by Peter Daffarn, Managing Director, Photon Beard
On 23 January 2013, the highly anticipated Mathrubhumi News Channel, part of a 24-hour Malayalam-language cable television network based in Trivandrum, capital city of the state of Kerala on the southwest coast of India, was officially launched. Also launched that day was India’s first wirelessly controlled studio lighting/dimming system, all provided by Photon Beard.
Mathrubhumi News has a potential audience of more than 33 million Malayalam speakers and its newsroom is the largest in the state with regional bureaus established across Kerala as well as the major capitals of Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai. In addition to hourly bulletins covering international, national and state-level news, the channel now broadcasts a variety of current affairs programmes including those focusing on business and sport as well as special features for women, children and youth.
Mathrubhumi Managing Director M P Veerendrakumar and Managing Editor P V Chandran commemorated the channel’s launch with the traditional lighting of a lamp at the Trivandrum-based studio, but the commemorative lamp was not the only light that illuminated the new venture on the day. Also switched on was a new studio lighting and dimming solution that is currently unique to Mathrubhumi, and to India.
In a broadcast first for the entire continent, Mathrubhumi News is using wirelessly controlled lighting technology from Photon Beard. Our “Highlight” wireless DMX-controlled fluorescent lighting has been deployed not just for the main News Studio but for Mathrubhumi’s Programme Studio and each Regional bureau studio.
We worked with our partner in the region, RGB Broadcasting, who had been appointed as Mathrubhumi Group’s technology partner for the development, engineering and system integration of the new channel. RGB Broadcasting is well-known and respected for proposing and carrying out innovative broadcast solutions throughout the continent, and this project has been no exception.
We were chosen to conceive and deliver the crucial lighting systems for this project for a number of reasons, including personnel recommendations; the successful use of Photon Beard products in other studios by Mathrubhumi technical staff; and our reputation for cost effective, energy efficient lighting solutions at a reasonable price.
Along with my colleagues at RGB Broadcasting, I first visited representatives from Mathrubhumi Group and toured the proposed studios in May 2012. Amongst other topics in a wide-ranging discussion about lighting options during this visit, I brought up the idea of Mathrubhumi News being the first studio in India to take advantage of our “Wi-Light” wireless DMX control option and distributed IGBT (Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor) dimmers. Because Mathrubhumi Group has always been receptive to new ideas and innovation, they embraced the idea immediately. In fact, we examined the situation, proposed the solution and prepared a quote on day one. On day two, we shook hands on the deal.
The benefit of wireless DMX to Mathrubhumi – and any other users for that matter - is that wireless DMX makes installation and future adjustments very, very quick and very, very easy. It’s extremely portable. Instead of having to supply a complex and heavily populated DMX network with splitters and outlets at strategic points scattered around a grid and studio floor, you simply equip each DMX lighting device with a receiver module and connect the lighting desk DMX output to a transmitter. Once a device is paired with a transmitter, voil, it can be moved around a studio with no need to find new unobtrusive cable routes each time, which is more of a time-consuming problem (some would say, nuisance) than you might think. What’s more, the wireless control approach pretty much gets rid of those messy and cumbersome cables altogether.
The use of distributed, wireless DMX dimming solves an age-old problem of where to put the dimmers. Most dimmers have to be housed in a separate “dimmer room” because they emit a mechanised, audible buzz or hum. IGBT dimmers, on the other hand, are completely silent in operation, which means they can be housed within the studio. The space normally allocated to house the dimmers can now be used for something else, and space is always at a premium in these studios.
Another significant advantage is that the dimmers do not require heavy chokes, which are commonly found in conventional dimmers. Because the IGBT dimmers are silent, there are no large harmonic spikes to filter out. This means that the dimmer packs are substantially lighter and therefore suitable for suspending from the in-studio lighting grid. Once those distributed dimmers are fitted with our “Wi-Light” wireless DMX receivers, installation is as simple as plugging into a suitable permanent power outlet in the grid.
In the case of luminaires, the choice of tungsten Fresnel, of which there are 65 in total, was dictated by the likely program content to be made with each studio. Within the main broadcasting centre at Trivandrum there are three. The News Studio is the hub for Mathrubhumi’s 24 hour live news studio with three main sets and up to eight presenters.
The Program Studio is designed for recorded discussion type programs, complete with an audience. The Regional Studio is equipped as live studios to cover, as you would expect, local news and business
The requirement for each studio was for an energy efficient, cost effective broadcast lighting solution that would allow flexibility of operation. The majority of luminaires we provided are fluorescent fixtures supplemented with previously mentioned tungsten Fresnel for hard sources, again, all wirelessly controlled. Within the Program Studio we added some profile luminaires for set decoration, but the main set within this studio features LED colour-change lighting, which is controlled via the lighting desk.
For the larger two larger studios, RBG recommended Cwmbran, Wales-based Zero 88’s “Solution XL” lighting control desk. The smaller Regional Studio takes advantage of Zero 88’s simple Jester 24/48. The Solution XL provided all the flexibility Mathrubhumi wanted because they can operate either as a simple two-preset, 48-channel desk or a 96-way, single preset desk. Having said that, with around 600 presets available on sub-masters, the Solution XL was perfect for how Mathrubhumi planned to operate. Essentially each presenter has his or her own page of sub-masters, and each sub-master is assigned a particular set or presenter position. For example, sub-master Page 3, Fader 10 is always Presenter A, sitting on Set 2 in Position 3.
Another advantage of the Zero 88 Solution XL desk is the ability to directly control moving lights or LED colour change fixtures. This was not a requirement for the News Studio, but it was a desirable option for the Program Studio where Mathrubhumi envisaged the need to hire in some intelligent lights for specific programs. This would provide their operators with a great deal of flexibility to enhance or alter the mood for a specific programme or topic.
After agreeing the deal in May and waiting for the right moment to begin integrating the various lighting systems, installation began in October and November in conjunction with RGB Broadcasting and Mathrubhumi’s in-house technical team. I was on-hand to provide technical support, but the installation was flawless and all systems are now on air 24-hours a day.
It was gratifying, and interesting project, and not just because it was a first for India. It was a first for Photon Beard, too, as it was our first major deployment of completely wireless lighting and control across a broadcaster’s complete range of studios. The highly positive feedback we have received, both from RGB Broadcast and Mathrubhumi, indicates that this partnership is really a promising one for the Indian broadcast industry as well as the further opportunities for deployment of wireless lighting solutions across the region and, for that matter, the world.
In short, for Photon Beard, the Indian broadcast market and the future of wireless control are looking very bright indeed.