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Networks Streamline Sports Arenas

Networks Streamline Sports Arenas

The demarcation between AV and IT infrastructures has become blurred as the AV industry has increasingly adopted standard digital data networking and transport protocols. That’s good news for AV systems consultants and integrators, who are harnessing the technology to design and implement ever more complex systems in sports venues.

A new press box and audio control on the north side of the University of Idaho's Kibbie Dome required the university to update many of the antiquated systems throughout the stadium.

Kevin Ivey, general manager at Peavey Commercial Audio, offers the audio system at the newly renovated BC Place in Vancouver, BC, Canada, as an example of how emerging protocols are enabling functionality that was not previously possible (see sidebar). Peavey was brought into the project because of the company’s support of Audinate’s Dante audio transport protocol.

The BC Place project included Lab.gruppen power amplifiers and Peavey’s MediaMatrix NION DSP, with the bulk of the gear suspended in a catwalk high above the playing field. “The consultant wanted to design the system so that the facility audio operator could monitor through a back channel the actual performance of the amplifiers and the speakers. Dante—or any TCP/IP compliant protocol—was a more efficient concentration of those multiple audio transport streams over fiber,” said Ivey.

Peavey, a member of the AVnu Alliance, is watching the development of the AVB protocol, which promises interoperability between audio and video networks. “We see Dante as a pathway for us to AVB,” said Ivey.

In the meantime, if an integrator has access to a gigabit ethernet network at a sports venue, said Ivey, “We provide products that allow you to distribute, control, and process, and get that signal out to the amplifiers. Then it’s a matter of installing your audio gear in what was maybe your phone or network IDF and you’re off to the races.”

Bradford Benn, applications expert at Harman International, agreed: “Before, where it wouldn’t have been financially feasible to put an amplifier all the way out in the left field concession stand, now you just need a network drop—that’s relatively inexpensive—and you can sprinkle audio throughout the venue.”

He continued, “It allows the integrator a less costly upgrade path. It can lower some of your labor costs and the time spent to troubleshoot.”

As for consultants and system designers, said Benn, “They are doing everything—the phone system, point of sale, security, surveillance. Being able to put it all onto one large network and work with one large network vendor becomes much easier.”

In Benn’s experience, an increasing number of stadium and arena projects are adopting converged networks, driven by two factors, in addition to the technological advances: “The owner doesn’t want to pay for two infrastructures and to manage two networks. The idea of having it under the IT department to manage gives facility owners more confidence in the reliability of the system.”

On the video side, networks have enabled seamlessly synchronized full-motion video projection onto the ice at hockey arenas. A recent installation of 12 Barco projectors at Montreal, Canada’s Centre Bell also illustrates how a network can enable system diagnosis (see showcase below).

With the projectors mounted far above the ice, remote access was a factor in Barco’s selection for Centre Bell, according to Scott Stremple, director of business operations and entertainment for Barco North America: “With remote diagnostics you can monitor an entire installation and be confident that when the show starts you are ready.”

Barco uses WiFi to setup and troubleshoot its projector systems. The company launched a new GSM module at InfoComm12 that will send text messages if there is a problem and allow remote system diagnosis.

From its network operations center, Barco already monitors thousands of cinema projectors worldwide, noted Danny Sergeant, Barco’s North American vice president, and Canadian managing director. “We can predict when a certain projector needs a filter change or when the lamp needs to be replaced. We really are doing predictive maintenance and vastly improving the uptime of the equipment.”

Riedel, also part of the AVnu Alliance, has introduced an AVB card for its current line of matrixing intercom products that promises a new system infrastructure in the future, according to Jeremy Lommori, a system engineer with the company. Presently, comms panels are wired back to a central frame, which may in turn be connected via fiber to other frames. But with an AVB network, he said, “You could potentially have two or eight signals on a remote node, all tied back on an AVB-capable network, and they would all interact with each other. You don’t need to have a central frame anymore.”

He commented, “From a cabling perspective that’s much easier and much more cost effective. From a quality perspective, using ethernet-based signal transport, it’s much more flexible, and with the AVB standard on top of it, the audio bandwidth is remarkable. It truly sounds like the standard AES connections that we’re using today running over Cat-5 or coax directly back to our frames.”

In the past, fiber networks, while offering high bandwidth, have typically been point-to-point. But for MediorNet, which supports any kind of topology, Riedel has changed that paradigm, said Lommori, offering the potential for more decentralized fiber network designs.

MediaorNet has been adopted for in-house operations at various sports venues, said Lommori. Riedel’s most recent intercom system installs include the Honda Anaheim Center in Anaheim, CA, and American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX.

“MediorNet is based on several frames interconnected on fiber. Once a resource comes into that network, then it’s available to be output anywhere else in the network in real time. The path that it takes and how it gets there is not something that the user needs to worry about. It can be output on multiple frames, just like if you were using a router, but it’s over great distances,” he said.

There are caveats to the bright future of converged networks in stadiums and arenas, according to Benn. “The AV integrator doesn’t get to control their own destiny in terms of when things are turned on and how things are configured, so it makes it much more complex for the installation process.” On a recent project, he related, “I was standing there on Wednesday but the network connections weren’t made until Thursday.”

Benn, who teaches a SynAudCon networking class, advocates learning the IT lingo: “The typical AV contractor doesn’t know how to speak the language. The IT contractor asks how much bandwidth they need, do they need Layer 2 or 3 routing, how many ports do they need. We’re realizing that the audio industry needs to talk IT more.”

Steve Harvey has been west coast editor for Pro Sound News since 2000 and also contributes to TV Technology and Pro Audio Review. He has 30 years of hands-on experience with a wide range of audio production technologies.

Arena Installation Showcase

Centre Bell
Montreal, QC, Canada

Consultant and/or Installer

Create a visually dynamic opening ceremony to entertain fans at the Montreal Canadiens’ home games.

Equipment Highlights

12 double-stacked 14,000 lumens Barco HDX-W14 projectors, featuring more than 10 million pixels with double the brightness levels on the 200’ x 85’ surface. In addition to the giant video panorama created from six seamlessly edge-blended graphic zones, the show features special effects like image tracking on players as they enter the rink, 3D branding and graphic elements combined with dynamic motion lighting—all made possible by the Barco projectors’ extreme pixel density.

BC Place
Vancouver, BC, Canada

Consultant and/or Installer
Clair Brothers Audio Systems

The first hybrid project that uses Audinate’s Dante protocol to allow two different manufacturers’ systems to interoperate fully, sharing audio and control signals via a common digital audio transport protocol.

Equipment Highlights

Two Peavey MediaMatrix NION n3 processors deliver the program audio via the Dante transport protocol to 150 power amplifiers, while six NION nX processors provide control and monitoring of individual amplifier outputs back to the system operator. In addition, the MediaMatrix nControl allows the system operators to monitor the actual audio from any amplifier in any zone in the facility, and passes control information to the various NIONs in the system through project linking, which allows the system to be broken apart into logical sections that can operate independently of one another. A custom control interface developed within NWare software allows the system operator to choose, from a graphic representation of each of the line array hangs and the scoreboard clusters, the high, mid, or low frequency output of each power amplifier, and confirm in real time that the amplified signal is indeed being output by the power amplifier. This is accomplished by ducting the post-processing and post-amplification signals to high current analog-to-digital convertors, and routing and controlling those streams via NWare. The outbound streams are then concentrated back down the same fiber links that supply the source audio content.

University of Southern Florida
Tampa, FL

Consultant and/or Installer
Magnum Audio Group

New powerful sound systems for three of the campus’s sporting facilities: a 4500-seat baseball stadium, a 1500-seat softball stadium, and a 750-seat soccer stadium.

Equipment Highlights

Baseball Stadium: Eight Community WET-Series W2-2W8 dual eight-inch systems, two R1-66 medium-throw loudspeakers, two R.5SUB subwoofers, four Crown DSi-4000 amplifiers, DBX Drive Rack 260, and Ashly MX-508 eight-channel rack mount mixer. Softball Stadium: Five Community WET W2-2W8 systems, two R1-66 medium-throw loudspeakers, two R.5SUB subwoofers, three Crown DSi-4000 amps, a DBX Drive Rack 260, and Ashly MX-508 mixer. Soccer Stadium: Four R1-66 medium-throw loudspeakers, four R.5-99 short-throw systems, two Crown DSi-4000 amps, Ashly MX-508 mixer, DBX Drive Rack 260.

University of Idaho’s Kibbie Dome
Moscow, ID

Consultant and/or Installer
Pro Media / UltraSound

A new press box and audio control room on the north side of the stadium required the university to update many of the antiquated systems throughout the facility. The three primary systems that were brought up to date included the in-house broadcast cabling system, the audio system front end-DSP, and CATV distribution and displays.

Steve Harvey ( is editor-at-large for Pro Sound News and also contributes to TV Technology, MIX, and other Future titles. He has worked in the pro audio industry since November 1980.