For Panasonic, Tokyo 2020 is the latest stage in its nearly 30-year-long history as an official provider of broadcasting equipment for the Olympic Games. Yet, despite this familiar relationship, Panasonic isn’t resting on its laurels: it has always innovated to improve the quality of its broadcasting technology, and this time will prove no exception. Here are some steps that Panasonic has taken to make sure you’re getting the best-quality broadcast possible this summer.
Panasonic’s AV Technology Helps Take Olympic Broadcasting to the Next Level
Since Barcelona 1992, Panasonic has switched from analog to digital, from Standard to High Definition, and from tape to memory cards, and it also experimented with 3D broadcast in 2012. This year, Panasonic is moving forward in two important ways: for one, baseband serial digital interface (SDI) is partially being upgraded to Internet Protocol (IP), which allows much greater bandwidth to be transmitted more efficiently. 4K and 8K are making their official debuts, creating much clearer and more realistic images than HD. The official real-time feed is in Full HD and 4K, marking an Olympic Games first, with a special 8K feed available for national broadcasters.
This simple description masks what is a truly enormous undertaking, the largest of any Olympic Games yet. For the Olympics, 339 events in 42 different venues are being recorded, and the footage will be processed in the International Broadcast Centre building (IBC), set up for the Olympics in Tokyo’s Bay Area. The number of international broadcasting signals have increased: 76 Full HD signals and 45 4K signals are being used, compared to 55 (Full HD only) for Rio 2016. And then add the Paralympics, which with 540 events is an even bigger undertaking. While the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) and rights holder networks in each country are responsible for broadcasting, Panasonic is playing an important role in constructing, operating, and providing technical support for this sprawling infrastructure, making the most of its technical and commercial knowhow.
Delivering More Footage With Less Electricity
Within the IBC, there are usually countless machines in numerous rack rooms that process footage for national networks, all with distinct broadcasts that can cater to the interests of their domestic audiences. These rooms must also be air-conditioned to prevent overheating, which is an energy-intensive undertaking. Lightening this energy load meant making improvements both in software and hardware. One major innovation this year was to concentrate much of the processing in “centralized technical areas” to cut down on duplication and further reduce energy use, and to help make this proposal a reality, Panasonic completely reconfigured the system design and how the machines were laid out for the CTAs.
The Eight Samurai
Overseeing the planning and management fell to a team of eight in Panasonic’s Broadcast Systems Division. “As the world grapples with the coronavirus crisis, we have been taking care every day to keep the virus at bay and safely bring this project to completion,” recounts the team leader. Tight deadlines have meant that a single employee infection had the potential to derail the team’s work entirely, but thanks to strict anti-infection measures, weekly testing, and a robust system of backups, the team has gotten this far without incident.
Thankfully, the high stakes and pressure forged a strong camaraderie between the eight, like a band of samurai. “As we do our part to help bring about the Olympic and Paralympic Games, we understand keenly that failure is not an option,” the team leader adds. “The burden of responsibility is heavy, but we’ve been given a chance to work with new technologies and take on challenges together on the world’s biggest stage, and we’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.” The Panasonic team hopes that the technological advances made for the Olympics will mark a step forward for the field of broadcasting, and that the next generation can revel in the passion and excitement of the Olympic and Paralympic movement.
Helping Create the Most Immersive Olympic and Paralympic Broadcast to Date
Panasonic hopes that its technology can deliver more immersive and realistic footage, fulfilling its goal of “sharing the passion” of the Games with the world. The role of the broadcasting team, of course, is to run quietly in the background, offering smooth and seamless simultaneous transmission. If all of Panasonic’s innovations, all of the team’s elbow grease, and all of the machines whirring in the IBC escape attention throughout the Games, then that will be the sign of a project well executed. All you will notice, as you cheer on your favorite athletes along with your friends and family, is a crystal-clear image and sound quality that will keep you riveted to your seat.