Coronation Street goes digital with Broaman/Optocore and Harman

The relocation of the famous ITV Coronation Street lot, from Manchester’s Quay Street Studios to the 7.7-acre studio and production facility on the Trafford side of MediaCityUK, has coincided with a significant streamlining of technology. Set in a fictional town in the north of England, what has become the world’s longest-running television soap opera is a British ‘institution’, having first been broadcast back in December 1960.

A unique, fully integrated transport solution was conceived by the show’s Technical Manager, Stan Robinson, in conjunction with project engineers Phil Cooper and Nigel Fowler from system integrators TSL.

“The broad design was based on the previous set-up in Quay Street with the intention of streamlining, and improving wherever possible,” stated Cooper. “This was carried out using a combination of contemporary technology solutions and TSL’s industry experience, along with the vision of Stan Robinson.”

“I needed a solution that was not too taxing for the operational crew — little more than plug and play — and I also wanted a box that when connected by fibre and all the level signals would be there,” continued Robinson.

“The ultimate aim was to come up with a system that increased efficiency, cut rigging time to a minimum and was sufficiently resilient to avoid production downtime; and irrespective of where the box was plugged in on set, the system would be intelligent enough to recognise it."

With active support from the German fibre specialists’ Application Engineer, Maciek Janiszewski, Optocore loaned test equipment to establish proof of concept, with AVC Electronics installing a point to point system in Quay Street to provide single channel floor feeds. “We tested for audio and latency and everything was fine,” reports Robinson.

Thus the BroaMan and Optocore architecture forms the beating heart of the new broadcast network which has been constructed around ten BroaMan Route66 interfaces and two WDM frames. These combine to create one centralised router, feeding the ForA 96 x 128 matrix distribution unit, and forming part of the identification, CWDM, and control to the Optocore router.

For the choice of a new desk, the show’s senior sound supervisor. Mark Cochran, suggested investigating Studer Vista 1 all-in-one desk for each of its two new production galleries.

These were duly adopted, along with Compact Stageboxes and a Soundcraft Si Compact 16 mixing desk from Studer’s sister company Soundcraft, to provide resilience. When the order was placed by TSL, the Vista 1 became the first Studer sale to an ITV facility.

AVC’s lead consultant Raz Khan recalls, “Initially we evaluated the Vista 5, and had one on demo, so we could evaluate the platform, knowing that the Vista 1 would shortly be in production. From that it was written into the specification.”

Stan Robinson: “We realised the Vista 1 would offer more or less the same facilities and also that it was compatible with Optocore fibre distribution, which we were running right across the site, linking the five production control areas.”

The 22-fader Studer Vista 1, containing 20 channel strips and two grand master faders, provides Coronation Street with true broadcast monitoring, talkback, red light control and eight general-purpose control inputs/outputs (GPIO).

This digital format has allowed Stan Robinson to utilise the unique Optocore fibre transportation system for the signals around the site with the portable stageboxes allowing signals from the studios (or anywhere else on the site) to be routed to either gallery.

Each gallery has its own stagebox, which production simply wheels to where shooting is taking place, and plugs in to the SMPTE 311M hybrid camera cable network — with 100 SMPTE sockets distributed around the site that can be patched in.

Signals such as microphones, foldback, picture monitoring, video router control and talkback are automatically routed to the Studio Floor and Galleries. “In effect, the whole site becomes our studio floor,” says Stan Robinson.