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Some say that the intrinsic drama of sports needs no boosting. Green fields, the crack of the bat, bodies reaching for the rebound, along with a scoreboard

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Nov 1, 1998 12:00 PM,
Gary Eskow

Some say that the intrinsic drama of sports needs no boosting. Greenfields, the crack of the bat, bodies reaching for the rebound, along with ascoreboard and the true fan’s love of the game, are held to be all that’snecessary to make a trip to the stadium or arena satisfying.

Forget it. Today’s fan wants more. Enclosed environments in particularoffer the possibility of arcade-like effects that keep customers comingback. These days, arena owners are competing with increasinglysophisticated home theater systems, and they are constantly searching forways to make the experience of coming to a game unique.

Keeping the fan involved with the action throughout the game means wiringthe entire facility-rest rooms, public access areas, clubs and walkways-forpicture and sound. Additionally, renovation jobs, like the one that ProMedia completed in the fall of 1997 on the Oakland-Alameda County Arena,are more problematic than new installations.

Located in El Sobrante, CA, Pro Media was formed in 1978. The bulk of itswork deals with large-format sound system jobs, but systems integrationbids, where video and audio elements are conceived as one and seamlesslyblended together, are where the business is headed. Consequently, Pro Mediabrought in WJHW, a Dallas-based consulting firm, as part of the Oakland bid.

“WJHW added credibility to our proposal,” said Serb, “because of itsknowledge of similar facilities. The National Basketball Association hasspecific requirements with respect to camera placement and sound pressure.The Golden State Warriors play in the Oakland facility, and WJHW hasdetailed knowledge of the NBA’s demands in these areas.”

The scope of Pro Media’s assignment was threefold. They were required torenovate the existing sound system, design and implement a facility-wide TVdistribution system and create a broadcast cable infrastructure.

“People want a total experience,” replied Serb, “whether it be A-V or thegame itself. Today’s patrons want to see large-screen televisions, hearthunderous sound and have access to instant replays. In the 1960s, wedidn’t have the technology to project color, and sound systems weredinosaurs compared to what we can offer today, so people’s expectationswere lower.

“When we’re awarded a bid, we’re given a mission,” Serb continued. “Ourclients tell us that they want a sound system that sounds as good as, ifnot better than, Arena X, with screens that employ the latest and brightesttechnology. With new construction, the building process often takes so longto complete that by the time the facility is completed, the entire systemmay be obsolete. Architects want to see what they’ve asked for verbatim,and you have to work both with their preferences and the needs of theclient as you see them.

“The Oakland Arena was a retrofit, an old facility they gutted and reused.At the ground level, a building can be designed to take care of some of thesound system sight-line anomalies-structural impediments to the mostnatural distribution of sound. With retrofit jobs, we have to work aroundthose restrictions. We had to put a delay system on the upper ring in thisfacility because of a drop in the ceiling that shadows the main array.”

This delay system, by the way, serves only the last 15 or so rows of seats.These seats become shadowed by the shape of the ceiling, and a signalreaching a fan from the main loudspeakers nearly 100 feet (30.5 m) away ismatched by 28 JBL 4652 delay loudspeakers.

The Oakland-Alameda County Arena renovation called for a distributionsystem of nearly 580 closed-circuit televisions spread throughout thefacility.

“There are many sets in the clubs and lounges, locker rooms, owners’ suitesand offices,” explained Serb. “Most of the public-access areas are alsocovered.”

Outside of the arena sits a DSS dish with 12 receivers, each of whichaccesses a single outside channel. In the renovated control room, operatorsremotely handle the CKU-band dish outside the facility. This dish can pickup some satellite frequencies and handle four channels.

The Warriors produce a series of videotapes each year, and up to eightchannels of this pre-programmed material is produced in the control room.Referred to as Welcome TV, these tapes run before and after games.

Serb said that Pro Media and WJHW are generally on the same page when itcomes to equipment choices. They have a relationship that dates back to1988 when they teamed up to renovate Candlestick Park (now know as 3 COM),the home of the San Francisco Giants and San Francisco ’49ers. The twofirms, however, were of decidedly distinct mindsets when it came down tochoosing an audio console.

“WJHW tends to be very conservative when it comes to implementing newtechnologies, and rightfully so,” said Serb. “The Oakland job is a turnkeyproject. We have a one-year service contract with the arena. Up to thispoint, there have been no problems with the technology. You can’t afford tohave equipment crashes when there are 15,000 people in the stands, so youneed very good reasons when you decide to switch from the equipment you’vebeen installing. We were convinced that the Yamaha 03D digital mixingconsole was the right choice for this job.”

A smaller configuration of the Yamaha 02D (originally intended for thehome- studio market), two 03D units cascaded together were the right choiceas a front end for the Oakland-Alameda County Arena because “of theirflexibility and ease of use,” said Serb. “We use presets that need to beidentical each time. For example, there will generally be some kind ofpre-game show, after which we switch to the announcer calling the gameitself. The post-game setup involves pre-recorded announcements and exitmusic.

“All of these setups require different presets, especially with respect toopening channels for mics, and the 03D does a solid job of handling them.The 03D also offers good on-board effects and full automation. One handlesall of the line-level work-playback of VCRs, DigiCart and CD material. Thesecond board has all of the live mics routed in. These two boards are busedtogether so that there is one master section on the A board controlling both.

“This is the right product for the application. A typical analog consoledoesn’t provide the features that the Oakland people needed, and my job isto know what is right for a given job, even if we have to go out on a limba bit. Besides, an analog board that had the functionality of the 03D wouldcost much more. In addition, space was a factor, and the Yamaha boards fiteasily into the control room space.”

In the unlikely case of a system failure, Serb pointed out that there is aredundancy in the design. If one mixer went down, the remaining unit couldhandle enough of the audio load to keep an event going. The same holds truefor the JBL DSC-260 loudspeaker processors.

“By the way, the 03D has one capability, surround sound, that we’ve notimplemented,” mentioned Serb. “The sound system at the arena is configuredin a 50 foot (15 m) ring of JBL loudspeakers. Within that ring are eightclusters. Each cluster has three sections-a down-fill, mid-fill and upperbalcony fill. If desired, the operators could use the 03D to pan a sound,say a thunder effect, around that ring and create some great effects.”

The upper ring fill uses a four-way JBL loudspeaker system. Eachloudspeaker incorporates an 18 inch (457 mm) subwoofer, a 15 inch (381 mm)driver for low frequencies, a JBL 2490 for mids, and a 2451 driver for highfrequencies.

“The 18 inch (457 mm) subwoofers really let you access the low end, so ifthey wanted to pan that thunder effect that we spoke of, it could be quitedramatic,” said Serb.

Pro Media designed the loudspeaker cabinets for this area of the buildingand inserted JBL custom-built horns inside. The existing horns in theirproduct line were too big, so Serb asked them to produce miniatureversions, and everyone was pleased with the results.

Audiophiles recoil at the often hideous reverberation inherent in the arenaexperience, but Serb said that the Oakland facility, which can hold up toapproximately 17,000 fans, is better than most because the seats arepadded. Empty seats left unpadded help create the hellish low-frequencybuildup and high-frequency reflections.

Announcers working the floor use a complement of Shure Beta 57 and Beta 58mics-both cabled and wireless models.

“Shure mics are the workhorses of the industry,” remarked Serb. “We go withproven gear.”

The floor monitor loudspeakers are JBL CD 10180s. A Peavey MediaMatrixsystem is used to mix and distribute several different sound sourcesthroughout the public areas. For example, at various periods during theevening, control operators might decide that they want a radio broadcast inthe rest rooms. Later, those same areas might be switched to carry thein-house announcer. This routing can be handled with presets withinMediaMatrix, which has redundancy built in with a mirrored hard drive and abackup hot-swappable power supply.

“Another important use of the MediaMatrix involves the emergency pagingsystem,” noted Serb. “The fire command system operator can pick up a mic atany time, mute the main sound system and make an announcement. Also, in theevent of a hard-disk crash or power supply failure, the system wouldseamlessly switch over.”

Each area within the building-the concourses, rest rooms, clubs and allpublic areas-has its own outputs within the MediaMatrix setup. Theseoutputs have individual EQ, compression and level settings. Upstairs, inthe amp rack room, sit a pair of JBL DSC-260 loudspeaker processors. All ofthe above settings, plus time delay and crossover, are handled by theseprocessors.

Pro Media and WJHW chose the Crest NexSys power amplification system forthe Oakland-Alameda Arena, largely based on the sophistication of the Crestsoftware package.

“We were looking for the most advanced software on the market to controlthe amps, and at the time, Crest was clearly out in front of the pack,”said Serb.

Within the PC-based software, all of the amps in the building can bemonitored. Level changes can be affected, clusters of loudspeakers can bemuted by muting amps, and the amps themselves can be turned on and offusing this program. The Peavey MediaMatrix and the Crest NexSys softwarecoexist on a single computer.

With respect to the outside world, a full production facility located inthe upper level feeds instant replay and other information directly to thein-house scoreboard and also through the nearly 600,000 feet (182,880 m) ofBelden video and audio cable to truck docks outside the building.Routinely, vehicles from ESPN, NBC, local affiliates and other stations aredocked outside, taking these feeds and carrying them back to the networkhubs.

The Oakland-Alameda Arena is a perfect example of how older, existingfacilities can be retrofitted with the latest technology the industry canoffer to satisfy an increasingly sophisticated fan used to the highproduction values of their home A-V system.

The original budget for the Oakland Alameda Arena did not include funds fora control room, according to Steve Martin, who troubleshoots technicalproblems for the facility. Lobbying eventually resulted in an allocation ofabout $400,000 to construct this space, which includes a pair of Sony Betatape decks, a Grass Valley 250 switcher and several different hard-discvideo systems, including a pair of VR 70 video recording and playbackmachines from ASC. During games, all playback and slow-motion work pipedinto the in-house monitor comes off the VR 70s. The Beta machines are usedto assemble highlight reels after each game and archive footage. Titling ishandled by a Maxine Chyron unit, and all routing goes through a 32 x 32Leitch system. This equipment, plus an Alladin Pinnacle digital videoeffects device, is all that the staff requires for Warrior games andspecial events.

In compliance with NBA facility requirements, there is an extensivebroadcast cabling system with 19 patch panels inside the building, and eachpatch panel has two doors sitting side by side. One runs to the TV truckdock, and the other runs to the control room. The NBA is concerned,primarily for playoff situations where a national audience is tuned in,that each facility has locations in specific designated areas, includingthe event floors, locker rooms and some beauty spot locations. These 19locations all have triaxial and coaxial cables along with XLR cabling foraudio. Fans entering the arena immediately notice two banks of seven 32inch (813 mm) TV monitors at the concourse level that are controlled fromupstairs. The material-highlights from previous games, concert promotions,special ticket offerings-play from a second hard-disc system. These twoDigital Video Systems units are eight-channel machines. The arena staffuses the first seven of these channels to send video information to theconcourse level monitors. The eighth channel is used as a back upstill-store space.

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