ArtAV provide bulletproof HD playback System for BBC Planet Earth Live Tour

ArtAv were approached to produce an easy to use multi channel HD video and audio playback system for the BBC Planet Earth Live. The Planet Earth Live tour was playing 6 dates across North America with Orchestras at each location and would be conducted by composer George Fenton. The tour was touring without technical staff from the UK and this meant that the dual HD system had to be easy to use, compact and of course reliable, with full technical support if there were any problems.

After initial meetings it became obvious that because this was not a completed project, as the edit of the live show had not even started! To accommodated this ArtAV planned for a dual stream HD system capable of 8 channels of audio and instant switch redundancy, so if there where any problems with playback a backup could be switched to in under a second.

The base for the Playback system was a pair of Apple QuadCore MacPros with 8Gb of Ram and Solid State Hard Drives for blistering hard disk access and read speeds. On top of this package a pair of Presonus Fire Studio Projects were used for their impeccable audio playback. The show was then programmed in Figure 52’s Qlab software. This setup allowed the show to be easily operated with multiple cues being fired in simultaneously, as well as changes to audio and video fade times, audio levels, and adding additional video and audio cues. A custom controller was then built for Qlab which allowed hardware based parallel control of 2 computers. This allowed both main machine and back-up machine could be controlled simultaneously; this was built on reliable USB technology.

All of this was achieved on tight deadlines after edit deadlines slipped and the score was still not fully completed. The first rehearsal allowed the first testing of the system. The setup performed extremely well with both audio and video looking and sounding amazing.

One benefit of our system was that it was fairly easy to program multiple cue points with in a section, this allowed to George to move backwards and forwards through the score without having to wait for tapes to be cued up and finding the right time in digital playback systems, a simple keypress fired in all the cues a bar or 2 before they where needed allowing for easy rehearsals.

At this point as the score was finalised and streamer files (video files with visual scoring marks on) were remade to the final score there was only a week before the playback rack would need shipping to the US.

ArtAv travelled to London 36 hours before the rack was due to be picked up to be shipped to the states. At this point we still needed final streamer video files as well as some updated audio files. These files where finally delivered 20 hours before the rack was to be picked up. After working through the night the video files where encoded, checked, and programmed into the playback system. Once this was done and the show fully checked cue to cue, the setup was backed up to a local hard drive and the cloned onto the second playback machine so both machines where copies of each machine.

ArtAv’s hard work paid off when the rack was delivered on time and ready to be shipped.

But during testing of the final show with George it was realised that a section of audio was missing and the rack was now heading across the Atlantic! With access to the full back up of the show, Steve was able to amend the playback file and use Dropbox ™ to send the file to Mike Runice the operator in the states. This updated multi channel audio and video file was then dropped into the playback system fixing the lost audio problem.

At this point we where just waiting for the sigh of relief after the first show but that was not to be the case. After the full playback rack had shipped to the states it was necessary to have one last full orchestra rehearsal to make sure George was happy with the score, streams and how the show fitted together. Out of the rehearsal it became obvious that some timings in the show would need changing. There where 2 ways of doing this, one was to talk and operator through making the changes to the playback file! The other was to make changes using the cloned show disk we had in the UK and then Dropbox ™ the files to the states. Steve decided that this was the simplest solution and after double checking all of the show changes, the file was sent to the US and the playback rack updated.

On June 25th at Dallas: Myerson Symphony Hall at 19:30 the Dallas Symphony Orchestra premiered BBC Planet Earth Live to rave reviews, and we where all able to breathe out as the rack behaved impeccably with stunning picture & sound.