A glimpse into the future of sporting events
Panasonic RAMSA Sound System
Speakers attached to ski lift
The Nagano 1998 Olympic Winter Games paid tribute to the "coexistence of advanced technology and the natural environment."
Panasonic's RAMSA, which was used as the sound system for the Games, had to solve the problem of how to realize this concept in practice. What exactly was an "environmentally-friendly" sound system?
First of all, sound leakage into the surrounding countryside had to be minimized so that wild hawks such as the akahara and the hachikuma, designated "wonders of nature," would not be affected. At the same time optimum sound had to be delivered to every corner of every venue.
Directional speakers, which had been highly praised during the pre-Olympic event a year before the Nagano 1998 Olympic Winter Games, were used. These are excellent for outdoor events since they emit clear sound in one direction only.
Tackling the challenges involved in an outdoor venue
Meticulous care was taken too in placing the speakers outdoors. As far as possible we tried to set them up in existing ski lift steel towers or pillars made of pine logs or scrap lumber. When we had to use living trees, we attached the speakers loosely so as not to damage the tree.
However, when the entire sound system was given its final check, it turned out that there was one place where nothing could be heard. Mac Takeuchi, Sound System Designer and Senior Staff Engineer, said, "Thinking, 'That's odd!' we went back to that place and found that the speaker had fallen down and was lying buried in the snow!"
The cause, as the Panasonic staff discovered after tramping about deep in the mountains where the ski contests were to be held, was monkeys. To the monkeys moving about in the woods, the RAMSA speakers, which blended in perfectly, must have seemed an ideal spot for a quick nap.
As well as "coexistence with the natural environment" Panasonic also concentrated on maximizing the merits of advanced technology.
Harsh conditions were imposed on the equipment at the Games. In addition to environmental considerations, different installations were required for each event, indoors and outdoors. There was also the problem of the weather which changed from one moment to the next. Like a medalist who produces her best performance, the staff had to be tough and flexible, adapting to changes as they arose. At the Nagano 1998 Olympic Winter Games, they were aiming to be the gold medalist of sound.
The speakers were to be set up in a snowy region where the temperature drops to minus 20 degrees C. at night and as much as 2 meters of snow sometimes falls in one day. They used a special water-repellent snow-proof net and dramatically increased resistance to outdoor weather conditions by means of a special resin coating virtually unaffected both by ultra-violet rays and temperature changes.
In the snowboard course where rhythmical music and clear announcements are vital to the contest, the problem was how to achieve clear, even sound on such bumpy, uneven terrain.
Their answer was as follows: "Let's try doing it digitally. If we use fiber-optic cables, there won't be any contraction in the signal even over long distances. It should be possible to produce the highest quality sound system ever."
A digital sound transmission system using fiber-optic cables was tried out for the first time in history at the Olympic Winter Games.
On the snowboard course the difference in elevation between start and finish was 290 meters. In order to deliver the same sound quality simultaneously to every point on the 936-meter long course, 36 all-weather speakers were set up at 18 points along the course. All the speakers were controlled together digitally in the sound room near the finishing line at the foot of the slope.
"Digital transmission will bring out RAMSA's uniquely elaborate sound design perfectly, " Mac Takeuchi continued. "What we want is identical sound outdoors and in."
The signal to distant speakers at a high elevation was first transmitted via fiber-optic cable to the unmanned sound room mid-way along the course. There the signal was amplified and by calculating and applying an appropriate delay for each speaker, homogeneous sound could be heard all over the course. On a digital sound system, complex adjustments for outdoor conditions can also be made easily by calling up data programmed according to the surroundings so that the same level of sound can be constantly reproduced.
Snowboarders take no more than one minute to hurtle down the slope. However, creating the sort of environment where clear, uniform sound can be heard at every point along the 1 km course with its complicated ups and downs was not as simple as you might think.
No doubt neither the athletes nor the spectators gathered in the Olympic Stadium so much as noticed this "easy-on-the-ear, environmentally-friendly sound." However, behind the natural effect, were RAMSA's advanced technology and the passion of Panasonic's engineers who were shaping the future of sporting events.
Mac Takeuchi, Senior Staff Engineer at Matsushita Communication Industrial Co., Ltd
* These reports were written in December 2001.
We changed the corporate name from Matsushita Group to Panasonic Group on October 1, 2008.
Some reports in this page use our former name because they were written before the renaming.