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MPEG-H Trialed at Eurovision Song Contest

By Steve Harvey. MPEG-H, an alternative to AC-4 in the ATSC 3.0 standard, was trialed for the first time at the Eurovision Song Contest, held this past May in Portugal. Go inside the massive tech setup, which relied heavily on a huge comms and distribution backbone.

lisbon, portugal—The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and Fraunhofer IIS conducted the first live production trial of the MPEG-H TV Audio System, with immersive and interactive sound, at the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon, Portugal, in May. For the demonstration, sound engineers from Fraunhofer installed microphones high above the floor of the Altice Arena, combining them with audience mics and commentator feeds to create a 5.0+4H (height) ambient mix.

This was the 63rd annual Eurovision Song Contest, which is the world’s longest-running international television music competition; it has become one of the most-watched non-sporting events in the world, attracting a global audience of approximately 200 million. Contestants are primarily from EBU countries, but competition has expanded over the years to include Russia, Australia and Israel, this year’s competition winner.

Videohouse, headquartered in Belgium, supplied the remote media production facilities for the show’s world feed on behalf of EBU and Portugal’s RTP public broadcasting company. The show was broadcast over three days, including the semifinals on May 8 and 10 and the finals on May 12.

Riedel supplied a massive, all-fiber communications and signal distribution system for the production, with a MediorNet real-time media network providing redundant and decentralized signal routing and transport. Riedel also supported the production with a 25-member on-site engineering team.

Fraunhofer’s team—research engineer Adrian Murtaza and sound engineers Andreas Turnwald and Christian Simon—mixed, authored and monitored the MPEG-H Audio immersive sound production in a special container located in the TV compound next to Videohouse’s OB facilities. There, they combined the audience microphones, audio feeds from the main production and the feed from each country’s commentary booth (37 in total), in addition to the stereo and 5.1 mixes provided by the EBU and its production team, to create a 5.0 mix—no LFE channel—with four height channels.

To capture the immersive mix’s height component for the MPEG-H Audio trial, the Fraunhofer engineers suspended a Hamasaki square comprising four Schoeps MK8 figure-of-eight capsules on an Ambient A-Ray support system approximately 85 feet above the center of the arena floor. The rig was positioned slightly above and about 30 feet out from the main audience P.A. system.

To create the ambient mix, Murtaza and Turnwald explained via email, “We panned the 26 mono microphones distributed over the arena close to the audience, and the more distant Hamaski square using the Nuendo DAW’s onboard 3D panners.”

They also noted, “Careful delay calculations were necessary to avoid echoes. Tuning the delay on each of the microphones turned out to be a key element in sound designing the ambience.”

The team used an RME MADI Router to combine the signals coming from the Videohouse OB van and the commentaries coming from the Riedel intercom into one MADI stream. “The four overhead signals were pre-amplified in the arena roof using an RME Micstasy and then sent to the TV compound via 300 meters (984 feet) of optical MADI fiber,” they reported.

“The combined MADI streams were then recorded by two Video Devices PIX 270i recorders and passed on to the Nuendo DAW for mixing and monitoring. We didn’t use a hardware mixing console, as there are nearly no consoles with 3D panners on the market yet.”

Eurovision Gets Immersive with Fraunhofer IIS

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute’s DVB specification published in early 2017 supports the MPEG-H TV Audio System, as well as Dolby Laboratories’ AC-4, for its next-generation audio component, as does the ATSC 3.0 broadcast specification. Both audio systems support objects, which enable personalization features such as alternate languages, a feature that Fraunhofer demonstrated in Lisbon.

“Since the MPEG-H Audio system allows for authoring content in a very flexible way, the languages selected for delivery in the MPEG-H Audio stream varied over time, depending on the participant countries,” the team explained. “For example, during one demonstration, the Portuguese, English, French, German and Finnish languages were selected.”

During the trial, personalization features could be experienced via an MPEG-H player interface installed on a tablet. Listeners could select different languages, control the prominence and volume level of the dialogue in the mix, and pan the commentary.

The trial also demonstrated various presets that were authored live. “The presets, in this case, used the same mix of the ambience in 5.0+4 height channels,” the team elaborated. The difference between the presets was the relative level of the commentators in the mix. “The ‘Default’ preset was similar to the mix that would be usually produced for broadcast, while the ‘Dialogue+’ preset was designed for better speech intelligibility,” they explained. A “Venue” preset provided an immersive experience of the Altice Arena without commentary.

The production’s Riedel MediorNet backbone consisted of six MetroN core routers, 24 MediorNet modular frames and 30 MicroN high-density media distribution network devices. The MediorNet network was deployed in a decentralized configuration, ensuring redundancy of all video and audio signals for commentary, intercom, signal distribution and radio communications, including the feeds for monitors in commentary booths and for displays and projectors in the Altice Arena.

Crew communications were anchored by four Artist 64 mainframes and more than 100 Artist RCP and DCP intercom panels. The Artist panels provided fully redundant, decentralized distribution of all Bolero wireless intercom signals, with 32 Bolero beltpacks deployed to the production team. The Bolero setup employed six AES67-networked antennas.

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According to Ola Melzig, head of production for the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest, who helped set up a long-term contract between EBU and Riedel, “Pretty much every single OB truck in Europe that is big enough to do a Eurovision has a Riedel mainframe installed. This means that everything you connect to this truck needs to be Riedel gear for it to be 100 percent compatible.

“Since the delivery of radios, intercom panels, commentator panels, accreditation, fiber backbone and signal distribution are static from year to year, it made all the sense in the world to set up this deal, since it generates significant savings both for this year’s host broadcaster and future ones. In addition to that package, we also bought the whole IT solution from Riedel, so we had a one-stop shop for our digital ecosystem.”

Fraunhofer IIS •

Riedel •