House Of Worship, Installations

Real-Time Pope At Philly’s Cathedral Basilica

Editor's Note: It’s not too often that a pope comes to the United States, and this time, Pope Francis made several stops on the East Coast. Obviously, the host cities and their worship facilities wanted to be sure that all audio and video elements of his presentations were spot on. Today’s technology made that possible, and Sound & Communications' readers were up to the task.
Equipment List [PDF]

Philadelphia PA hosted Pope Francis during his historic visit to the United States in September. The Holy Father’s visit to the City of Brotherly Love was packed with events, including Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, an address in front of Independence Hall, attendance at the Festival of Families (part of the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) Congress) and an open-air Mass in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Large Crowds

Nearly one million people crowded various parts of the city, from Independence Mall to Benjamin Franklin Parkway, to see Pope Francis live or on any of the strategically located 40 Jumbotrons. In addition, the latest streaming media and broadcast technologies enabled millions around the world to watch Pope Francis in real time on television, tablets and smartphones.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the WMOF led the preparations for this monumental event. The Cathedral Basilica underwent a major upgrade of its audio and video systems in preparation for the Pontiff’s Mass there on the morning of his arrival. For the open-air events, two temporary stages with rented audio, video and lighting systems were set up in front of Independence Hall and in front of the art museum.

Teams At Work

As host city for many mega events, from the 1976 Bicentennial to the Live 8 Concert in 2005, Philadelphia has developed extensive homegrown expertise in all aspects of crowd management, security and large-scale media systems. However, given the magnitude of this occasion, it was no small task to ensure smooth operations on all fronts for Pope Francis’ visit.

The archdiocese and WMOF leadership reached out to trusted advisors and tech enablers who had previously demonstrated dedication and commitment to excellence. The archdiocese awarded contracts for the video system upgrade in the cathedral to RGB Broadcast Video Services, and for the sound system upgrade to Monte Bros.

Longtime colleagues and friends, Joseph Pagano (CEO and Chief Engineer of RGB Broadcast Video Services of Philadelphia), Daniel Kearns (Technology Specialist to the Communications Office of the Archdiocese and Broadcast Engineer at Princeton University) and Dave Barletta (Senior Sales Engineer at Cenero), collaborated on AV system design. Additionally, Kearns provided project management, Pagano’s team provided complete installation and integration, and Barletta’s team worked on product supply and manufacturer coordination.

Audio Systems Expertise

Monte Bros. of Dobbs Ferry NY brought its expertise in house of worship applications to the design, engineering and installation of upgrades to the sound systems (see Monte Bros.’ Steve Minozzi’s report).

Clem Murray/The Philadelphia Enquirer
Daniel Kearns (left) and Joseph Pagano test drive the new system in the control room. Kearns was director for the Papal Mass, and Pagano was video engineer.  Courtesy: Clem Murray/The Philadelphia Enquirer

The WMOF awarded the contract for planning and management of all papal events taking place outside the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to renowned event producer Fred Stein and his firm, The Creative Group. Event and concert producer Scott Mirkin, President of ESM Productions, was contracted to provide host TV coverage. ESM managed the logistics, operations and coordination of more than 100 companies, including broadcast television and other news media involved in the pope’s open-air public engagements. For the television coverage, NEP provided four mobile production trucks, VER worked on the terrestrial infrastructure and Liberty Uplink provided satellite services. Upstage Video supplied the supersized LED video screens on Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Video WallTronics the giant LEDs at Independence Mall.

Cathedral’s Move To HD

The Papal Mass at the magnificent Cathedral Basilica was one of the focal points of the national television coverage. Constructed in a Roman-Corinthian architectural style with a grand façade, vaulted dome, ornate main altar and eight side chapels over a period of 18 years from 1846 to 1864, the cathedral was designated a historic landmark in 1971.

A wall was moved to allow up to 14 operators to work comfortably inside the newly expanded and renovated video control room. Content comes into the control room from a variety of sources.
Systems integrator Joseph Pagano installs a camera used for long, low-light shots, which features three 2/3-inch CCD sensors, a 20x zoom lens on a pan/tilt head. Courtesy: Joe Garvin

Modern AV systems, introduced in 1993, consisted of one camera that fed monitors intentionally placed in the side aisles for congregants whose views were blocked by the church’s towering pillars. Six years later, the system was upgraded to provide better coverage. “The system I designed and RGB Broadcast Video Services installed in 1999 ensured that video coverage would not distract from the liturgy,” said Kearns. “The television production and distribution system consisted of four robotic cameras, video and audio feeds for media outlets via press box feed, and live video streaming through the archdiocesan website.”

Another Upgrade

Kearns proposed another upgrade of the AV system to the archdiocese in 2008. “We used the best technology available in 1999 but, with rapid advances in technology, broadcast media were already moving away from analog video to high-definition video, which was the new industry standard,” he explained.

Mirkin, who was to be responsible for TV coverage of the Papal Mass, reached out to Kearns to determine how easily the robotic cameras could be upgraded to HD models. “This was a good time to upgrade for several reasons,” said Kearns, noting that “the cost for the update to current HD standards would be substantially less than it would have been when I first proposed the upgrade.” After funding from the Archdiocese and private donors was confirmed, Kearns revved up collaborations with Pagano and Barletta to expedite equipment selection, engineering, procurement and installation.

Video Capture

Because the Saturday, September 26 Mass at the cathedral for the 2200 congregants and worldwide viewers would be a focal point of the visit, video capture had to be pristine. The cameras also had to be unobtrusive and camera movements non-distracting. The selection and placement of camera systems was critical to the success of the broadcast.

Courtesy: Joe Garvin
A new IP-controllable, three-sensor camera was mounted unobtrusively to capture key shots of the service. Courtesy: Joe Garvin

Barletta explained, “The team deferred to my knowledge and experience to help them pick the best products to meet these needs. I arranged with several companies to obtain demo equipment, but Panasonic was the one that stepped up and sent both gear and FSEs [field support engineers] to the site for tests, and then worked behind the scenes to make the tight deadline.” Hence the selection of Panasonic remote production cameras, including six AW-HE130 integrated 1/3-inch pan/tilt/zoom units, two AW-HE870 2/3-inch 3-CCD multi-purpose units with Fujinon lenses, and one AJ-PX270 P2 HD camcorder equipped with a Paralinx Triton 1:1 wireless transmission system. “The AJ-PX270 has the same chip set as the HE130s, and we can use it on a tripod in an aisle where we have no other camera coverage,” noted Kearns.

The two AW-HE870 cameras were deployed to take advantage of their superior low-light capabilities, a result of larger 2/3-inch CCD sensors. This is particularly useful when capturing video of processions from the rear of the church to the altar area, as well as views of the congregation and the beautiful stained-glass windows. The AJ-PX270 handheld camera was added to the system, making it possible to include more shots from a personal perspective. “Steve Newbert was our manned camera operator during the Papal Mass and provided many great eye-level shots for us to mix with video from the robotic cams,” Kearns reported.

“The new design incorporates the cameras into the architecture of the cathedral so their profile is even less noticeable than the ones we had earlier,” Kearns said. “And, the new cameras have greater zoom capacity, higher resolution and work better in the lower light areas of the cathedral. Going from four to nine cameras greatly increased the views during the Papal Mass, and will also be good for major religious services with large attendance in the future at the Cathedral Basilica.”

Control Room System

Kearns, who had operated the cathedral system for 16 years, ensured that the new components would fit into his “single operator in one control room” vision. With this upgrade, the control room was moved to the upper sacristy. Kearns served as TV Director and Pagano served as Video Engineer during the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis.

The heart of Master Control is the NewTek TriCaster 860 Switcher and, because Kearns had experience operating it on other projects, the TriCaster was a natural fit. “I like the features in the NewTek, especially graphics that can be used for live streaming, such as scripture citations and texts for the Gloria and Creed, while still providing a clean camera mix feed to the media without graphics,” explained Kearns. Another key component in the system is Blackmagic Design’s Smart Videohub 20×20 for signal routing, which can easily be controlled via a desktop application, and increases the eight inputs for switching on the TriCaster 860 to 20 inputs by using the Videohub for offline routing.

During the Papal Mass, Kearns ran the video systems from a newly completed control room situated in the church’s upper sacristy. Video signal from the cameras is sent to the control room via HD-SDI, while PTZ camera control and adjustment are accomplished over IP using a Panasonic AW-RP120 system controller.

Signal Routing, Display

The HD/SDI video signals from the cameras go directly to the router over distances near the limit for this transmission mode. “Most distances are about 200 feet to 290 feet, which is why we decided on using Belden 1794 HD-grade cable and Belden HD connectors,” said Pagano. All the HD/SDI output signals are sent to the flatpanel displays throughout the cathedral.

Samsung 50-inch LED-backlit LCD flatpanels were selected for installation in the cathedral. Eight are mounted on pillars in the side aisles, and four are installed on rolling carts for use in various locations in the cathedral as needed. “For larger congregations at services such as the Pope’s Mass, folding chairs in the aisles provide additional seating and the large display screens ensure meaningful participation for those who are seated in areas with obstructed views,” noted Kearns. Additionally, one LCD display is installed in each of the two Neumann Rooms, which are used for meetings and for large events, as well as workspace for print and radio journalists. One flatpanel display was also installed in a large meeting hall beneath the 800-seat chapel, which adjoins the cathedral.

Video Transmission

A multibox with interface panel on the rear outside wall of the cathedral provides delivery to production and satellite uplink trucks. However, for the Papal Mass, ESM ran a tac-12 fiber through a second-floor window directly to NEP Sapphire, a rented mobile video control truck parked outside the cathedral. “We wanted several iso cam feeds in addition to the program feed, so it made more sense to go right to the source,” noted ESM’s Chief Technical Officer Craig Mirkin.

Joe Garvin
Large-format displays are mounted on pillars in the side aisles where additional seating is provided for larger congregations. Courtesy: Joe Garvin

“The output of Sapphire was fed to the NEP Super B Master Control truck, which was located at Eakin’s Oval. Our partner VER built a fiber infrastructure to feed audio, video and IP network to the screens. The feed from Master Control was distributed to the screens over this fiber. For TV distribution, the signals from Sapphire were delivered to Super B via terrestrial fiber from The Switch and dual-path KU uplink from Liberty Uplink,” explained Mirkin.

Project Challenges

The pressure to complete the new system increased when, on June 30, the Vatican announced that the pope would celebrate a special Mass in the Cathedral for the people of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. “We had little time and room for error, and had to move quickly,” said Barletta. “I leveraged several key relationships with manufacturers and distributors to get the right gear at the right price and, most importantly, at the right time. Without exceptional support from our Purchasing Agent Diana Otero, we could not have pulled this off.”

Old construction typically presents a myriad of challenges when installing AV gear, but a landmark structure that is more than 150 years old requires special handling at almost every point. “Running cables, mounting cameras and flatscreen TVs presented a lot of difficulties because of the age of the brick, mortar and wall finishes,” said Pagano. “But, the bigger challenge was keeping everything in tune with the aesthetics of the building and making modern items look like they belong,” he added, noting that his company has been doing such challenging installations for more than 28 years.

To address both aesthetic concerns and mounting issues, all the camera mounts were custom made by RGB. “We also provided for a redundant power supply for all the cameras that is centrally located to the cameras for minimum voltage drop,” Pagano noted.

The flatpanel displays were also difficult to mount at some locations. “The ones near the confessional booths were particularly difficult to install because the confessionals are immovable and we could not stand on them,” Pagano explained.

Ecumenical Effort

With consultants, integrators, event producers, manufacturers and the diocesan staff working together as a team, millions of people all over the world were able to participate in this historic event, and the cathedral now has a world-class AV system to serve the worship community for years to come in the City of Brotherly Love. “I truly consider it a wonderful blessing and honor to have been part of the team that helped bring Pope Francis’ message to as many people as possible,” said Kearns.

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