By Vijaya Cherian
As the televising of sports events becomes more profitable, the more forward thinking governments are ensuring that their stadiums are kitted out with state-of-the-art broadcast infrastructure. Digital Studio gets a first hand look at the technical infrastructure that has been put into Qatari stadiums to facilitate the production and broadcast of sports events that take place there.
I|~|eammon.jpg|~|Eammon Dowdall of Gearhouse Broadcast.|~|The Aspire Sports Academy in Doha recently undertook a huge project that saw the installation and integration of an entire broadcast infrastructure that will facilitate the televising of events that take place at the venue. The US $3million project, which included the installation of 140 wall boxes, 19 47 RU racks of termination and equipment, 700 km of cable and over 7000 connectors, was undertaken by Gearhouse Broadcast.
“As Doha is hosting the Asian Games this year, Qatar is in the process of building new stadiums and upgrading the old ones to facilitate this event. The Aspire Sports Academy, which is the world’s largest indoor sports dome, has been built as part of this effort,” says Eammon Dowdall, managing director of Gearhouse Broadcast Ltd. “At least, that’s one part of it. There is also a general commitment to move the whole country forward in terms of sports facilities. And in that sense, the country is not just building state-of-the-art stadiums and upgrading old ones, but also making a huge effort to incorporate the technical infrastructure necessary to televise events. There’s often such a big gap between making an architecturally fantastic stadium that looks great and actually understanding what makes the money. What makes the money is the televising of these sports events and Qatar has understood this. As a result, it has made every effort to ensure that broadcast infrastructure is now an intricate part of its stadiums’ designs so that when national or international broadcasters come to the venue to cover an event, the technical facilities there will make the whole process of televising much simpler.”
Aspire, at 290,000 m2, provides state-of-the-art sporting facilities to train student athletes and also acts as a venue for national sporting events. The academy, which launched its first curriculum in September 2004, aims to groom athletes to compete at the highest levels of international competition.
Now, with the broadcast infrastructure that has been installed at Aspire and the other smaller stadiums, a broadcast provider can turn up on site, connect his cameras around the stadium and then link them in turn to a wall box, that is purpose built. The wall box has lots of facilities in place for cameras, commentary and audio.
What makes this installation special is that it has also been built in close consultation with sports producers and directors and therefore, there is a clear understanding of both local and international sports production requirements. As a result, broadcasters have the flexibility to choose how they want to shoot the event.
||**||II|~||~||~| “In a traditional environment, you would have to pre rig the stadium to set it up to how the production plan is. In this case, we have worked very closely with sports directors to envisage every possibility that broadcasters would dream of in terms of placement of cameras, and have worked to put in place all the cable infrastructure and technical facilities necessary to facilitate this. So, in effect, any OB company can turn up at the venue and connect to the OB room, and they will be able to put their cameras and monitors anywhere in the venue where there is a wall box. They will also be able to send or receive feeds to and from any of the commentary boxes and utilise the studios by use of the tielines between the ground and third floor,” explains Dowdall.
The Aspire venue comprises two technical areas, one at ground level for OB trucks to connect to, and one on the third floor. There are also twenty commentary boxes, two studios and a gallery on the third floor.
Al Jazeera had a major say in how the technology was put in place at these stadiums and has ensured that these stadiums are future proof.
“In the Aspire Hall, especially, there has been a huge emphasis on fibre infrastructure. Al Jazeera’s objective was to make sure that in two or three years’ time, the infrastructure would be in place to support it, as it started to evolve in terms of High Definition. Although all of the equipment may not be HD supporting, we have made sure that it will at least not be restrictive,” says Dowdall.
Gearhouse, which worked with Qatar Vision, was also responsible for project managing three of the smaller upgraded sports stadiums in Qatar.
The systems integrator was also responsible for putting in the cabling, the terminating equipment and the wall boxes in the other stadiums. “Our role was to project manage the whole thing and ensure that these stadiums have a permanent cabling facility,” explains Dowdall. Some of the main systems that were used for the installation at these venues included Sony Grade One monitors, Tektronix analogue and digital waveform monitors, Leitch video and audio distribution and conversion equipment, Bel audio monitoring units, Belden Audio Multi, SDI video, Cat 6 and triax cables, Draka SMPTE camera fibre (only in Aspire), Fischer camera connectors and Gearhouse wall box plates.
In addition to the standard triax cables that have been installed, Gearhouse has also installed SMPTE hybrid fibre camera cables to every wall box. It has also installed fibres to each venue. There are about 50 fibres and 30 SMPTE hybrid cables between the two technical areas.
“This was a huge project and was carried out under extremely tight timescales with the job commencing last September and being completed in November 2005. In short, we had about 10 weeks for Aspire and about four weeks for the smaller stadiums. There were about 60 people working at these venues to meet this deadline and the technical staff was brought in from the UK. Training, which is part of our contractual obligations, was also provided to ensure that all users would understand how to operate the systems,” adds Dowdall.