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Controls Systems in Modern Stadiums

Modern sport stadiums aren't what they used to be. They're multipurpose venues whose AV systems must accommodate a wide variety of tenants. The control systems have changed, too.

Working with Broadcasters

Troy Morgan, president and co-owner of programming and design firm PanTech Design, has firsthand experience working with broadcasters in a stadium environment. His firm's work on control programming in the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium included control for five on-field unmanned cameras. The director needed to operate (pan, tilt, zoom, and switch) all cameras using a touch panel and joystick. "Stadiums need consistency and reliability but also flexibility of venue," he says. "Modern stadiums are multiuse venues that need to be configured on the fly."

Morgan says that most integrators plan for the hardware design first, especially in big venues like stadiums. "Most people misunderstand the need for software design for a firm foundation," he says. "The challenge with large systems is that software people need to be brought in earlier, not at the last minute. If the AV hardware is already chosen, our creative input comes with client communication about how the user interface behavior and layout can serve their needs."

In a growing trend, stadiums are turning to IP networking to unify HVAC, security, lighting, and point-of-sale (systems, audio, and AV all under a single control system).

"The movement is headed in this direction, but there is no one software package that can do it all at this time," says Fred Curdts, senior vice president of the Performance Venue Group at AVI-SPL. His group specializes in large construction projects and has completed approximately 45 stadiums and arena projects. "Cisco has established a presence in the stadium market via their IPTV products. They are also driving the trend that all devices should be on one network," he says.

Justo Gutierrez, engineering manager for the Performance Venue Group at AVI-SPL, adds, 'Control system' is a generic term, especially in a large venue. There are lots of choices for control of subsystems, like DSP packages for audio and IPTV systems for video. Both manufacturers and marketing are driving convergence. More and more, we are seeing AV specifications that state AV devices must live on the network."

Curdts notes, "Sound systems have been on Ethernet networks for over 10 years. They prefer their own network, although we are seeing a trend towards one network for everything." (Read about the installation at New Meadowlands stadium in "The Mixing Bowl.")

AV pros say it's important to appreciate how far AV technology has advanced in such a short time and how that relates to control systems. When AVI-SPL first worked on the sound system in Baltimore's Camden Yards, it was the early 1990s and Crown's IQ System was still new. "A 'Play ball' button turned on the amps and a 'Good night' button shut it all down, and that was the extent of the control," Curdts says. "Today, you can have control over 75 amplifiers with hundreds of channels spread out across a mile of walking distance."

Moreover, Curdts says, the average stadium now has 1,000 displays, and some stadiums have twice as many screens or more. Only 10 years ago or so, someone had to manually turn them on and off. Now at stadiums and arenas with good integrated control systems, it's done at the touch of a button.

In addition, Gutierrez says new regulations mean life safety and voice evacuation systems in a stadium must interface with the sound system. "Often, we will use the control system to monitor the signal chain, including the life safety system signals," he explains. "In a large venue, interoperability and the user interface are very important. A control system can mask the complexity of these systems so that the operator can use it with ease."

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