Something’s Brewing in Randburg

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The Urban Brew lighting team.

Take one of South Africa’s most dynamic television studios, mix it with a healthy expansion project, and throw in the need for cutting edge lighting infrastructure technology and what do you get? The answer is Urban Brew’s new Studio premises at Ferndale on Republic, formally known as Brightwater Commons.

When Urban Brew made the decision to move from their old home to their bright and shiny new one, they made the commitment to upgrade their Television Studio infrastructure and technology as well, with the explicit intention that it would put them ahead of any other Television studio complex of their kind in the country. Not only this, but the solution needed to be robust enough to serve them properly for at least the next 10 to 15 years.

When it came to the lighting portion of the project the logical solution was a control and networking infrastructure by ETC. Based on similar system architectures that have been employed at the BBC and Sky in the United Kingdom, the ETC system was designed to be able to control any studio from any control room. The initial phase of the installation incorporated Studios 1, 3, 6 and 9 which all came online during last year. Further expansion with new studios is planned throughout this year as well.

But having the right solution is only half of the equation. It still needs to be installed, commissioned and handed over and the tight deadlines on this project made that an even more pressing task. Taking on the challenge was Protea Technology who were awarded the tender for the entire project. To assist Protea with the lighting portion, Prosound was commissioned, the Prosound Projects and Installation Team was headed by David Butcher, David’s task was to oversee the lighting portion of the project which included no less than four studios’ worth of lighting control, networking infrastructure and power distribution.

A particularly interesting feature of the project was the idea that any Studio could be controlled from any Control room at any given time. This meant there was always going to be a heavy reliance on networked IP based systems running through a central switch. Hard-line DMX was not an option for the project and neither was placing bulky external processing units all around the complex.  Fortunately, because ETC’s Eos family of consoles do all their processing on board, all that is then required is the distribution of that signal around the facility. For that there are the ETC Gateway Nodes which can be clamped to the overhead grid where they convert sACN signal to DMX before sending the signal along its way to the fixtures. That makes the rig versatile as you can have any port be any universe you choose, at any point in the rig you would like.

But the challenges didn’t stop there. Urban Brew’s fixture inventory represented a mix of LED, Tungsten and Halogen Moving Lights meaning simple dimmers were not going to cut it. The answer, once again, came from ETC in the form of their ColorSource ThruPower units which can switch between dimming, relay and constant current circuits, all via RDM or at the rack itself. Each studio was installed with 4 x ColorSource 24 circuit Wall units except for studio 9 which received 8 x ColorSource 24 circuit Wall units.

That’s a total of 480 circuits, across four studios and control rooms, each with their own console and over fifty gateway nodes to distribute DMX. It’s no wonder that David Butcher’s eyes tear up a little when you say the phrase ‘Urban Brew’ near him.

The Urban Brew Studios project represents a massive leap forward in the South African broadcasting space. It is the biggest installation of its kind outside of the SABC which was built in the 1970s. It is easily the most modern facility of its kind in the country and plays host to productions which range from the National Lottery Draw to YoTV and The Voice South Africa.

Clearly a facility of this calibre deserves nothing but the best. With their new ETC infrastructure, backed up by the potent partnership between Prosound and Protea Technology, they can rest assured that they’ve got exactly that.

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