production also uses a dual-channel Avid Deko1000HD character generator. During each church service, it is used only to feed the Jumbotron video viewed by the audience. But those graphics files are later exported to the Avids for use in postproduction, as well.
To maximize the usefulness of all that monitor real estate, an Evertz MVP multi-image display processor boasting 24 HD, SD, and NTSC inputs was employed. The multiviewer allows the display of all switcher inputs in any size or window combination as desired across all four plasma displays. The center displays are programmed to show a combination of program and preview feeds, plus all the individual camera inputs. The outer displays show the feed for the cathedral's huge Jumbotron screen.
One of the display combinations goes to a distribution amplifier, with a split run to the audio booth. This allows the entire production team to see all camera feeds, complete with tally lights for program, preview, and Jumbotron views, all on their own Panasonic TH-37PHD8UK 37in. plasma monitors. This is a clear upgrade from the old system, in which only program preview was available to the audio team. Additional split feeds are run to the video shader and producers' lounge.
“A couple of those runs were rather long,” Allmann says. “We couldn't run VGA all the way to audio. A big advantage of the Evertz multiviewer is that it offers HD-SDI outputs, so we could replicate that main display layout and get feeds to three other locations without running fiber.”
An Evertz 5600MSC master sync and time code generator also resides in master control, along with one in post. Black (reference) and vertical interval time code are sent from master control to postproduction over fiber, so both rooms are locked in time.
The new postproduction facility takes full advantage of the Crystal Cathedral's newfound capture ability. The seven feeds from production travel via fiber-optic cable at 1.5GHz to the Avid Adrenaline machines and the central core, a 20TB Avid Unity system. Each week's production uses about 1.5TB in acquisition, then is prepped for the editing process, which begins Monday morning. That's when things get interesting.
“We're still new at the Avid nonlinear editing,” Richardson explains. “That old linear system got us from acquisition to finished product, ready to air, in three days. The Avid system has capabilities that can save us a lot of time, like when the order of major segments of the program get changed Tuesday morning. But after 17 years of working linear, it's a steep learning curve for our people to adjust to.”
One basic design aspect for postproduction is the use of a central machine room to house the bulk of the equipment, including the Avids and all the duplication equipment. The edit suites house only monitors, speakers, control surfaces, and remote control devices — nothing that makes noise. There are also two quality-control stations in the machine area. These use Tektronix WFM700HD waveform audio and video monitors, plus router control, so users can look at any signal in the plant.
The Grass Valley Concerto routing system with Jupiter control electronics, working in concert with an Avocent AMX KVM matrix, creates two virtual edit suites that greatly increase the flexibility of postproduction. All computer-based devices using such peripherals are routed to the Avocent matrix. The matrix outputs can then be routed to various workspaces — anything from a standalone computer to the Digidesign Icon D-Command digital audio console used for Pro Tools sweetening. Thus, depending on available control surfaces, the operator can assign Pro Tools computer access or any of the seven Avid Adrenaline editors to either room, according to the needs of the moment.
Two other positions in the central equipment area in postproduction take advantage of this technology to handle ingest of archival material. These stations need the ability to get audio and video to and from any Avid machine, using archived material that may exist on 1in. tape, D2 tape, or various other formats used over the years.
Another challenge addressed was the need to put all seven Avid Adrenalines into record mode at the start of each church service. “It actually takes about three minutes to set up each Avid, giving each machine file names, project names, input assignment, etc,” Allmann says. “That gets done about an hour before show time. We gang the Avids using machine control on the router, so you can address all seven Avids simultaneously. When the pastor walks in, the director calls for record over the intercom. The operator just hits two buttons, and all the machines start simultaneously.”
Of course, having a smooth operational aspect in a video environment requires an intense infrastructure. Maintaining audio and video sync while capturing, moving, and editing audio and video files at will across numerous machines is a huge challenge. TV Magic made that process appear seamless by specifying three Leitch X75HD frame synchronizers/converters, upgraded with optional software keys to allow simultaneous up- and down- (or cross- and down-) conversions. Miranda Symphonie terminal equipment is used in both production and postproduction for a wide range of needs, including sync distribution, audio and video delays, and audio embedding/de-embedding.
Beyond the big plasmas found in production, additional dedicated Sony BVM series CRT HD monitors were required for various functions in post. For instance, the camera shader uses two small Sony HD monitors (one for program, the other as a match monitor), and the two quality control stations in post each have one. In addition, each edit suite has a 20in. Sony HD monitor.
Audio is another key factor. The Crystal Cathedral has always been known for its ability to capture and mix pristine audio in a very challenging environment. Once safely captured in postproduction, the audio is de-embedded and moved around the plant as needed in Pro Tools. The post team uses the Edit Decision List (EDL) from the Avid for the edited version, sweetening only the music tracks. Audio capture happens separately, using a full Pro Tools rig to record up to 100 live inputs from the 30-piece orchestra and guest artists who are regularly featured on The Hour of Power.
Making a major investment in HD video was a calculated risk for the Crystal Cathedral. After all, current distribution for The Hour of Power remains unchanged, with programs going out in standard-definition video with stereo audio. One challenge still facing Richardson's team, for instance, is determining how duplication for HD distribution will be done.
Although the future is uncertain, Richardson feels the facility has invested wisely by preparing now.
“I'm always looking at the cost of gear vs. the cost of ownership,” he says. “There's not a day that goes by where I'm not trying to come up with some means of finding the most cost-effective way, be that broadcast or consumer, to reach a goal. This was just the right time to make the move to HD. And we know we have the support of TV Magic, so come what may, we'll have a facility that meets our needs.”
Rosen agrees. “You do that by spending the time on effective design that reduces the cost of ownership while meeting all foreseeable technical requirements. And that's what we've helped the Crystal Cathedral accomplish with the design of this facility.”
For More Information
Jack Kontney is the founder of Kontney Communications, a marketing consultancy specializing in strategic use of the written word.
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