Winds of Change for China Central TV
CCTV replaces the entire audio systems of its two premier TV studios in Beijing
If you should ever have the chance to talk with Chinese TV professionals about ratings, be prepared to hear figures which boggle the minds of European producers. Thus, the four hour live transmission of the Chinese New Year’s celebrations in Beijing, a live production by CCTV, was watched by more than 400 million people. This year the show, which is traditionally amongst the most important TV events in China, was at the same time also the acid test of an extensive new audio installation in two of CCTV’s large studios – with three huge AURUS and NEXUS systems in the starring roles
China Central Television, CCTV, with approximately 8,000 employees and at present 43 channels, is the largest TV provider in the country. Some of the programs produced by CCTV in English and Chinese can also be received outside China. The organization became well known internationally in 2008 when it was in charge of broadcasting the Summer Olympics from Beijing. CCTV is also well known beyond the Chinese borders for the architecture of its spectacular new headquarters building. Located in the eastern area of the capital the stunning building should have been finished for the Olympics but will now be put into operation this year, step by step.
CCTV put the installation of new audio systems in their two main studios out to tender and the Chinese branch of the SALZBRENNER STAGETEC MEDIAGROUP was successful. Due to the considerable size of the order, this is a very important success for the head of the Beijing office, Zeng Dong, and his team. It is by no means the first, though. Since it was established in 2005, the Chinese office has placed almost 30 STAGETEC consoles with broadcasters and theatres in China. And for CCTV, this is not a leap in the dark. In the autumn of 2007, for example, they acquired a new HDTV-enabled OB vehicle featuring a 48-channel-strip AURUS console, four NEXUS Base Devices and a NEXUS router. This is the largest HDTV-capable truck in China and is therefore in operation frequently with important national events.
Since the Olympic Games it has been in use, for example, at the National Games, the Asian Games in Guangzhou and for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Expo in Shanghai. However, the vehicle is equally suitable for use as a stationary control room for HDTV productions at the CCTV studios in Beijing. Other important events already covered are the Military Parade and the Celebration Show of the 60th anniversary of the Peoples Republic of China. Early in 2008, this installation was followed by the SALZBRENNER STAGETEC MEDIAGROUP delivering three CRESCENDO consoles for use at the Olympics. When the construction phase of the new CCTV complex is finished, these consoles will end up in studios E14, E15, and E17, used primarily for sports programs.
Chen Chen, audio supervisor in charge of the recently installed state-of-the-art audio systems, had become well acquainted with STAGETEC digital audio equipment much earlier, »During a music recording study trip back in 2003, I had the opportunity to visit various broadcasters and recording studios in Germany and Austria. Most of these studios worked with a CANTUS. The console’s highly developed technology impressed me deeply at the time. Therefore, I returned home from this trip with the firm resolve to promote the introduction of STAGETEC consoles here too.« However, the best offer in the context of a bidding procedure is decisive. CCTV must choose the best bid from at least three vendors competing proposals, as is common in many countries.
A Completely New Design
The new audio systems in the old CCTV headquarters probably form one of the largest coherent audio installations in all of Asia. The 2000-sqm audience studio called Hall 1 and the slightly smaller Studio 9 each house an AURUS console with 56 channel strips. The two consoles are used mainly for sound reinforcement. A third console with the same configuration has replaced a 10-year-old digital desk in the broadcast surround sound control room. An inter-studio audio network, used for both sound reinforcement and transmission, interconnects two NEXUS STAR routers located in the transmission control room plus two NEXUS Base Devices at each of three remote sites. The analogue and digital audio cabling plus optical cabling was reinstalled from the ground up.
Replacement of the entire audio setup in the two studios was mandated, above all, because the existing broadcast console could not meet the increasing requirements of the large productions undertaken there. Centrally located in the control room, this console had been used to produce broadcast mixes of the audio coming from the two studios. However, it had limited capacity and an inflexible bus structure. The new AURUS is the solution, providing 300 input channels, 256 buses and highly flexible routing, thus eliminating any imaginable bottlenecks and setup issues quickly and elegantly.
Apart from this, both studios FOH desks were still based on analogue technology. Therefore, switching between multiple productions was always very laborious. All mixer surface parameters and the entire routing setup had to be configured manually by the engineers for the forthcoming production. Thanks to the modern data-management capabilities of the two AURUS FOH consoles, tasks like this are now completed just by loading a new preset. To say nothing of the advantages the new system brings in terms of better signal quality, lower power requirements, less waste heat, advanced networking capabilities and overall flexibility And what is emphasized most by CCTV is the high degree of reliability AURUS and NEXUS are reknowned for worldwide.
Redundancy is the Key
Hall 1 is the place where the most popular and high-profile TV productions featuring VIPs and celebrities are staged. Therefore, when it came to specifying the audio-system requirements, audio manager of Hall 1 and Studio 9 Chen Chen insisted on 100% reliability and redundancy. »We use two identical AURUS consoles in the control room and the studio for live transmissions. One is for transmission audio, the other for sound reinforcement in the hall. Together, these two consoles form a perfect redundant system since each individual console can be run as a two-operator system and fulfill both duties simultaneously. For very important productions like the New Year Gala we certainly use our third console as a back up. If neccessary, this AURUS is available at any time to replace the FOH console or the desk for the transmission audio. Naturally, all optical lines and power supplies are duplicated for redundancy as well.«
Zeng Dong, head of the Chinese STAGETEC office adds: »For such cases of failure, we have preconfigured specific setups the operator can load rapidly and without any audio interruption, just by pressing a single key.«
The new CCTV headquarters
With more than 470,000 square meters of floor space, the spectacular new CCTV headquarters ranks among the largest office complexes worldwide. According to Wikipedia it is the secondlargest – right after the Pentagon. The old CCTV premises, located in the western part of the city, had long been over capacity so the company had to rent numerous buildings in the neighbourhood for expansion. CCTV is still using the old premises even now operations have begun in the stunning new complex. The new building was designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas in co-operation with his 37-year-old German colleague Ole Scheeren in the shape of a three dimensional cranked loop formed by two leaning towers each bent into an ‘L’ shape at the top and bottom joined at 90 degrees to form a continuous whole. Nicknamed, »Big Shorts«, it is 234 m in height and has 54 floors.
In a complex installation based on several STAGETEC mixing consoles working in a common NEXUS audio network, an interesting technical option comes into play: the unique splitter feature of STAGETEC’s XMIC+ microphone-input card. This makes it possible to route each microphone input to up to four separate digital outputs. The system is configured in such a way that each user can see and access only one of the four splitter outputs. The operator can adjust various parameters, including subsonic filters, phase inversion, clipping control, gain, and more, completely independently for each splitter output since all signal-processing functions the unit provides occur in the digital domain.
In practice, this means that, for example, the sound reinforcement engineer in the studio and the broadcast engineer in the control room have completely separate, independent access to all the available microphone inputs from their respective AURUS consoles. Traditional designs would require source splitting plus separate console microphone inputs for sound reinforcement and broadcast to achieve the same result. This would increase costs considerably.
In Record Time
Deadlines were tight. The complex overall system had to be installed within just 20 days because of the extensive rehearsals for the New Year show. Chen Chen, »In defiance of the time constraints, STAGETEC China did a great job of installing the system and energetic support from the German manufacturer was very valuable.« In order to keep the actual installation phase as short as possible, the racks and the cabling had been prepared meticulously in advance at the local STAGETEC office. This is a procedure familiar to the MEDIAGROUP from other projects. In the theatre, where the German parent company has its roots, the installation teams are used to having only a few weeks during the season break to introduce new technology.
Since all three STAGETEC consoles share the same user-interface layout, staff training was quite straightforward. Even when two of the consoles were needed for productions, the third one, with an identical control surface, was still available for training sessions.
With Fireworks and Dragon Dances into the New Year
The Chinese New Year is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. The Chinese lunar calendar determines the date of Chinese New Year, which falls on a new moon between the 21st of January and the 21st of February. For at least a week (and sometimes for much longer) almost all work in China stops. The Chinese celebrate New Year with their families.
For the majority of Chinese families the Great TV Gala is an important part of the proceedings. The Gala is staged in CCTV’s Hall 1 and broadcast live on the evening of Chinese New Year celebrations. Many famous artists and actors literally squabble for an appearance at this incredibly popular entertainment event, which takes four full hours. This year, the extensive stage rehearsals started several weeks before the show, immediately after the installation of the new STAGETEC audio system. The production requires a tremendous effort.
For example, the entire back wall, the wings, and the stage floor consist of hi-res LED displays. With around 45 radio mic transmitter channels and surround mixes for both local sound reinforcement and transmission on the CCTV HDTV channel, the audio setup was similarly complex. Considering that there are approximately 1.4 billion inhabitants and an audience share of about 31% was achieved, the 2011 TV Gala was watched by something like 434 million spectators.