World Cup Audio

Football World Cups are often the venue for technological advances and Brazil 2014 will be no different, especially when it comes to the broadcast audio. Will Strauss reports.

While World Cups can vary wildly in terms of on-the-field sporting competition, there is one constant: host broadcasters and rights holders alike try to push the technical boundaries when it comes to the TV and radio coverage.

Every four years sees a new advance or three. Some resonate more than others. Four years ago it was all about 3D. This year three matches will be acquired and broadcast in 4k.

While it might not grab the headlines that the 4k pictures will, a lot of effort has also been put into enhancing the audio for the tournament.

“You cannot reinvent sound but we are putting a lot of emphasis on consistency, which is the biggest issue in audio,” says Christian Gobbel, senior engineering manager at HBS, the host broadcaster for Brazil 2014.

“At the last World Cup [in South Africa] for example we were lacking the tools to measure loudness properly but now with the EBU R128 recommendation we are closer [to achieving that consistency].”

To deal with the loudness issue, Quality Control based at the IBC will guide the audio engineers at the venues through the mixing process while additional training will be given so that the “audio guys can read the meters properly and use their ears properly.”

“In our experience the TV viewer is often a better sound engineer in terms of loudness than the guys in the studio,” adds Gobbel. “They definitely know when it is too loud or not loud enough.”

As part of its host broadcast service, HBS will make available a number of key elements and mixes for rights holders including the TVIS, RIS and MCIS plus English commentary and Closeball FX.

5.1 surround sound will be provided for unilateral use at the venues. Within this, 16-channel embedders will allow it to be made available un-encoded.

The audio set-up for each match.

“At an event like this, where viewers want to feel like they are actually in the stadium, we put a big effort into things like the surround programme,” says Gobbel.

“This is not done in the basic simulcast mix. We are doing the surround mix at the IBC because we think that within such a big production like this the sound guy in the venue cannot be expected to successfully do the stereo mix and all the packages AND a surround mix at the same time.”

Additional audio content will also be made available via the ISO feeds. This includes outside ambience, aerial ambience and a microphone on the CableCam.

To further ensure consistency of coverage across the entire tournament, each venue will have an identical audio set-up with the same mics and desks.

Dan Miodownik, the director of production services at HBS, says: “We’ve been quite specific about what we want to achieve [this year], with single microphone choices through Sennheiser and Schoeps. We have 12 audio desks, all Lawo, however they will be configured and set up in the way in which each audio engineer wants to work.”

To help cope with the huge number of commentary positions a fully IP-based commentary system is being used for the first time. Developed by Lawo and HBS the LCU (Lawo Commentary Unit) will connect all the venues and the IBC in Rio via a multitude of 10 Gbps paths.

“We always try to do new things and audio via IP is one of the big technology breakthroughs in the last year,” says Gobbel. “At the IBC we will have the first ever IP-based distribution [RAVENNA/AES47] of audio feeds to rights holders at an event of this scale.”

Of the 840 commentary units that will be used, 240 will be IP-based LCUs.

At the same time a single comms system for the venues, provided by Riedel, will allow the crew to talk to each other “at whatever time they need to do so for the entire period of the event.”

“50 per cent of the enjoyment of a football match comes from the audio,” concludes Gobbel. “That is why we are putting a lot of effort into all the little bits and pieces.”

Read more about the audio at this year’s World Cup in the latest issue of Audio Media.