Tally systems and Confidence Audio Monitoring for Sports Broadcasting

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Q: Because sports broadcast tends to originate from OB vehicles, having the capability to connect a tally system between trucks is vital. How do you connect your TallyMan controllers together to create an integrated, seamless tally system?
A: When two OB trucks are engaged in the live broadcast of a major sports event, one truck will act as the main production centre, while the other may be handling additional camera feeds and audio, for example. The TallyMan system is a fully IP Ethernet-based interface that can address a sister controller located in each truck. This way, the tally information becomes available in both trucks from either side. The vision mixer provides tally and router status information to the controller. The router provides the cross-point status. Using this data, TallyMan is able to send tallies out to the cameras and provide tally and mnemonic information to the displays from either truck. This setup also works with a Wi-Fi connection to the router as well.
Q: Beyond basic tally status and UMD information, what other features and operations make a tally system ideal for live sports coverage?
A: Clear labeling of the different incoming feeds is very important when it comes to implementing tally systems for live sports coverage. For example, if you have a multi-viewer, the text identification coming from many tally systems are restricted to simple alpha-numeric information. With TallyMan, you can change that ID tag to spell out anything you like. This feature allows the production team to streamline camera assignments beyond CAM1, CAM2, CAM3, to the name of the camera operator or the location of a remote camera, enabling instant recognition of a special placement.
Another major feature for a tally system is the ability to control routers. With TallyMan we have either an Ethernet connection or a serial connection that allows it to receive information from routers from any major manufacturer. The unit can control the router from either a TSL virtual control panel, a software-type application running on PC, or our new hardware control panels, which we are about to launch. These offer 16 assignable push buttons for selecting one of the routers and assigning a source to a destination. The TallyMan software and hardware control panels obviate the need to use the control panels supplied by the router manufacturer.
The ability to control other pieces of equipment within the system is another important element of a quality tally system. Since all relevant equipment is connected through an IP router, all the various pieces of equipment can talk to TallyMan and exchange the cross-point information or tally status. A good example of this control power is the coverage of The 24 Hours of Le Mans motor-racing event, with its 13.629-km (8.469 mi)-long Circuit de la Sarthe racing course. This event features multiple camera locations that are scattered around the course, none of which are in line of sight with any other camera operator or member of the production team. Typically, if a camera operator sees a driver about to overtake first place or, worse, an impending crash, he or she will call the director to tell him to cut to the shot. By this time, however, the action has already happened and the viewer at home will only catch the tail-end or aftermath of the event. With TallyMan, a special button can be mounted on the camera so that the operator can send a signal to cut his camera to the live feed. In this way the coverage can be opportunistic rather than reactive. These types of commands can also trigger a teleprompter or open an audio channel—whatever is necessary to streamline the production workflow.
Q: How important is it for a tally system to interface with different manufacturers’ routers?
A: Say, for instance, there is an OB van outfitted with a particular router and its respective control panel. The company brass decides to add a router from a different manufacturer to increase capacity or improve the workflow design. Now each operator position must have two separate dedicated control panels to run the different routers, which can add unnecessary steps to the already tight timeline of a sportscast. With TallyMan, you can throw away those two dedicated control panels in favor of one TallyMan control panel to manage both routers. This is possible because the control plug-ins for all major broadcast router systems, including Evertz, Harris, Ross and Sony, among others, come with the unit, with TSL offering updates and new plug-ins as free downloads. As only one panel is necessary to control any router or routers connected to the system, this greatly streamlines the workflow. Not only does this mean obvious cost saving, it also takes up less space and cuts down on heat and weight—all critical factors when dealing with OB vehicles. Having one control panel managing two routers also comes in handy when two trucks are working in tandem, each using a different manufacturer’s router. Additionally, as major sports events mostly happen on weekends, internal engineering staff can configure the TallyMan system in the field, unlike other manufacturer’s gear, which may be chained to an engineering staff not available at 6 a.m. on a Sunday.
Q: Confidence audio monitoring of multiple signals and compliance with new loudness legislation have become an imperative for live sports coverage. What are some of the options out there for broadcasters?
A: By definition, audio confidence monitoring assures that content going to air is correct in terms of audio format and intent, technically compliant with new regulations and meets the quality standards the broadcaster wants to achieve. One trend we are seeing is the ability for the wider production team to check on proper status, make a judgment call to contact the sound operator if there is an audible problem or engineering if there is a data issue that needs attention. Among the complete range of audio products that supply confidence monitoring capabilities, two stand out as meeting the more exacting demand of modern sports broadcasting: the AVM-T Series, which includes AVM-T-Mix or TouchMix and TouchMix Pilot systems for ‘lean back’ audio monitoring and the more engineering-based PAM Series comprising PAM1 3G16, PAM2 3G16 and the new PAM2 MK2 units. These are not corrective devices, per say, but will allow an operator to detect a problem with a selected audio channel by signaling an alert through the data displays or from the integrated speakers, headphone output or external monitoring system. These units give the operator the feedback necessary to make that judgment call and take corrective measures. Obviously sports production is a complicated business, so these devices are entirely suitable for operators in an OB truck, in a commentary booth within the grounds, a sound booth somewhere within a stadium or facility or back at the broadcast plant looking after incoming feeds.
Q: What does the PAM series offer for sports broadcasting?
A: The PAM family of products, including PAM1 3G16, PAM2 3G16 and, more recently, the PAM2 MK2, are perfect for live sports broadcasting. All three are available with the option of Dolby decoding. As they are multichannel audio monitoring units that can de-embed 16 channels of audio simultaneously from an SDI signal, they enable an operator to access and listen to any mixture of stereo, 5.1, effects tracks, audio description and other parameters. From the perspective of sports, where you are typically producing multiple program streams within the same SDI stream, an operator can easily listen and react to the content of the audio in an intelligent yet quick and intuitive manner.
The PAM Series delivers a simple means to deal with complex audio situations where, for example, an operator monitoring the output being sent to the network has instant access to all four of those program streams, which can include a stereo channel with commentary, a 5.1 channel with commentary and then clean stereo and 5.1. The operator can now hear exactly what is going back to the network and ultimately out to the viewers’ home without any complex operation. PAM gives the operator the ability to program dedicated user preset buttons on the unit or save the presets on a USB drive, providing instant recall of those four audio streams quickly and easily. The operator can also listen to a combination of different audio streams. If you are using Dolby encoded audio, then any of those units can automatically decode the Dolby signal that is going back to network. You can listen to audio content and monitor the method associated with it, making sure the method is doing what you expect. This gives you total confidence that your audio signal is compliant and correct.
Q: How does TSL deal with complex monitoring situations that include multiple SDI streams, AES and analogue tracks dealing with program audio, commentary, director’s instructions, Comms and the like?
A: The devices we have sold quite extensively into sporting broadcast are from the TouchMix family—the AVM Touchmix or the Touchmix Pilot. Whereas the PAM Series is arguably more of a technical monitoring tool, the Touchmix products are designed for creative operators. Where they differ from other audio monitoring units lies in their ability to bring in a mixture of audio sources through two virtual 20-channel audio mixers simultaneously. These include up to two video SDI streams, which you can de-embed. Both units offer multiple AES and analog inputs that can be made active and listened to in any combination. The Pilot version offers touch-screen operation from a desktop.
With TouchMix, an operator can bring in all the sources he might need to hear in one location, whether its program audio, communications, telephone lines, a hot mic and similar functions that go straight into your headphones or to the speakers. However, because it is a mixing product, we have found that operators are using the mixer for a multitude of duties beyond confidence monitoring. For example, they might use the mixer to create customized monitoring feeds for the commentary booth, a presenter’s earpiece or to create cues that are fed back down the line through telephone codecs and the like. If, for instance, a retired sports star shows up to add a spot commentary, a TouchMix operator can monitor the setup and levels, then cue the audio operator that the feed is set to go. This makes everyone’s job easier and more efficient.

Chris Exelby is Managing Director of TSL Professional Products Ltd., a leading manufacturer of audio monitoring, tally and power management solutions for the bro

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