Racing Against the AV Clock For Pope's Visit to Philadelphia

January 18th, 2016 in Case Studies

88 days. That is how long Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul had to prepare for the visit of Pope Francis on September 26, 2015 which had been announced by the Vatican on June 30th. From an AV perspective, this tight timeline included multi-camera live HD television coverage inside and outside the cathedral, that fed to 40 Jumbotrons around the city, and via NEP production trucks and satellite uplinks, broad- cast to viewers worldwide.To meet this deadline, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia called on Daniel Kearns, the Archdiocese Communications’ Technology Specialist and Princeton University Broadcast Engineer. “In turn, I asked Dave Barletta (Senior Sales Engineer at Cenero) to help with purchasing the equipment and Joe Pagano (RGB Broadcast Video Services’ CEO/Chief Engineer) to help with installing it,” said Kearns.
Daniel Kearns was the obvious choice for the job. He began producing all of the Cathedral Basilica’s video broadcasts when they started in 1993. Since then, Kearns has continued to do all the video production and live broadcasting from the cathedral. He has used the cameras to record masses in Spanish for later broadcast every Sunday morning on Univision, and to provide the media feeds and live streams for all large events at the cathedral.
In 1999, Kearns and Pagano upgraded the Cathedral Basilica’s TV system from a single camera feeding TVs in the building’s view-impaired side aisles to four robotic SD cameras, an onsite control room, and external feeds to in-church displays, external production trucks, and streaming video to the Web. “The reason I suggested the robotic camera system back in 1999 was to preserve the sanctity of the mass going on in the cathedral, and to avoid TV cameras moving up and down the aisles while people are praying,” Kearns said.
This time around, Kearns, Pagano and Dave Barletta were tasked with bringing the Cathedral Basilica into 21st century HDTV production. In tandem with Monte Brothers Sound Systems, who were upgrading the Cathedral Basilica’s audio system, the group hit the ground running to meet the 88-day deadline.
“It was truly a case of having to finish the job no matter what,” said Pagano. “Everything had to be working for His Holiness’ September 26th celebration of Mass. I mean, this is the Pope we’re talking about.”

In 1846, Philadelphia’s famed Liberty Bell cracked yet again while being rung to mark George Washington’s birthday, and was taken out of service for good. (The cracks were due to the bell being cast from too-brittle metals.) Meanwhile, construction began on the Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul.
18 years later in 1864, the Cathedral Basilica was completed and consecrated, just one year prior to the end of the Civil War. 151 years after this date, Kearns, Pagano and company had to upgrade the existing SDTV camera/production system to a world-class HDTV standard.
“As you can imagine, the building materials of the Cathedral Basilica were not chosen with the needs of modern TV production and cabling taken into account,” said Pagano. “We had to be very careful in how we mounted and disguised our equipment to minimize the impact on the church’s brick, mortar, and general aesthetics.”
“We also had to be very discreet in how we set up the cameras for the Mass,” Kearns said. “Although Pope Francis is accustomed to a wall of video cameras when he is speak- ing to the press, we were advised by the Vatican representative that he prefers not to see them while he is praying.”

To minimize the visual footprint of the Cathedral Basilica’s upgraded HDTV production system, the upgrade team chose to go from four to eight robotic cameras, and added a ninth RF-connected camera to be used by a roving cameraperson.
Six Panasonic AW-HE130 integrated 1/3-inch pan/tilt/zoom cameras and two AW-HE870 2/3-inch 3-CCD cameras with Fujinon XA20sx8.5BMD zoom lenses were selected for the robotic mounts located throughout the building. A Panasonic AJ-PX270 camcorder with a Paralinx Triton 1:1 wireless systems was chosen for the rov- ing camera position. (It was operated by Steve Newbert during the Papal Mass.)
For the Pope’s mass, Kearns said: “I had an additional Panasonic AJ-PX270 camera that was locked down and isolated on the sign language interpreter in the cathedral. This feed was patched in the control room out to the fiber feed for the trucks for picture- in-picture on the Jumbotrons and satellite feeds.”
The feeds from these cameras, plus the audio inputs from the Cathedral Basilica’s Panasonic and Sennheiser microphones, were fed to a new control room located in the building’s Upper Sacristy (located away from the main public space). “As a side note, I had Monte Brothers supply a duplicate feed for each microphone to the audio board which feeds the Tricaster so that I could do a live mix of all the microphones and not just the ‘house’,” Kearns said. “It was nice to be able to blend the choir, orchestra, and sanctuary mics differently for TV from than the feed that went to the speakers in the cathedral itself.”
During the actual Papal Mass, Daniel Kearns acted as video engineer switching between camera feeds on a NewTek TriCaster 860 video console, and managing the pan/tilt/zoom cameras using a Panasonic AW-RP120GJ pan-tilt controller. He was kept company by “a Secret Service agent for whom I was able to provide all the camera feeds on a multiview screen so that he had 10 simultaneous views of what was going on throughout the cathedral, and a technician from Monte Brothers to monitor the audio feed coming,” said Kearns.
While this was going on, chief engineer Joseph Pagano was on standby downstairs in case he was needed to troubleshoot any problems during the broadcast. “Thankfully there were none,” said Kearns.
Daniel Kearns was very happy with the TriCaster 860’s performance during the Papal Mass. “The TriCaster handled multi-cameras switching easily, and recorded video while supporting live streaming to the Web,” he said. “It is a very functional yet affordable solution for the Cathedral Basilica’s ongoing video production needs—because we do (a lot of) live broadcasts from here on a regular basis.” Also, in the Master Control were two AJA Ki Pro Rack file-based video recorders, four AJA 1 TB KiStor HDD-based editing/recording modules, a Blackmagic Design Smart Videohub 20×20 for routing signals, a Harman Soundcraft SI Expression 3 audio console, and three Acer B276HUL Aymiidprz 27-inch Widescreen LED-backlit LCD monitors for the TriCaster and the control room’s Dell computers.
During the Papal Mass, 12 Samsung UN50J6300 monitors were located through the Cathedral Basilica’s seating areas, to provide visuals to congregants whose views were blocked by the building’s massive columns. These were fed by direct HD-SDI cables. Meanwhile, monitors located in the meeting rooms outside the worship space were connected using Contemporary Research’s ICE- HE Ethernet Head End RF Modulator (with SSV-Display Express software), QMOD-HDMI-1.5 dual channel RF Modulator, and ICC1-IRX IR controllers.
All of the ten camera feeds were provided to local media via a multi-box interface panel located at the back of the Cathedral Basilica, which delivers video with embedded audio. As well, for the Papal Mass, the program feed plus the feeds from all the individual cameras were sent by tac-12 fiber feed to the NEP production truck.
Despite the modern sophistication of this video setup, the upgrade team worked hard to make sure that its equipment was harmoniously integrated with the Cathedral Basilica’s 19th Century wall finishing and decorative features. The result: Pope Francis was indeed able to pray without the obvious intrusion of technology into his high office. At the same time, the work of the Kearns/Pagano broadcast team—doing a job that would typically take up to a dozen people in a network TV setting—was so polished, that their feed went straight to the world without substantial additional switching by external broadcasters and the NEP crew.

The fact that the Cathedral Basilica upgrade team got this HDTV system done on time was nothing short of a miracle—and in the context of a Papal Mass on deadline, this choice of terminology seems apt. “We were very, very busy trying to get everything ready and functioning, while Monte Brothers was also working away upgrading the audio system,” said Pagano. “We not only got it done on schedule, but had enough time to do dry-runs of the system on other services before the Pope came to town.”
On September 26th, 2015, everything went as planned as Pope Francis held his Mass at the Cathedral Basilica. The worldwide broadcast was polished and professional—quite an accomplishment considering that it was essentially a three-person shoot.
“I consider it a wonderful blessing and privilege to have shared in the effort to bring Pope Francis’ message with the world,” Daniel Kearns added. “Making it even better was getting a hand-shake from Pope Francis as he left the cathedral that day,” added Joe Pagano.

By James Careless
January 2016 AV Technology

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