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Tue 13 May 2008 04:00 AM

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Speed cameras

Formula One was back in Bahrain last month with hundreds of race officials, not to mention 40,000 fans.

Formula One was back in Bahrain last month with hundreds of race officials and media, not to mention 40,000 fans, all looking to use broadcast technology to get a closer look at the action.

With 22 cars racing around the Bahrain International Circuit's 5.5km track at speeds of up to 340kmph, it can be hard to keep your eye on the action. To ensure all interested parties didn't miss a thing, an elaborate broadcast and communication infrastructure was put in place.

The sports governing body, the Swiss based FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile), monitors all the race action from its control room.

Communications rank very highly in importance for production. If you are not able to communicate with your presenter or your cameraman, you are absolutely lost. -Friedrich Behringer

At the Bahrain circuit, 41 cameras monitor every turn of the track as well as the frantic activity in the pit lanes to ensure none of the sport's exhaustive list of regulations is broken.

Riedel Communications provided the FIA with much of the infrastructure required for this.

"We supply a custom-built carbon fibre race control desk which goes around the world with us to all 18 Grand Prix races," says Alexander Keck, Formula One rental manager with Riedel.

"It is very expensive to build the desk from this material but when you consider that every kg of weight costs US $100 extra to freight, you will begin to see that it is actually a good investment."

With the race schedule taking in destinations as far apart as Japan, Brazil and Canada, it is easy to understand how quickly the desk could deliver on the initial expense.

All this footage along with the audio from the radio links between teams and their drivers is recorded onto a 7TB hard drive system. The FIA race officials, through Keck, can then re-visit all of the events of the race as it happens, enabling them to award any necessary penalties for infringements of the rules during the race. An archive of the events is also maintained for any future appeals.

German broadcaster, RTL also covers every race of the season.

"There are more races than there used to be, more back to back races," says Friedrich Behringer, RTL technical operations manager.

"This means our technical facilities have to be really well integrated to reduce the time needed for rigging and de-rigging. It is difficult to get the costs and the timing right with the overseas races getting closer together. We have to rethink our methods of production as a result.

"For example, using fibre reduces the set-up time greatly. We were an early - if not the first - user of one cable for several signals. Multiplexing over long distances, without quality loss, saves a lot of cabling time at an event such as F1 that covers so much ground.

"We use the main feed from F1 and our contract allows us to use two radio cameras. We are not permitted to use any fixed positions. The main feed used to be provided by the local host broadcaster at each race, however nowadays this is done by Formula One Management (FOM) in most races - if not all - and that has been a big change," claims Behringer.The scaled down operation for broadcasters, given that the race action is provided for them, still involves an extensive logistical operation.

"We ship more than nine tons of kit between the races, and 400kg of this is radio equipment. The flight cases alone make up around 40% of the total weight."

"We use two off-the-shelf Sony HD cams with radio transmitters when we are live, plus another two cameras performing regular ENG footage. When we are not live, all four go back to regular ENG footage such as interviews and so on. We record directly into a non-linear format so we can edit immediately on-site using our three Final Cut Pro edit suites. We have an Apple xSan 60TB video server with our archive from the last 16 years; we record everything onto that and can also access the old footage."

Behringer feels that only the Olympics and international football tournaments are larger in scale than a Formula One race weekend citing the number of radio frequencies in the air as one particular problem.

"We discovered that individual transmitters with individual receivers can interfere with each other. As a result, our radio cameras and our presenters use a system that splits eight radio frequency signals between one antenna, and we haven't had any problems with this since we implemented it," adds Behringer.

RTL have put the days of ISDN and telephone lines behind them, and are now using a dedicated IP service from Riedel for communication with their German HQ.

"All the routers are programmed automatically so we just hook it up and all the connections are in place. This was a big step in terms of speed and security of communication."

Riedel's ARTIST intercom system enables stationary parties such as the commentary teams and the floor manager, with wireless radio links keeping the camera crews and presenters in touch with the rest of the production team regardless of where they are around the circuit.

"Communications rank very highly in importance for production. If you are not able to communicate with your presenter or your cameraman, you are absolutely lost," claims Behringer.

Micro broadcast networkThe race officials aren't the only ones hoping to see as much of the action as possible.

Spectators in the stands can now see more of the action via an on-site micro broadcast network.

Kangaroo TV deploys such a network at each F1 track to enable spectators to watch the same footage as viewers at home including the in-car cameras, multi-language commentaries from the BBC and RTL, official race timings and several interactive options including split screens and on demand action relays.

The service uses proprietary handsets with a 3.5" screen. They are available for hire by spectators and are also used by the media.

Camera crews, photographers and reporters can monitor all the action regardless of where they are within the arena.