Coronation StreetFirst broadcast back in December 1960, Coronation Street has a new home at Street Studios at MediaCityUK where is occupies an 7.7-acre studio and production facility. Here, AVC Electronics followed up its HD upgrade of the old studios served as broadcast consultant.

Key to the new technical infrastructure, BroaMan and Optocore fibre-optic distribution devices play a major role in the show’s automation system.

The set for the world’s longest-running television soap opera now has a unique, fully integrated transport solution conceived by Technical Manager, Stan Robinson, in conjunction with project engineers Phil Cooper and Nigel Fowler from system integrators TSL. AVC Electronics lead consultant Raz Khan had carried out technical evaluation and system configuration of all equipment to meet workflow and system requirements. Installation, testing and commissioning was then undertaken by TSL, who secured the contract once the BroaMan/Optocore solution had been adopted.

Technical Manager, Stan Robinson‘The broad design was based on the previous set-up in Quay Street, with the intention of streamlining, and improving wherever possible,’ Cooper says. ‘This was carried out using a combination of contemporary technology solutions and TSL’s industry experience, along with the vision of the show’s Technical Manager, Stan Robinson.’

Robinson had wanted to be able to transport all audio, video and data signals throughout the site over fibre. He had been introduced to Optocore by Dan Muchmore of Clear-Com while investigating talkback systems, and invited a demonstration of the optical transportation system in the presence of Jim Crothers the MD of AVC: ‘I needed a solution that was not too taxing for the operational crew – little more than plug-and-play – and I also wanted a box that when connected by fibre and all the level signals would be there,’ he explains.

‘The aim was to come up with a system that increased efficiency, cut rigging time to a minimum and was sufficiently resilient to avoid production downtime; and irrespective of where the box was plugged in on set, the system would be intelligent enough to recognise it. Also, with fibre, we knew there would be no cable length limitations. Since HD-SDI would only travel 50m over the copper cable we had at Quay Street here we could transport HD-SDI from the central apparatus to the furthest point via optical-fibre.’

Central BroaMan routing rack With active support from Opotocore Application Engineer Maciek Janiszewski, test equipment was used to establish proof of concept, with AVC Electronics installing a point-to-point system in Quay Street to provide single channel floor feeds. ‘We tested for audio and latency and everything was fine,’ Robinson reports.

The technical backbone of the broadcast network was constructed around ten BroaMan Route66 interfaces and two WDM frames. These combine to create one centralised router, feeding the ForA 96 x 128 matrix distribution unit, and forming part of the identification, CWDM and control to the Optocore router. Instead of having Optocore sockets dotted around the site, TSL also used hybrid camera fibre cables to make every Optocore point active throughout the site – simply by patching into the SMPTE 311M network.

‘This gives us additional resilience,’ Robinson explains. ‘There are 100 camera points supplying two patch systems – one in the main building and one out on the lot, enabling patching to either Camera Base Stations or the Optocore Router. Each gallery has its own stagebox, and we simply wheel it to where we are shooting and plug in to our camera cable network. In effect, the whole site becomes our studio floor.

Cooper explains how TSL had implemented the system: ‘We knew that the automatic homing of the Optocore system – where stageboxes will find their home gallery from any live connection point – would be a valuable benefit. However, the main USP of this Optocore system is the ability to plug a stagebox in anywhere and be connected automatically to the correct gallery or OB van. Upon connection, the system discovers where the portable stagebox is connected and the central video router directs the assigned channels to the correct location.’

In addition to video, ITV can also route data and audio automatically since the stageboxes are a multi-faculty resource, which make connectivity available on set, whether in the studios, out on the lot or on location. This includes: Audio sources (boom mics) and monitoring returns; SDI monitoring and sources (from portable cameras or recorder playback); four-wire talkback circuits for boom operators and assistant directors; router control panels to control SDI monitoring.

Coronation StreetThere are five production control areas – comprising galleries and OB vans, each with a corresponding stagebox, incorporating Optocore DD2FR-FX and BroaMan Repeat48 rack devices. Having specified a Studer Vista 1 and D21m I/O interface in the two main galleries TSL deployed ten Optocore DD2FR-FX devices to transport native Madi over the network.

It was the show’s Senior Sound Supervisor, Mark Cochran, who suggested investigating the Vista, which was duly adopted, along with Compact Stageboxes and a Soundcraft Si Compact 16 desk – the Vista 1 is the first Studer sale to an ITV facility.

‘We evaluated the Vista 5, and had one on demo, so we could evaluate the platform, knowing that the Vista 1 would shortly be in production,’ says Raz Khan. ‘From that it was written into the specification.’

The 22-fader Studer Vista 1 has 20 channel strips and two grand master faders, and provides broadcast monitoring, talkback, red light control and eight general-purpose control inputs/outputs (GPIO). Stan Robinson admits that the Studer D21m mic input card, transformer balanced to all five stageboxes, had been a key driver, with Studer stageboxes transporting native Madi over the Optocore system.

‘This solution meant that the whole rigging set up became a lot simpler, with fibre out to the OB van to transport Madi and a ruggedised case housing the electronics. With DSP onboard, this fitted the bill perfectly for the budget and operational flexibility and redundancy,’ Khan says.

‘We didn’t like the multi-layered menu of other desks – this was a lot easier. Also it needed to be intuitive because we have a small core of technical staff and a lot of freelance engineers using the system. It has been extremely well received.’ Once a mic is plugged into appropriate input the source immediately appears on the relevant fader in the sound control room.’

The show’s audio path runs from the 15 connection points available on the Optocore system, with distribution to the Studer stageboxes via the same SMPTE fibre infrastructure as the camera feeds. Each gallery or van has a corresponding stagebox which can be connected to the core routing system (via a wallbox) or taken on location and connected (point to point) to a van – again, using standard camera floor cables.

Wherever the mobile stagebox is connected, the router will recognise the location and automatically patch the signal between stagebox and control room. ‘The key benefit of this stagebox system is reduction of set-up times,’ Cooper says – a critical consideration, given the show’s arduous production schedules. ‘With the exception of the cameras, all other crew equipment can be connected with local cables to a stagebox; so by plugging in one fibre cable they can start using it.’

Production on the new Coronation Street set got underway in early January 2014…

‘We were given a short lead time of just one week of rehearsals at the new site, so everything had to work first time and be operationally easy to use,’ Stan Robinson says. ‘We are delighted with BroaMan and Optocore solution, which has offered us an incredibly flexible solution.’

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