One-man coverage of a lively debate in a parliamentary chamber can be a daunting task. In the southernmost state of Australia, the Parliament of Tasmania has installed a state of the art high definition broadcast facility to provide coverage of events in both houses, and various committee rooms and reception rooms. There was no compromise in equipment chosen for the four control rooms, and thanks to a custom designed user interface, there is now order in the house... at least when it comes to television broadcasts.
Some 40 years ago, Tasmania’s House of Assembly was gutted of its original art deco form and replaced with the then current ‘modern’ architecture. It has been a long time dreamof the only remaining sitting member of that parliament, and now Speaker of the House, Michael Polley to see it returned to its former art-deco ‘glory’. Decommissioning of the ‘House’ for 6 months whilst the building works were carried out was a perfect time toimplement another of Mr Polley’s dreams - to broadcast proceedings using state-of-the-art technology and delivery methods. Their vision to drive the federal government’s high definition broadcast television mandate sees the Parliament of Tasmania leading the pack when it comes to legislature coverage in Australia.
Local Hobart firm, television production company Winning Post Productions were engaged by parliament to oversee the project. Their proximity to the site, their knowledge of the operation and the broadcast television industry proved invaluable as this was not to be just another AV installation, this is a state of the art broadcast television facility not only scrutinised by viewers and politicians, but also by practitioners within the broadcast industry. The television broadcast system (TBS) delivers proceedings to six media booths for the television, radio and press services. Although produced and delivered to the media in HD, all currently accepted formats are provided, including a streaming feed to the web, available at... http://www.parliament.tas.gov.au/Parliament/InParl.htm.
Techtel as the TBS contractor to Parliament of Tasmania was responsible for the design and supply of equipment. “This has been an exciting project for us as we brought all facets of Parliamentary recording and broadcast to a fully functional television facility” comments Dave Elsmore of Techtel. The choice of cameras in the chambers however was somewhat compromised by architectural direction. Since there were no hides or blinds in the chamber to house the cameras, visual impact, or lack thereof, was paramount. With a point-and-shoot philosophy, the Sony BRCH700 is a remote control pod, complete with camera, zoom lens and robotics and when mounted in architecturally designed friezes becomes aesthetically acceptable, allowing the art deco form to be carried through. The choice of this camera for the main chambers dictated its rollout across all 16 locations in 4 chambers plus three ad-hoc venues within the building.
All 24 sitting members, plus another 10 seats for future expansion, are individually mic’d using AKG CK31 microphones, with desk mounted mute switches just in case a member needs a tete-to-tete with his compatriot. All mics were connected to the central apparatus room using Telecast Fiber Adder optical ‘snake’ to avoid the inherent problems of long cable runs in a building of this style. An added benefit of the Adder II was realised when an on-air light, caught in limbo somewhere between the building services contractor and the broadcast contractor, was requested. It was too late to open the walls and run copper, so an on-air GPI was given to the Adder II in CAR and delivered to the remote Adder II via optical fibre, where the resultant relay closure did the trick. All (AES) audio and (HD/SDI) video is delivered to the central apparatus room where a 128x128 router provides the flexibility to assign AES and HD/SDI to all locations. Its salvo switching function provides the vital link for AMX automation to control room changes when required. The simple press of a virtual button on the AMX control panel can take all 42 mic lines and 5 cameras from one control room to another should maintenance downtime be required.
The TBS has four control rooms. Control Rooms A and B mimic each other for redundancy and are designed for the larger, more visible and high paced faces of parliament; the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council. Control Rooms C and D also mimic each other for redundancy and have been designed for the low profile, yet equally as important committee room scenario. AMX can assign control of the House to either of the larger control rooms. Under the redundancy provisions, the Legislative Council chamber, the lesser of the two houses in terms of television coverage, can actually be assigned to either the other large control room, or one of the two smaller control rooms.
16 input Ross Video Vision 1 vision mixers were the choice for the larger control rooms with graphics coming from Avid’s Deko 500’s. Both have automation interfaces and are driven by AMX whilst always allowing the operator to take discretionary shots at will.
Twin TVLogic 40-inch LCD displays provide a multiview preview wall, and full screen program monitor. A separate program output from the House of Assembly control room supplies three more TVLogic 40-inch displays in the Strangers Gallery, otherwise known as the public gallery. Audio is not only used for media, broadcast and webcast, but is also the primary source for Hansard, and as such needs to be reliable, resilient and of the highest quality. The Yamaha DM2000 desks operate in an AES environment. With in excess of 40 channels in the House of Assembly, and potentially another 16 mics in the Legislative Council at the push of a button on control room changeover, the desk needs to be flexible. Scene recall and dynamic fader labelling, always showing the correct sitting member name is a must in such a fast pace environment. Again, the AMX control system makes these desks fly.
The underlying brief of the AMX control system was to keep it simple yet functional, as the possibilities are endless. Although some rudiments of the AMX control system extend to the lesser control rooms, the main focus for automation is on the two debating chambers where up to 38 participants need to be managed.
All speaking positions are represented on a touch control panel. Each mic also has a main and secondary camera angle. On advice from the Speaker of the House that a sitting member has the floor, their seat is selected, either by name or location recognition on the TCP. The first available camera moves to the preprogrammed shot which remains in preview until the camera settles at which time a flag is issued. It is at the operator’s discretion then that the shot is taken. Audio opens immediately a shot is requested to avoid clipping of those often important introductory words as the camera finds position. When the shot is taken, all previously open mics close.
Whilst every component has its place, it is AMX automation that pulls it all together. Josh Fry, senior AMX programmer at KWMC notes, “we have never done a project like this before so we welcomed the challenge. To see the 24 sitting members of the house come to order on opening day under the command of one operator and an AMX touch control panel gave me great satisfaction.” The operation is simple and intuitive. The lesser control rooms, C and D for the committee rooms occupy the same space and are primarily a manual operation although the 8 input Broadcast Pix Slate 1000 vision mixer complete with internal CG and clip store does an admirable job in controlling the remote cameras in the committee rooms. Shot storage and recall makes the control of these rooms manageable. Even when the Legislative Assembly needs to be assigned to this control room, the production and control functions offered by the Slate 1000 does not leave the operator wanting. A single multiviewer output, generated internally by the Slate 1000 drives a single TVLogic 40 LCD panel. Audio in these two suites is not compromised by the smaller Yamaha LS9-16 desks either. With similar functionality of the larger DM2000, albeit in a smaller footprint and port count, the LS9 delivers all that is required.
Whilst treated separately throughout the production suites, audio is embedded in the HD-SDI signal using Ross openGear cards at the output of each control room, making program distribution to various locations easy. The openGear platform answered the problems of most the ‘glue’ required in this facility. The requirement to service all current broadcast video formats was met with a unique product from Lynx Technik.
The embedded HD-SDI program presented to their CDX3624, supplied in either a small footprint free standing box or a rack module was simultaneously downconverted to SD-SDI and decoded into PAL, whilst at the same time providing a de-embedded AES audio stream and balanced stereo L+R audio signals. At this point video delays started to become an issue but thanks to the inbuilt audio delay, the CDX3624 saved the day.
Each media booth has a small AMX touch control panels which can select any source from which two signals are provided; one a clean feed without lower third graphics, and a second composite or ‘dirty’ feed complete with graphics for those who do not want to add their own titles and graphics. Standard broadcast engineering practices were used with all equipment being housed in a purpose built airconditioned CAR that boasts a raised computer floor and UPS able to carry the entire broadcast facility for 90 minutes. Hopefully the events of the night of Tuesday 25 July 1939 will never again be repeated*.
Because of the distances involved, Techtel subcontracted installation services to local Tasmanian company, KWMC who have a long AV and AMX automation track record. Techtel’s Dave Elsmore was not disappointed, saying “their workmanship and attention to detail is brilliant”.
Even with their budget constraints, thanks to some smart engineering design and frugal selection of equipment, this is a facility that a lot of broadcasters in Australia would envy. By taking the bold step to go with a HD solution it will support the Parliament of Tasmania and the citizens of that fair state for many years to come.