Every four years, the Olympic Games provide a showcase for the world's best sporting talent; but with the billions of global viewers it attracts, it's also become the front line for new broadcasting technologies.
Significantly, the 2008 Games in Beijing has been the first to broadcast 100 per cent of the competition in 1080i high definition. The teams behind this effort are almost as vast as those that support the athletes. CNET.com.au travelled to Beijing as a guest of Panasonic, an official worldwide Olympic partner, to see some of the facilities and equipment that are breaking new records on the technology front.
The 24-hour command central of the television coverage is housed at Olympic Park in the International Broadcast Centre (IBC). It is home to 16,000 accredited staff from 180 broadcast media organisations from around the globe. US broadcaster NBC alone brought a team of 3,000 to Beijing, including their own Starbucks coffee crew.
Some 44 feeds are sent back from the 37 Olympic venues to the IBC. From there the Panasonic-supplied professional edit controllers and digital AV mixers facilitate live broadcasts or highlights packages as required by the individual broadcast organisations.
The Video Tape Recording Archive performs the important function of preserving every recorded moment of the games. The video of all performances belong to the IOC for safekeeping, but teams may request footage for review and analysis.
Panasonic's sponsorship includes the provision of 250 recorders, 100 camcorders, and 1,500 monitors for the 2008 Games. Panasonic's DVCPRO HD is the official recording format. The camera equipment no longer uses videotape, but rather accommodates slots for up to five rewritable P2 memory cards with storage capacities up to 64GB. The solid-state cards perform in Bejing's extreme temperatures and with no moving parts, they can withstand vibrations in tough-to-video events such as sailing. They can be interchanged without interrupting the shooting and be viewed and edited instantly.
Panasonic also supplied 25 Astrovision display systems at 18 Beijing venues. These panels now use high-intensity LEDs instead of previously used fluorescent tubes, which Panasonic claims reduces power consumption by more than 75 per cent compared with the models they used at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
The screen at the Water Cube displayed its share of record-breaking action. Most venues had two screens at opposite ends of the seating, alternately displaying results in Chinese and English. In addition to the screens, Panasonic provided 284 audio systems in 41 venues.
Although not part of the Panasonic Olympic partnership, some of the most impressive large screens were built into Pangu Plaza, the "dragon-like" commercial complex adjacent to the Olympic Park. There were screens on either side of the dragon's head building, smaller screens atop each building segment of the body, and a very large screen at ground level in between. The complex boasts of housing a seven-star hotel as well.