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Letter From The Front

CTVOB’s Bill Morris writes his second monthly column from the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials…

The sight of a lonely crew member,

isolated in the middle of a rain drenched field huddled under a sheet of

polythene, is becoming

commonplace. Bill Morris CTVOB

Commons on August 20th 1940, were recited by the PA announcer as I stood on the Scanner roof, watching a Hurricane, Spitfire and Lancaster from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight perform low passes over the Main Arena at the close of the 2010 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials. This annual fly past traditionally marks the close of the major international equestrian competition. It also signals the end of our annual five-day battle of technology versus the elements. This 30-fence, three-day cross country event is set among thousands of acres of spectacularly landscaped Cambridgeshire parkland, originally designed and installed in the 18th century. Using one of our larger high definition outside broadcast units as a central hub, we radiate several armoured, single mode fibre, multi-core cables over distances ranging from 600 meters to 1.5 Kilometres. These ‘spokes’ support their own sub hubs, which we, always looking for a new acronym, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, refer to as ‘Tossas’ (Technical Outside Source Switching Areas). This in turn has led to the creation of a new freelance grade – Tossa Engineer. Strategically placed and well hidden among the verdant parkland foliage, these remote bays of equipment in their individual dome tents, are sited in locations where they, in turn, can support multiple SMPTE camera and audio multi- core feeds rigged back from individual fences and obstacles. As an industry, outside broadcast has made full use of emerging fibre technologies. In a sector where water and electricity has traditionally had to work successfully side by


intson Churchill’s famous line: ‘Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few,’ from a speech made to the House of

side, the adoption of a transmission medium that is virtually element proof has revolutionised the way that locations are rigged and equipment supported. When Capability Brown designed the gardens and park at Burghley, he did so with scant regard for television production. Cables running through water conduits, lakes, ditches and rigged across by- ways have to be tactile, impervious and, above all, strong. We tend to use Telecast’s Adder systems for audio delivery across very long distances. This family of fibre multiplexers allows us to bring multiple analog sound sources down a single strand of single mode fibre. This enables the CTV sound crew to rig several strategic microphones within fences and along the course, without the channel limitations previously associated with traditional copper multi-core cables. When multiple audio and HD Vision sources are required from an individual location, such as a commentary position or remote monitoring area, we tend to use one of our Telecast POV or Python systems. Each pair of end boxes allows the multiplexing of up to eight HD video and audio sources. The Sony HDC1500 cameras deployed on most of our locations utilise SMTE fibre cable. This rugged and virtually impervious cable passes two single mode fibres, two mains voltage cores and two data streams. With a tough stainless steel connector manufactured by Lemo, the integrity of the joints are usually very good, even when submerged in streams or driven over by Land Rovers.

Our long suffering rigging teams have had to learn a set of new skills to ensure the longevity and durability of their rigs. The lessons learnt installing major fibre rigs on most of Europe’s championship golf courses as part of our European Tour Golf contract have taught us salutary lessons in fibre care. Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness when it comes to SMPTE and single mode fibre installations. One spot of mud, one drop of moisture or one spec of dust on the fibre node and the optical level is decimated and function drops off at an alarming rate. In order to balance the inevitable raft of problems that accompany fibre rigs in the field, manufacturers have started to build in additional diagnostic levels within their equipment. OB companies have also had to invest in training for their engineers and riggers, in order that rigs can be terminated and damaged fibres spliced on location. Whether it be Burghley, The V Festival in Chelmsford, or

the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, the sight of a lonely crew member, isolated in the middle of a rain drenched field huddled under a sheet of polythene, is becoming commonplace. Splicing together 24 strands of fibre with an individual diameter of no more than ten microns is a tricky job in the workshop, let alone in a cold, muddy ditch. The two ends of fibre must be precisely aligned; a small electric arc is then focused on the ends to fuse them together. Before that the cable must be stripped, precision cut, fusion protection sleeves added and the alignment tested. It’s a skill that very soon will no longer be the reserve of ‘The Few’ but by necessity ‘The Many’.

Bill Morris is the business director of one of Europeʼs largest independant outside broadcasting firms, CTVOB audioPRO October 2010 41

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