Digital Studio looks at how the installation of new lighting technology has enabled Al Arabiya to give its viewers an on-air look that is both dynamic and refreshing.
To coincide with its fifth anniversary celebrations, Dubai-based news channel, Al Arabiya treated its viewers to a brand new on-air look with different colour schemes for each of its programmes.
While audiences would only have observed a change in the look of the channel's programmes, very few would have associated it with a million dollar revamp that went on at Al Arabiya's studio in Dubai Media City earlier this year.
The project, which included demolishing everything from the old set to the ceiling and the flooring to deploying new and sophisticated lighting technology, video walls and other kit, has made Al Arabiya's studio one of the most sophisticated newsrooms in the Middle East today.
Dubai-based systems integrator, Oasis Enterprises undertook the lighting installation, which was the most important aspect of the project, within a record period of three weeks.
Al Arabiya's history began five years ago in 2002, when the MBC Group launched its news channel. A set designer came in from Beirut to design the channel's studio and five years back, it was indeed state-of-the-art.
Fluorescent lights were installed to add colour to the channel's programming. However, as the years passed and new technology became available, Al Arabiya's look paled in comparison to new entrants and it failed to be as eye-catching as its news. The solution lay in giving the studio a brand new look that was in keeping with the times and no occasion was more befitting than its fifth anniversary.
"The objective was to create something new and different because even our first look in 2002 was very sophisticated and radically different from anything that was available in the region," says Bachir Roukoz, lighting designer supervisor with MBC. "To match that design and outdo it was a challenge but the designer did come up with something very exciting.
This time, we also felt that lighting could play a significant role in creating different moods and making the same set look different for each programme. Therefore, we have used colour and lighting in a very different and sophisticated way on this set creating a lot more intimacy with our viewers."
Consequently, Oasis has added several interesting elements to the lighting installation at Al Arabiya, which includes lighting fixtures from ETC and De Sisti. One is the deployment of 19,000 LEDs at the studio. These colour changing LEDs and the other lights at the studio are, in turn, controlled by an 8000-channel lighting control called Eos from ETC.
"In the world of lighting controls today, the Eos is the Rolls Royce and this is its first installation in the Middle East," claims Basel Al Aref, general manager of Oasis Enterprises. "The Eos lies at the heart of this project. It controls the LED colour changes on the pillars, the columns, the ceilings, the floor and everywhere in the studio.
"More importantly, this is the first news centre in the region to implement colour changing LED and conventional lights in a news environment. Most other stations use a standard lighting system or colour changing solution but not LEDs. This project, therefore, acts as an important reference point for future Middle East news studios."
MBC's Roukoz, however, clarifies that what made the project nerve-racking was the fact that several contractors were working together to ensure that the new studio would be ready within three weeks while normal bulletins continued to be broadcast from the place at periodic intervals. "We had the construction people, the cable guys, TV crew, the carpet guys and the painters all working at the same time.
One day, you'd come in and see that the whole ceiling was gone. Another day, the carpet would be swept from under your feet; one day, there was just no flooring or you'd just see a lot of ladders and in between all this, our news bulletins were being aired every half hour. It was a huge task.
Part of the revamp was the installation of 50 Barco projectors - around 23 70" screens and 27 50" screens - that have been fixed in a line to create what Al Arabiya calls a 'video belt'. The belt acts as a single screen extending one image or graphic across the entire line of projectors.
The LEDs and the Eos controller are clearly the highlights of this installation. "Previously, we had fluorescent lights," explains Roukoz. "They could change between Red, Green and Blue but they couldn't get all the shades in between to perfection. With LEDs, we can choose any colour and shade we want."
Karim Abdel Massih, lighting product manager of the Professional Projects Division at Oasis Enterprises adds that the old installation included 150W metal luminaries along with the fluorescent lights.
"This combo didn't work well as there were subtle differences between the two. The combination was a bit noisy and they also created a lot of heat between them. LEDs are a lot more economical than fluorescent lights in that they don't generate heat; they consume less power and have a longer life span. Al Arabiya will see a significant reduction in its electricity bills," explains Massih.
In the previous installation, Al Arabiya's lights were controlled by a simple PC-based controller while it now has the Eos. Oasis has also installed a backup Eos system to take over should the master controller fail.
"We needed the Eos to handle the large quantity of lighting we have on set now and also to accommodate any future expansion," explains MBC's Roukoz.
The Eos console also drives a playback controller from Pharos. The Pharos is the interface between the LED colour lights and the Eos. It deals with the LEDs as if they are pixels. It's an easy tool for programming the colours and the changes on the LED. It also plays a big role at Al Arabiya to provide LED animations.
"The project includes the installation of dimmable fluorescents with high efficiency ballast on the studio ceiling. Unlike a traditional setup, the Al Arabiya studio is in an open area that includes workstation for news editors.
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This meant that the lighting would have to serve the dual purposes of the studio as well as that of the editors. At the same time, this is a news studio and news bulletins are broadcast every half hour so we had to work without disrupting their usual work.
To ensure this, the Oasis team used to work from 2 to 6 in the night at the studio," says Aref.
An important aspect of the lighting installation at Al Arabiya is the use of ETC Source Four Profiles. "The Profile is very good because it helps you cut the light in cms between each presenter, thereby, ensuring that there is no light pollution. You can't do this with most other lights.
This is very important at Al Arabiya because we have a very low ceiling. This is because ours is not a purpose-built studio but a building converted into a studio," explains Roukoz.
Furthermore, special filters from Rosco were fitted on to the Profile to blur the edges and take away the sharpness.
The project was not without its challenges. Apart from having to stick to a very tight deadline, the studio would also not get its newly designed table for the presenter from Beirut until one day before the launch.
"We had 1900 LED strips with 10 LEDs on each. Put simply, we are talking about several kms of light here. It would not have been sensible to wait until the table got here to stick each LED individually. Oasis came out with the idea to stick these LEDs onto each strip so when the table got here, we only had to stick each strip to the table," explains Roukoz.
Despite the challenges, Al Arabiya managed to stick to its deadline.
More importantly, with the new kit installed at the news channel, Al Arabiya has once again provided its viewers with a look that matches its cutting-edge news.
85 x Fluorescent Tube 3200K 0-10 V Ballast
30 x ETC Source 4 Zoom 15-30 degree with P.O
1910 x LED Strip 25 cm RGB
256 x LED tile 164 x 180
1 x ETC Eos 8KConsole with Playback wing faders
1 x ETC EOS 8K RPU
4 x ETC Smart Pack Wall Mount Dimmer 12 ch
1 x Pharos LPCX
25 x Desisti Magis 650W
15 x Desisti Leonardo P.O 1Kw
18 x Desisti Delux 2 P.O, 2 x 55 W