The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi has invested US $4million in a content acquisition and media playout solution that will enable HD broadcasts of prayer sessions. Digital Studio reports.
Ten long years have passed since the Grand Mosque, officially called the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque in Abu Dhabi, was first conceived.
Today, after an investment of several hundred million dollars, the Grand Mosque, thought to be the third largest in the world, stands tall and regal against the backdrop of the UAE capital.
The mosque, which can house 40,000 worshippers at a time, recently completed the installation of an entire HD studio to the tune of US $4 million to provide live coverage of prayer sessions.
Abu Dhabi TV was the chief consultant on the project while Tek Signals undertook the systems integration.
"This is perhaps the largest HD studio setup in the Middle East," claims Samer Younes, head of engineering at Abu Dhabi TV. "There is one three-camera HD studio in Dubai but that's it."
The scale of the project can be deciphered simply by sizing up the carpet that adorns the interior of the mosque. Dubbed the world's largest carpet and designed by Iranian artist Ali Khaliqi, this carpet measures 5,627 square metres.
Identifying specific locations from where the interior of the mosque can be covered completely has been a significant challenge for the consultant.
"This is the first time we have done a broadcast installation on this scale for a house of worship," says Joseph Varghese, division manager, Broadcast & Professional Systems, Tek Signals.
"There have been a couple of small installations but it's the first time we've had a request for the highest quality of HD equipment for a mosque. We expect more growth in this market in the coming months."
The Grand Mosque has invested in 12 multi-format High Definition LDK 8000 cameras from Thomson Grassvalley and a digital HDMW wireless camera from Gigawave.
The LDK 8000 supports instant switching between 1080i and 720p formats at 50 and 59.94Hz.
All 12 cameras have the same functionality including level resolution, colour matching and high quality. 10 of these cameras have been fixed on the wall or tripods with robotic heads while two cameras will be used for Electronic Field Production (EFP).
All of the cameras have been supplied with a separate operation control panel and a common master control panel with facilities for quality check and monitoring of the images on each camera.
"We have visualised the most likely scenarios for which we must film in this mosque like the prayer for rain, Eid Al Adha and so on, and have ensured that the cabling covers all these areas, where we might need to mount a camera.
Based on our studies, we have identified 35 such locations from where we can cover an event. The cameras can easily be moved from their mountings and remounted at any of these 35 points," explains Younes.
The infrastructure is also in place to ensure that outside broadcast vans can be connected to the mosque.
The system can be interfaced to external OB vans, public address (PA) or audio-visual (AV) systems for the live transmission of events held at the mosque. Tek Signals has installed more than 35 wall boxes with appropriate triax, data, video and audio connections to ensure this.
"No OB van will be able to come up with a camera that high at short notice. We have fixed everything in advance to ensure that we can easily detach the cameras and remount them; the special lenses we have will be very useful. We have taken care of everything that is likely to come up," explains Younes.
Moreover, if an event is being held only in one area of the mosque, more cameras can be placed in that specific area to cover the occasion. Keeping this in mind, several additional locations have been identified for potential placement of the cameras.
Take the instance of the four minarets that are located on the four corners of the mosque. They are built to a height of about 110 odd metres and a camera can be placed at different heights of the minaret to get varying views of the event.
The infrastructure and cabling has been put in place to enable easy plug and play of cameras, which can be placed at 21 metres, 60 and even higher from the floor level depending on the production requirement.
All cameras have been fitted with broadcast lenses from Canon. The lenses come with built-in zoom, iris, and focus drives. Owing to the fact that some cameras will have to be placed very high and some relatively close, lenses with various zoom ratios have been provided for different locations.
A significant addition to the production equipment is the Vinten Radamec robotic systems. In the mosque, it was essential that the worshippers were not distracted by the movement of cameramen and that the holiness of the place was maintained.
To ensure this, all cameras have been placed on robotic systems and can be remotely controlled from a control room located on one of the top floors of the mosque. Likewise, wires are not visible in any area of the mosque.
Even speakers and mics have been placed inside ornate products and are inconspicuous to ensure that the kit does not distract worshippers.
The robotic heads have a pan tilt range of +/- 160 degrees and are controlled by Cat-5 cables. Some of these robotic heads are fixed on wall mounts inside the mosque while some are fixed on the minaret, gate and elsewhere on tripods.
Two controllers with short memories are also used to control these cameras.
The mosque has spared no effort to get the best equipment in the industry to ensure that all coverage within its premises is high quality. "As this is a prestigious project, they were very particular to ensure that only the best equipment was used."
"Everyone is aspiring towards getting High Definition technology and this is clearly what would help viewers to also appreciate the beauty and grandness of the mosque," explains Younes.
The head of engineering adds that Abu Dhabi TV has deliberately chosen specific HD equipment for the mosque to ensure that it integrates well with future installations at the TV station.
"Abu Dhabi TV is now part of a parent body called Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC). We have plans to standardise on 1080p in the future as we believe that this is what the rest of the Middle East will also be working towards.
Therefore, we are looking to ensure that we pick up appropriate kit for the different entities under our umbrella so that they can be integrated in the future.
Such a strategy will also ensure that operations and maintenance for all our systems remain common," explains Younes adding that Abu Dhabi TV specifically chose Grassvalley because it has used the manufacturer's solutions since the channel's launch.
The installation at the mosque, however, has not been as straightforward as it may seem. Given that work began on the mosque a decade ago, the studio design has been revamped three times from scratch.
"Back then, we had decided on deploying digibeta cams because they were the industry standard," explains Younes, who was part of the project right from the start. "By the time the mosque was completed, HD technology has become the standard so we have redesigned everything to suit this requirement."
One of the key systems at the mosque is a Kayak HD 2.5 M/E multi-format production switcher with 2.5 M/E control panel, 48 inputs and complete options.
In the control room, other important solutions include Pixel Power's HD, bi-lingual Clarity 3000 SD/HD character generator; glue equipment from Thomson, test & measurement solutions from Tektronix, a Harris router, Wohler video monitors, TSL UMDs and Sony VTRs.
Although the entire production will be in HD, most of the data will be stored in DV for now, explains Younes. The key reason for this is that Abu Dhabi TV itself is revamping several areas within its TV station to enable it migration to HD.
As the rest of its material is currently stored in DV, HD content produced at the mosque also will be stored in this format for now. "Eventually, we will have a digital library and everything will be file based. When it comes to that, we will do the transfer at one go."
The Grand Mosque, however, has invested in Calrec's analogue audio mixer. Younes explains that as the audio mixer will only be used within the mosque, where the primary audio input is from analogue microphones, it made financial sense to invest in this solution.
Abu Dhabi TV plans to migrate entirely to HD within the next three to five years, confirms Younes. The channel, which will be responsible for the production and transmission of the events that take place at the Grand Mosque, is already working towards preparing the infrastructure necessary for it to migrate to HD.
"We plan to have all our studios in HD, production in HD and a big library as well. We already find that home users are gradually moving to HD TV and will eventually invest in HD . In the next three to five years, we anticipate that the consumer will be ready for the shift. By then, we will be ready as well," he explains.
Although a team will not be stationed at the mosque as production will only take place once or twice a week, routine maintenance will be conducted, confirms Younes.
"Tek Signals has arranged for training our staff on the different equipment and we will be responsible for the entire broadcast solution at the Mosque," he explains.
Apart from the scale and magnitude of this HD installation, what makes this project noteworthy is the fact that it sets a new trend in the Middle East, and opens up yet another niche market for broadcast vendors and systems integrators to explore.
Although houses of worship form a significant market for broadcasters in the West and Europe, this still remains a significantly untouched area within the Middle East.
A couple of microphones and a few speakers or a small audio visual installation have been the norm so far in this area. The Grand Mosque project seems to be the start of several high profile installations in this area.
Even as we speak, Digital Studio can reveal that a multi-million dollar deal for a HD broadcast installation is being finalised in Saudi Arabia. We'll be the first to let you know.
• HD Wireless Camera System from Gigawave
• Kayak HD 2.5 M/E Multi-format Production Switcher
• Canon HD lenses, with a combination of J17x, J11x, J21x and J40x
• Vinten Radamec Robotics systems
• Clarity 3000 from Pixel Power
• Tektronix waveform monitors, Rasterizer
• Harris central routing switcher
• Audio Video Monitors Wohler
• Precision CRT monitors from Ikegami
• UMDs from TSL
• Test & Measurement from Tektronix
• Talk back systems from Clearcom
• Calrec audio mixer
• Sennheiser mics