Olympics Success: Despite Pandemic Limitations
TWith the delayed 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics now complete, it’s safe to say that the Games were a technical success despite challenging pandemic restrictions (including daily testing!) that complicated production activities.
To the broadcast engineer, this XXXII Olympiad, which took place from July 23-August 8, were most noteworthy because they featured the most distributed workflows ever deployed – including announcers calling games in their homes countries while events took place hundreds or thousands of miles away and many technologies controlled remotely as well. This allowed broadcasters to save money by not sending as many people as previously while they produced as much or more content than ever before.
Broadcasters from around the world took live 4K UHGD and HD feeds from the Olympic Broadcasting Services, the Host Broadcaster organization for all Olympics Games, and integrated it into their respective home feeds in a myriad of ways for both linear TV and the Internet.
NBC, which this year claimed to use “all-IP” infrastructures for flexibility, speed and multi-platform delivery, held the exclusive broadcast rights for the U.S. and certainly made the most of it. In 1996 at the Atlanta Games, the network had about 170 hours of content that came out of the whole of the Olympics. For Tokyo they produced over 7,000 hours across all of the broadcast and cable platforms and all of the live streaming. In just the first day of these games, NBC nearly tripled the entire content it had at the Olympics in 1996 – with roughly 400 hours of content per day.
The network’s presence in the International Broadcast Center, which encompassed nearly 70,000 square-foot space in the Olympic City, served as the on-site nerve center, but much of its production was actually happening in its Stamford, Conn. Headquarters; in Miami, Florida at its sister Telemundo facility; and on the first floor of a small hotel in Stamford, where much of the digital content for online was supervised. The inherent nature of IP workflows helped make it all work seamlessly.
In total NBCUniversal utilized two broadcast networks, six cable networks, and multiple digital platforms, serving both English- and Spanish-language viewers, making it “the biggest media event ever.”
Like other live sports before it, the pandemic restrictions made televising the games less dramatic and prompted production crews to find creative new ways to present the athletes and the various events. High-resolution 4K UHD and 8K are part of that new creativity. These Olympics were said to include the most 4K production ever and a good portion of 8K as well.
If you live in Japan, 8K broadcasts with 22.2 channel audio were available to home viewers vis satellite. NHK presented both the opening and closing ceremonies in 8K (using mostly Sony cameras) and included what that network called “the first live broadcast at that resolution shot from a helicopter.”
Specific events broadcast in 8K included track and field events as well as the women’s soccer and volleyball finals will also be broadcast in 8K, along with selected events from badminton, judo, table tennis and swimming. In late August, the ceremonies for the Paralympics will also air in 8K, along with events like wheelchair rugby, swimming and track and field.
Although it acquired virtually all of its content in HD (1080p/60 HDR), NBC Olympics, for its first time ever, provided live coverage of the network’s Olympics primetime studio show in certain U.S. markets in the 4K Ultra High-Definition format with High Dynamic Range and Dolby Atmos sound – making the pageantry, dynamic imagery, and immersive sound that is unique to the Olympic Games even more spectacular for viewers.As has been the case with previous Olympics, dozens of well-known broadcast equipment vendors offered their respective technologies to help NBC’s coverage of the Games.
NBC Olympics’ crews used nearly 100 Sony cameras to capture footage at event venues and record athlete interviews, press conferences, and other assignments that require studio and portable recording and capture. A selection of the Sony cameras, including the HDC-3500 were used for IP-enabled transmission, while the rest were operated in SDI (and converted to IP as it comes back to the U.S). The camera roster also featured Sony’s HDC-5500 and HDC-3500 4K/HDR, high-frame rate studio cameras for slow-motion replay footage, along with XDCAM camcorders covering various events.
NBC Olympics used several of Sony’s production switcher models – including the flagship XVS-9000 4K/3G/HD IP-ready switcher and the XVS-8000 and XVS-6000 4K/3G/HD video switchers designed for IP- and SDI-based production. Many of the switchers were used in an IP-based environment and several were configured for 1080P HDR production.
The switchers handled feeds from each sports venue to NBC Olympics’ production facility inside NBC Olympics’ International Broadcast Center in Tokyo, and were also used to originate HD cable coverage across NBCUniversal’s various networks and platforms. NBC Olympics also used hundreds of Sony’s professional monitors, including 4K Master Monitors for critical picture evaluation and Trimaster EL OLED/4K monitors for on set and location monitoring.
Sony’s Professional Services Group was on site in Tokyo to provide 24/7 support for all broadcasting equipment and operations for NBC Olympics’ coverage and it helped integrate NBC Sports’ International Broadcast Center and its studios in Stamford.
Doing its part, Grass Valley provided NBC with its IP Media audio and video routing solutions alongside control and monitoring systems. The company has been supplying infrastructure solutions to NBC Olympics since the 2006 Torino Olympics and delivered a range of IP systems.
Grass Valley IP infrastructure facilitated the seamless processing of live video and audio feeds – both from studios and remote event venues – ready for delivery to the broadcaster’s production and editing control rooms ahead of live broadcasts. NBC Olympics deployed Grass Valley’s IP Media infrastructure at the Tokyo IBC, leveraging control of a Cisco Spine and Leaf switching topology through a Grass Valley MOS-compliant router control and configuration system. As part of the wider IP infrastructure, Grass Valley also provided MADI audio gateway products, and a multi-stream audio processing solution.
Every Olympics games has been a showcase for the latest technologies and this year was no exception. For example, NBC Olympics selected Ross Video to provide an Augmented Reality graphics solution. Rocket Surgery, Ross Video’s in-house creative and professional services division, provided Voyager, its latest graphics rendering solution (based on the Unreal 4 engine from Epic Games) along with production crew on site to integrate the graphic elements designed by the NBC Olympics graphics team and operate the technology on the air.
In the end this year’s Games were an overwhelming success, both for the stellar productions in spite of government and IOC limitations, as well for the comradery among broadcaster on site, who were said to eb sharing footage and equipment as needed, ensuring that everyone had something spectacular to put on air at the appropriate time.
The past year has shown what the Broadcast industry is capable of and the Olympic Games were yet another feather in its cap.