Peak Performance at the Finals (Part 1)
"The Finals" have become a fixture in the national sports calendar. This year, the event, which included German Championships in 18 sports, took place at nine sports venues in Düsseldorf and Duisburg. The swimming and athletics competitions were relocated to Berlin and Kassel, respectively. ARD and ZDF produced more than 25 hours of live and linear sports programming at "The Finals," plus about 70 hours of live streams. The TV compounds produced the image signal in 1080i/50 with stereo sound.
The National Broadcast Center (NBC) was located at WDR Television. While high summer temperatures prevailed outside, Clemens Dieckmann, the technical director of NBC, confidently found his way through secured entrances and elevators to the basement of the WDR building in Cologne, into the air-conditioned Control Room B, where, among other things, the "ARD Sportschau" is produced.
"The Finals are technically handled by WDR for ARD and ZDF centrally from Cologne," Dieckmann explains. "Control Room B, the dispatcher room, the sports campus, the event control room, and the editing suites in the archive building, the law school, and the sports campus formed the NBC for the Finals. The WDR's technical team serves as 'multi-personnel' for both broadcasters, while direction, editorial, and vision mixing come from the respective broadcasting station." In the front row before a huge monitor wall, the technical director's workplace is located on the far right of a very long control desk. Next to him is the vision mixer, working on a Grass Valley Kayenne Panel 4.5 ME's with K-Frame Unit. This is followed by the place of the vision director. Next to him sits the head of the broadcast. Then follows the editor on duty and the "clock student," who times the individual positions of a broadcast.
In the sound control room, a command engineer sits at a "Riedel Artist" system station. He was responsible for the entire command infrastructure in the NBC during the "Finals 2023". "All venues were connected to Cologne with two stereo-capable SIP codecs. This included PCC (Program 4-wire), TCC (technical 4-wire), and N-1 backup to each venue. For redundancy reasons, we also had an N-1 line and a redundancy command on the video return lines to each venue," explains the technical director Clemens Dieckmann.
The editing of highlights, interviews, and time-shifted broadcasting took place at two EVS workstations in the control room. A separate room of Control Room B was provided for MAZ/Playout and EVS Ingest. "Here, contributions were played in from a Quantel server into the broadcast, the administration of the EVS infrastructure was managed, and the streams were laid out on the storage," says Dieckmann. "All signals were additionally recorded centrally on the Quantel sports server system and processed. To have all TV feeds available on EVS systems, two additional EVS XT3s were used solely for the feed 'ingest'. The feeds were stored on an EVS Xstore".
The entire editing of the insert contributions and the delivery of news from ARD and ZDF took place centrally on the Quantel server platform. The live stream offering from ARD and ZDF came from the dispatcher room at WDR and included three streaming channels, which were available in parallel on zdfsport.de and sportschau.de. The mixing of the streaming signals took place at the respective venue and was supervised by the responsible sound engineer in the OB van at the competition site. The respective program was designed by the broadcasting station in the main program. In the dispatcher room, the incoming streams from the nine sports venues were technically checked and then sent via a web control to the three streaming encoders of WDR and to Mainz to ZDF. Additional commentator positions for streaming were available at all venues.
"The WDR's event control room was also used for the 'Finals'. Here, all image and sound signals from the individual venues were received, external command connections were managed, broadcasting lines were equipped and monitored, and all transfers were coordinated," explains Clemens Dieckmann. "All venues were connected to the WDR via two SIP stereo codecs. This included program coordination (PCC), technical coordination (TCC), and N-1 audio backup".
VIDI from Darmstadt connected the venues and ZDF in Mainz to WDR via MD8000. Each venue had a linear TV broadcasting line, a streaming line, and a return line. VIDI delivered 25 incoming HDSDI signals to WDR and sent back 19 signals, including the connection to ZDF. Additionally, the venues were equipped with a 100 Mbit data connection.
At the Düsseldorf Rhine embankment, TVN's OB Van 4 with equipment van from Hanover was stationed for the live production of the sports 3x3 basketball and pole vaulting. About 150 meters south, a pole vaulting facility was set up, behind the upper quay wall, where the audience crowded in several rows. On the north and south sides of the approximately 50-meter-long jetty, there were stands for the audience. In front of each, a camera on a rolling stand with a box lens was positioned. An LED video wall displayed the program image for the audience.
Because the pole vaulters ran and jumped towards the north, the camera operators always had to turn into the sun, which created plenty of work for the image technicians in regulating the aperture. Two cameramen and one camerawoman with shoulder cameras were positioned alongside the runway. One cameraman knelt next to the runway and filmed the athletes preparing to start from a ground-level perspective, about five meters away.
The different camera perspectives enabled a sophisticated staging of the jumps, which, including the run-up, lasted only seven seconds. With the camera on the ground, the athletes were established in a wide-angle perspective with the Rheinturm in the background, holding the jumping pole. In the first cut to close-up, the camera behind the landing zone showed the athlete raising the pole. Even the heat shimmer in the air was visible. In the cut back to the ground perspective, the athlete ran up and out of the picture to the right.
After the cut, a camerawoman with an Easyrig Cinema 3, standing a few meters to the side in front of the high jump installation, took over the further run of the athlete. With a body rotation to the right, she followed the high jumper in a medium long shot as he positioned the pole in the box and then spiraled upwards. As soon as the athlete pushed off from the pole with both feet and jumped over the bar, the camerawoman zoomed in slightly. The standing up and the jubilation after a successful jump were captured by a cameraman with a wireless shoulder camera on the other side of the jetty after a cut.
After a cut, the slow-motion shots from the EVS operators followed. A mini camera with a wide-angle lens was attached to the box with a view of the athletes. Another unmanned mini camera with a wide-angle lens was attached to the bar holder. This allowed the entire complex movement sequence of the pole vault to be very well followed in slow motion, which in real time only lasts 2.3 seconds. The competition ended around 5:00 PM. Until then, the camera operators had to work in the blazing sun on the Rhine embankment.