Monday, March 25, 2013

The end of Television Centre - what's changed since I was there?

I joined the Beeb in 1988 and spent the first five years of my career in and around TV Centre. My first BBC posting was to Lime Grove studios (which was a few hundred metres behind the centre) with the occasional foray up to Studio 2 to do camera control on Newsnight. 
Although it's now twenty years since I worked for the BBC I still hold the corporation in great fondness for training me and always encouraging best practice from an engineering point of view. I don't think I could have had a better start in the industry. I honestly believe the BBC is a civilizing force and an example of just how good and truthful a broadcaster can be. They are without equal in my view.

Anyhow - just a few notes on how things have changed since 1988;

Videotape - 2", 1" and 1/2" BetaSP (just coming in) and UMatic or even VHS for offline and viewing copies. Since I worked in news some footage arrived on UMaticSP - BVU900 style.

Digital Video - when I started there was very little equipment that was digital; even less so that was run by a microprocessor. PCs were never seen as everything was built for the purpose (and cost £100k as a consequence!). Aside from D1 videotape (that was still very much being demo'ed at trade shows) you found digital video inside equipment, not used to interconnect it;
  • TBCs - Timebase Correctors for analogue videotape - typically a few lines of 4Fsc storage
  • Frame Synchronisers - used to time free-running incomming feeds into a studio
  • DVEs - typically three frames of storage that would allow you to re-size or at best 'curve' a video signal
  • Painting system - only Quantel Paintbox 7001 series at the Beeb but there were others - Spaceward Matisse was the competitor.
Audio - still mostly analogue recorded on 1/4" or 1" 24-track (Studer style). DAT was starting to come in and there was Sony F1 for sending stereo digital audio over a video channel. We also had SIS (Sound in Syncs) - a way of sending digital audio on a video signal. NICAM had just been launched (14-bit, 32Kits/sec companded to 10-bits = 728kbit/sec) - I hadn't heard of audio compression at this point!

Video Cable - at the BBC this was either PSF1/3 or PSF1/2 for long runs; oh, when we expected so little from coax!

Studios - This is a picture of Studio 2 from 1988
Notice the Grass Valley GVG-1600 vision mixer - it's the one you see in Star Wars in the Death Star controlling the destruction of Alderan!
Notice the VT100 terminal at the left hand side of the desk; that was connected to the BASYS newsroom network running on six PDP-11/84s (IIRC) and controlled scripts, the AutoScript prompters and even gave us all email.
The DVE was a Quantel 5000 that occupied a whole equipment bay!

Cameras - they were all tube cameras when I started with the attendant headache calibrating them for a studio shoot and they required two engineers to control them - one for the "racks" (blacks and whites) and one for colour control (referred to in the Beeb as "knobbing" - I did that a lot!). The cameras shown here are a pair of Link 110s from my time at Line Grove. We had Link 125s in TC2 - they were all a nightmare! When I moved to Carlton in 1993 I was amazed how good the Sony BVP-7 CCD cameras were to line-up and control.

I don't have a whole load of photos from the time; we didn't have cell 'phone or digital cameras and I have a feeling it wasn't considered good manners to take photos at work. I do have a picture from 1992 from the big wall of Stage 5 (which was under construction pretty much the whole time I was in News VT maintenance in the Spur).

This wall was subsequently obscured by Stage 6 which was built in the nineties.
In summary there is no other place a trainee engineer could get experience of:
  • Studios
  • Post Production
  • Outside Broadcast
  • Telecine
  • Transmission

Trainee engineers of 1988!

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