On the 6th May, over 26 million people voted in the UK General Election with an average of 4.7 million people watching the BBC's Election Night coverage. Many remember it being a night of close battles and an uncertain outcome, but QED will remember it as one of the most exciting nights in its 25 year history.

In anticipation of one of the most memorable and closely fought elections in living memory, the BBC decided to plan one of its most technically ambitious live broadcasts ever whilst also breaking new ground with a continuous 20 hour news broadcast to the nation; so it decided to contact QED director, Paul Wigfield, to provide a technical solution to realise its studio display control requirements.

Two thirds of the amazing 360 degree multi-tiered set was covered by two 140ft sections of Martin LC LED and which encompassed two curved 6m wide HD LED walls. The concept was to integrate the set and the LED screens in order to create a multitude of instantly recallable “live” looks to accompany the graphics inputs and outside broadcast feeds, constantly adapting and changing as the results came in. To be able to mix and control content on two 14:1 aspect ratio low resolution LED backdrops and two high resolution HD screens, whilst simultaneously handling 16 live HD broadcast feeds, required something very special.... so the Christie Spyder X20 was called upon in order to overcome the technical complexity.

QED became the first audiovisual company in the world to invest in the new Spyder X20 back in early 2009, and had been working on to how to realise its full potential for many months before the BBC got in touch. The ability to create so many different pixel spaces and to handle so many input sources on 16 layers, all in the one box, made the X20 the obvious tool of choice. However, it was the networking and programming capabilities of the X20 that really enabled the BBC’s vision to be achieved. Not only was every conceivable graphics state and OB camera combination able to be pre-programmed to take into account the variety of possible voting results but each state was also programmed to trigger the 4K source graphics being fed into it from QED’s Catalyst systems.

Adam Bending was tasked with designing and programming the entire technical system – a project that involved five months of planning and three weeks of on-site programming. Once all the rehearsals and programming had been done then all that remained was to transfer all the virtual command settings to the Spyder shotbox controller and to let the BBC to call out the pre-sets as the night’s political events unfolded.

Although the Spyder X20 provided the solution to the initial technical demands it became apparent very early on that even its 16 input/8 output 20 megapixel capacity was not going to be sufficient on its own, so a further array of DVI and HDSDI input matrices needed to be added - all programmed and controlled through Spyder. The Catalyst media servers not only provided the high level playback performance and quality but also enabled the graphics to be manipulated to suit the precise layout of the studio set. Sweeping graphics changes were programmed so that the images travelled seamlessly across all the different LED displays at the same time whilst preserving the native resolution and aspect ratio of each display area.

Having figured out how to make it all work, the next problem was how to effectively monitor all the inputs and outputs: With so many different sources and aspect ratios and so many variations of pre-sets it became clear that it would be difficult to know what source was live and where it was, especially with 20 continuous hours of live broadcast to stay awake through. So Dan Hall provided the solution by designing and building QED’s unique Spyder graphics tally system - “Spyduino”.

Despite the overwhelming array of high technology in the studio, two items that generated a surprisingly high amount of interest were the LG 38” M3800 stretch LCD displays which were used to monitor the two 14:1 aspect ratio outputs that fed the LED studio backdrop. These unique 3.4:1 aspect ratio monitors enabled easy monitoring instead of having to install enormous high resolution plasma screens or multiple additional monitors and extra processing simply to view the incredibly long horizontal strips of graphics. Spyder’s resolution independent processing and unsurpassed scaling capabilities provided the perfect way to feed these monitors.

After three weeks of programming and studio installation, rehearsals and live broadcast technical tests, QED’s work was nearly done. On the night it was simply a question of keeping an eye on the technology and the operation of the pre-sets. It was an exhausting few weeks, but the 6th May will remain as one of the most memorable nights in QED’s history where we were able to push new technology its absolute limit.

Key technical equipment

  • 2 x Christie Spyder X20 video processors
  • 2 x Spyder shotbox remote keyboard controllers
  • 2 x Extron SMX-300 8x8 DVI and HDSDI matrix switchers
  • 2 x Extron 16x16 3G HDSDI matrix switchers
  • 4 x Catalyst Media Servers
  • 4 x Spyduino tally systems
  • 8 x QED DVI/Ethernet fibre channels
  • 4 x Marshall - V-R842P-AFHD twin 8.4" HD LCD monitor racks
  • 2 x LG M3800 38" stretch LCD monitors

External links

BBC Election story on www.guardian.co.uk
BBC Election story on www.tvnewsroom.co.uk
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