On top of the world

Europe’s most modern multipurpose venue has recently opened its gates for the first controlled events and testing. Chris Fitzsimmons reports on an extensive multimedia infrastructure installed by Comm-Tec at Berlin’s O2 World arena.

Since breaking ground in September 2009 one of the world’s largest multipurpose arenas was built in Berlin as a venue for headline sporting events, live entertainment and concerts. O2 World is so large it even boasts its own wharf on the river Spree. To put the scale of the site in perspective, the Brandenburg Gate would fit quite happily inside the arena, along with 17,000 people. The venue also includes 59 entertainment, conference and party suites.

On the technical side, the equipment was not only selected to provide the best possible acoustic and visual experience, but also to allow the transformation from concert hall to sports arena in the shortest possible time. The Berlin arena is the home to both the Eisbären hockey team and the ALBA basketball side.

O2 World is owned and operated by the Anschutz Entertainment Group as part of a chain of nearly 20 venues in partnership with Telefonica O2 Germany. The group also planned the entire media technology system and operates it day to day, employing a worldwide team of technology specialists to look after all its venues.

Efficiency was the name of the game when it came to designing the Arena and its facilities. The premises were constructed to reduce the energy needs for climate control, the roof and walls are insulated far above the requirements of German energy saving regulations, minimising heat losses. In addition the windows are coated with a special sun-screening glazing to prevent over heating.

Media technology also plays its part in this effort. Digital signage plays a central role in the building’s design helping visitors to move around the building efficiently and safely. As with several of the other O2 venues, extensive use is made of LED displays around the site. There is a 20x12m wall at the back of the site and the whole front window of the main entrance is covered by a 120 x 12m low-resolution LED screen. Each window serves as a component of the huge grid of more than 300,000 LEDs, at a distance this appears as a huge picture but the windows are still not obstructed from within. The pixel pitch is 20cm high by 90mm wide – with the LEDs being attached to the window frames. Each pixel consists of 19 LEDs with a 16.7m colour RGB colour palette. A further low-res LED wall is located in the lounge.

The multifunction arena itself is crowned with an eight-sided array of LED displays supplied by Mitsubishi. Each of the eight screens in the centre cluster consists of four modules of the company’s AVTIDT10 product. The corner screens provide 11.2m2 of viewing area, the central ones a larger 14.3m2. The total viewing area of the whole assembly, including the ring screen around its base, is some 125m2 and it weighs an astonishing 23 tonnes including the supporting structure.

Running around the arena’s balcony is a 360° perimeter band. It can take logos, text, animated graphics and multimedia content. It’s ¾ of a metre high and 300 metres long. Supplied by Daktronics, it is made up of the company’s perimeter display product.

The sound system was specified and designed under the leadership of Greg Pauker from the Anschutz Group. He selected products from the Harman Professional range. The main arena system is based on JBL VP 7215/95 DPCN self-powered loudspeakers (76 of them!). These are all digitally controlled over a CobraNet network. Bass reinforcement is performed by AE 6128S Subwoofers, driven by a sextet of Crown I-Tech 8000 amplifiers.
Soundweb London BLU-80s from BSS Audio are responsible for signal routing and distribution – the VP 7215s are fed with CobraNet signals, and the I-Tech amps for the subs with AES/EBU. A Soundcraft Vi4 digital desk serves as the central control unit for mixing, whilst numerous BSS Audio AR-133 digital interface boxes are used to take in audio sources. The arena is also provided with a huge number of wired and wireless AKG microphones. Each component of the system is connected via HiQnet and is visible on a common user interface, giving the user an intuitive and efficient overview of things.

Parallel to the performance system, there is a 100v PA/VA solution in the arena, constructed from JBL 2446 drivers as well as 2382A and 2385 horns and driven by Bosch’s Praesideo solution.

In the luxurious suites, loges and restaurants JBL Control 26CT and 24CT ceiling loudspeakers provide a pleasant atmosphere for guests, and in the Chairman’s suite, an exclusive area for the owners, a 5.1 system is made up of Control 26 and Control 19CS ceiling speakers, driven by Crown CTS amplifiers. Further JBL and dbx products are also used to outfit the changing rooms and wet areas for the arena.

Flexible Infrastructure

One of the main focuses of attention when designing the media technology system was to create an infrastructure, which was prepared for internal and third party productions of any sort or size. It was also required to facilitate switching between uses as quickly as possible. 28 local I/O points were installed providing access to audio, video, intercom and control networks. These run over a combination of analogue and digital copper, as well as fibre optic systems. There is also an OB vehicle audio feed in the loading zone, and a massive central patch-room to govern the massive network. “In our experience it is best to provide a flexible media infrastructure with interfaces at all possible positions for cameras or additional equipment,” said Greg Pauker. “Indeed, whilst the costs are initially high, they are soon recouped by our ability to provide television stations and third party productions with the facilities they require.”

Racks and enclosures in the O2 arena were supplied by Middle Atlantic, via its distributor Comm-Tec, which also assembled much of the infrastructure. Over 20 units of the company’s MRK-4436 equipment were installed across the digital signage server room, the patch room and the central audio control room.

The full scale of the infrastructure is evident from a quick glance in the rack room. Five racks are filled with simply connector arrays. Glass fibre interfaces in monomode and multimode terminations, triax and hybrid-HDTV camera interfaces, BNC, Cat 7 network and analogue audio interfaces are all present in large quantities. Each of the 28 I/O boxes is also fed back to this room so that the signals from any box in the arena can be routed to any other. “It is simply a passive network, there are no active components and no predefined limits on which equipment can be used. The client can decide for himself exactly which connections he needs to where,” explained Greg Pauker. “For this reason we are not committed to special formats.”

With the completion of the O2 World the Anschutz Entertainment Group has yet another world class venue to be proud of. It can only be hoped that the events match up to the potential of the system.

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