Saudi-based systems integrator First Gulf Company has secured a deal to deliver a full 1080p HD broadcast facility that includes the installation of a whopping 96 cameras in Makkah. When completed, the Kingdom will boast the largest broadcast control room in the world. In an exclusive interview with Vijaya Cherian, FGC shares the details Every […]
Saudi-based systems integrator First Gulf Company has secured a deal to deliver a full 1080p HD broadcast facility that includes the installation of a whopping 96 cameras in Makkah. When completed, the Kingdom will boast the largest broadcast control room in the world. In an exclusive interview with Vijaya Cherian, FGC shares the details
Every year, millions of pilgrims head to Makkah and Madinah in Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj and the Umrah. The logistics of accommodating such a large number of people has always posed a huge challenge to the Saudi government. Security, civil works and the ease of movement through the main mosque are part of the challenges but the most important of all is the need to provide the pilgrims who travel from far and wide, the ability to worship unhindered. At present, the Haram Mosque in Makkah can accommodate a little over a million worshippers at any given point in time. The Saudi government has, therefore, embarked on a massive extension project to expand the area of Al Haram Mosque to accommodate more than 2.5 million people at a time and create better facilities for them. One of the most important aspects of this project is a USD 30 million 1080/50p HD broadcast project that has been awarded to Saudi-based broadcast systems integrator First Gulf Company (FGC). This project will be undertaken in phases to coincide with the extension plan.
General Manager and Managing Partner at First Gulf, Walid Al Moukhtar, says: “FGC is no newcomer to such projects or the challenges they pose. We worked on the first broadcast installation at Makkah two years ago and have secured most of the broadcast projects from the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information in the past, owing to our expertise in this field. We are fully cognisant of the specific needs of this environment and are able to cater to its unique requirements.”
The Makkah extension itself is no small project. The grand plan will not materialise until 2020, according to newspaper reports, but it includes several interim phases that have closer deadlines, and the broadcast projects are part of that.
The expansion of the Haram in Makkah will see the Mataf area expanded and its number of floors increased to six, according to Dr Muhammad Al-Khozaim, Deputy Head of the Presidency for the Two Holy Mosques.
In previous reports in the Saudi Gazette, Al-Khozaim stated that the Ottoman expansion of Mataf will be removed and the area will be expanded on three sides. The Holy Mosque, or Al Haram, will initially consist of four floors with two more floors due to be added in the future.
The Holy Mosque expansion project consists of three main areas, with the first being the expansion of Al Haram itself to accommodate more worshippers. The second phase includes the development of exterior areas and the third involves civil support services including electricity and water stations and so on.
FGC will provide state-of-the-art TV and radio broadcast facilities to cover the worship that takes place at the Holy Place live on Al-Quran Al-Kareem channel, a Saudi TV channel. The project includes equipping the broadcast facility with a new control room with complete broadcast equipment, and supplying and integrating a whopping 96 outdoor broadcast cameras on remote P/T heads in the new extension as well as the present Holy Mosque.
The first project also HD — included 27 cameras, of which 22 were motorised with PTZ heads. It included a 64×64 video routing system and 3.5 M/E vision mixer with an uplinking facility. This project, which spanned an area of 250,000 sqms covered the Holy Mosque and the surrounding piazzas. It was integrated, tested and commissioned in three months to cover the Hajj season in 2009.
The first phase, however, was only a precursor of more things to come.
“The objective of this new project is to equip the Holy place with a 96-camera broadcast facility that can cover both the existing Holy Mosque and its extension in 1080P High Definition,” explains Orlando Castro, Director of Engineering at FGC.Castro is responsible for the design and integration of the project.
“The new broadcast facility will be installed in a new control room within the extension far from the existing one. It shall replace the existing broadcast facility.”
Several solutions are part of this project but an important element is the Hitachi SK HD1200 (1080P/50) cameras.
Castro says the cameras were not just chosen “because they are reliable” but because “they can also be mounted on robotic P/T head control systems, and have an open system that allows for minor modifications to achieve the required remote control architecture”.
The 96 cameras will be fitted with a range of lenses from the portable wide to the l100x zoom box lenses. Thus far, only ten cameras have been deployed. The cameras will be mounted on robotic P/T heads from Vinten Radamec. A weatherproof system will be provided to carry the heavy payload of the cameras and the protective camera housing.
Although this is the main part of this project, FGC will eventually increase the number of cameras as the contractor progresses with the next phase of the extension of the Holy Mosque. In addition to this, FGC will also put in place a disaster recovery (DR) system at the site.
Naim Saidi, CEO of FGC, says the deal reflects the trust and the confidence the client has in FGCs capabilities “to execute this sophisticated and unique project”.
“We secured this deal because of the high quality of our proposal along with our reputation and past experience in undertaking such projects. These are major criteria in selecting the right systems integrator. This particular installation will help broadcast live in High Definition all of the events and activities inside the Holy Mosque and the city of Makkah with strategically positioned robotic cameras.
“All of the projects we have undertaken in the Kingdom are HD projects and we have constantly innovated to meet the specific requirements of the end user and the unique nature of the Makkah environment.”
Coming back to the project, the cameras zoom, focus, pan and tilt movements will be controlled from the central control room. The cameras are placed at a distance of upto 3kms from the control room.
“The cameras that were supplied for the first Makkah project generated lesser heat and consumed lesser power than any cameras on offer at the time,” explains Paddy Roache, Director and General Manager, Hitachi Kokusai Electric Europe.
“The arrival of the first Hitachi cameras coincided with the delivery of the 24/7 transmissions from the Two Holy Mosques. This requirement in tough temperature conditions placed huge challenges to the systems and to the support teams but we met them each time. The cameras have been enhanced constantly in line with the FGC feedback from all our installations in Saudi TV. The cameras have also been improved with software upgrades in the field,” he adds.
The Tokyo-based Hitachi design teams led by General Manager, Nobuo Murata visited Saudi Arabia several times to plan and enhance the camera design and to listen to the feedback based on the Saudi TV installations.
“The dialogues revolved around camera housings, robotics, temperature control and airflow management in addition to the workflow and picture quality. FGCs engineering team has huge experience working with our cameras leading to some critical enhancements. FGC suggested a method of air flow control and management with the ability to control and monitor the cameras remotely,” adds Roache.
Since then, the two engineering teams in Makkah/Riyadh and Tokyo worked together to produce a design modification across the latest Hitachi camera generation.
“These 16-bit 3G/1080 progressive camera systems are so flexible that the new design was completed and incorporated in the production cameras in a very short time,” explains Roache, adding that the SK-HD1200s were also chosen for the worldwide ATP tennis tour in more than 20 cities around the world.
In Makkah, these cameras are connected to their base stations in the control room using hybrid optical fibre camera cables that can reach more than three kms in length when the camera is deriving power from the base station. The same camera cable will be used to link the P/T heads to their central control.
Local power (the nearest power source to the camera position) will be used to power the robotic heads that can be remotely switched “on and off” from the control room. The outputs of the base stations of the cameras will be fed to a 256 x 256 routing matrix, a 128-input vision mixer and to the multi-display processors (multiviewer).
“A large control room will be utilised for the live broadcast operation of the system equipped with the most sophisticated and reliable broadcast infrastructure. 96 camera operational control panels will be grouped in one section of the control room with video measuring devices, intercom and router control panels,” explains Castro.
The camera that is being adjusted can be easily viewed in dedicated 21″ LCD monitors located in the front of the CCU operators through a programmable GPI interface triggered by the joystick override of the camera OCP.
The largest section of the control room will be used for the main control desks and wall monitoring. The main control desks will comprise two rows. The first row will be utilised by the director, the technical director and up to 12 robotic camera operators. The second row will be used by the graphics and server playout operators.
Tape-based HD/SD playback and recording will also be part of the system in order to provide a failover to the video server system and to provide opportunity to use old legacy tape format. One 42-fader digital audio mixing console will be used for the prayer and for collecting ambience sound inside the holy place.
“Adjacent to the main control room will be a TV studio and a radio studio for Islamic programmes. Each studio will have its own equipment and a corresponding control room. The final output from the centre will be sent via satellite by its own uplink facility and via fibre network to the Riyadh TV centre,” explains Castro.
The present phase is limited to the Makkah Holy Mosque.
However, CEO Saidi says a futher extension to another side of the Holy Mosque is scheduled for the future.
“The new extension will require at least another 20 cameras and we have incorporated this requirement into the new control room,” he says.
FGC is working closely with its key partners to meet the unusual demand of the project in order to ensure that the cameras can operate 24/7.
“Hitachi is making sure that its cameras can be operated at a temperature of more than 55 degree Celsius during summer. Vitec is also ensuring the same for its robotic heads that will carry payloads ranging from 35 kg to 65 kg,” explains Castro.
The extension, however, is still under construction and is scheduled for completion at the end of the year. Once it is ready, FGC will require nine months to complete the integration and testing. “The time duration to complete the project will depend on the readiness of the site,” explains Castro.
“Once the new system is up and running, FGC will utilise the old system to be part of a Disaster Recovery System that it will eventually deploy,” adds Castro.
“Initially, there was a suggestion to integrate the old system with the new one. However, due to the 1080P format requirement of the new system, this recommendation was ruled out.”
One of the major challenges in this project has been to keep the cameras and the peripheral devices that will be installed in the sun, working 24/7 despite the high temperature in the country.
“Our engineering department is leading a team of engineers to develop a weatherproof camera box that can maintain the inside temperature at not more than 50 degree Celsius during summer and implement a temperature and component failure alarm that will automatically alert the control room should a failure occur,” says Saidi.
“We have been working closely with Hitachi to modify their camera head and the CCU in order to monitor alarms of external devices at various camera locations,” he adds.
Cabling again has been a major challenge in this project, as the distance of the cameras from the control room ranges from 500 meters to two kilometres.
“Hybrid camera cables that carry all of the control and signal information need to pass through many cable containments before reaching their final destination,” explains Castro, “and these need to be secured. We need to ensure there are no damages. For this, we undertook a series of fiber cable tests to check their stability and reliability so as to ensure we are laying the right cables.”
When completed, this project will boast the largest broadcast control room in the world in a single installation. Post installation, Saudi TVs engineers, producers, directors and other staff at the Al-Quran Al-Kareem channel will be trained in the operation, maintenance and the configuration of the whole HD system.