A gleaming silver world, vividly brought to life by Panasonic
Panasonic AV System
ASTROVISION test at the Mogul slope
"3, 2, 1, Go!"
With a shout, Tae Satoya, dressed all in white, leapt out onto the slope. This was the Mogul event, Mogul meaning "bumps of snow" in Norwegian. As Satoya raced down the steep, bumpy slope at a speed which would have put most male athletes to shame, Panasonic's cameras were there to capture every moment. When the scene appeared in all its clear-cut brilliance on the ASTROVISION screen inside the stadium, the crowd erupted with a roar. Then came the triple twister, perfectly executed. This was played back by ASTROVISION only seconds after the actual move and cheers in expectation of a high score greeted Satoya at the goal.
Panasonic supplied a total of sixteen screens, including a 644 m2 ASTROVISION screen, the biggest ever, to the many venues of the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games. All used the latest "LED system." This was a new type of ASTROVISION which had to cope with the harsh environment and bitter cold of the Olympic Winter Games.
It was eighteen years since Panasonic had delivered the first ASTROVISION screen to the main stadium at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, ushering in a new era of gigantic visual systems. At that time, it was normal practice to use the "incandescent lamp system," where the screen was covered with three types of incandescent lamps painted red, green, and blue respectively. By the time of Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, this evolved into fluorescent discharge tubes via a liquid crystal system. With each step, remarkable improvements in image quality and extensive cost reductions were achieved. The Olympic Games held in the US provided Panasonic with the opportunity to effect a transformation in ASTROVISION technology.
The advantages of opting exclusively for an "LED system" in every screen at the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games are explained as follows by Yoshiyuki Goto, the man in charge of the ASTROVISION system. "LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, which transmit electric current to the semiconductor device and cause it to emit light, weigh less, consume less electricity and have a longer life than conventional fluorescent discharge tubes. An LED system is the best system currently available."
The ability of LEDs to withstand fluctuations in temperature is particularly valuable. The luminous efficiency of fluorescent discharge tubes in use previously was greatest at a temperature of 60 degrees C and a good picture could not be produced at any other temperature.
"To get a clear picture of events at the Nagano 1998 Olympic Winter Games we had to heat the screen from early in the morning, but the luminous efficiency of LEDs is unaffected by temperature so there was no need to heat the screen."
Assembling LED units to make A gigantic screen
An LED-based ASTROVISION system had already been in partial use at the Nagano 1998 Olympic Winter Games, but one problem had to be resolved. This was the lack of uniformity in screen color. Here too Panasonic had confidence in the latest model.
Normally, in checking for lack of uniformity in screen color, white, the color where unevenness shows up most conspicuously, is projected onto the screen. The Olympic Winter Games takes place in a world of silver and during the events, white is the color which appears on the screen more than any other. Lack of uniformity can be seen at a glance under conditions where the test screen is always up.
"ASTROVISION consists of a number of linked units, so if there is any unevenness in the individual units the place where they are joined stands out. In the most up-to-date LED systems, the screen is so even that the joins can hardly be seen and color variations are also invisible."
Furthermore, since an LED-based ASTROVISION system weighs little and has a long life, transportation and assembly are simple and overall running costs can be drastically reduced. It can be conveniently used and is environmentally-friendly. However, in bitterly cold surroundings, as at Salt Lake City, the system had one pitfall.
"Our attention was drawn to the possibility that outdoors in temperatures of between minus 10 and minus 20 degrees C, snow which stuck to the screen would freeze in the night and damage the LEDs."
Panasonic had never experienced cold like the cold in Salt Lake City. To protect the LEDs from freezing, the team adopted the strategy of keeping the electricity switched on 24 hours a day in order to store a little heat and melt any snow which stuck to the screen. ASTROVISION was always warming up as it waited for events to start.
"The harshest environmental tests can be performed 'on the job.' This is an extremely important asset. At Salt Lake there was no damage to the ASTROVISION screen for the duration of the Olympic Games. We succeeded in achieving a level of reliability that we didn't have before."
A lot of time was also spent on devising ways for 35 RAMSA sound systems in all 15 venues to withstand the Salt Lake cold.
Equipment was exposed to severe cold
There were some outdoor venues where a temporary control room had been set up in a tent where the temperature could drop to minus 10 degrees. To what extent could our equipment be used in such surroundings? It was important to be there to have direct experience of conditions. The leader of the RAMSA sound system team, Matsumi Takeuchi, describes how the team coped.
"We were dealing with a sound system which uses a lot of gigantic speakers so, as with ASTROVISION, we made sure it could operate at a moment's notice even in low temperatures by keeping the electricity going 24 hours a day. There was always a faint buzzing noise, a sign that the system was linked to the power."
It did not all go without a hitch. One morning the RAMSA team arrived at the outdoor sound system tent to discover that the power was off and there was no buzzing noise. When they switched the power on, sure enough, some of the equipment was unable to operate normally straight away when it was so cold. It was not a calamity since the backup system was brought into play for the events that day. However, there was undoubtedly an increased awareness of the RAMSA system and the attention paid to every detail in order always to maintain tiptop condition.
The RAMSA speakers, finally protected from snow by the much-traveled Jersey nets, had to undergo some further cosmetic treatment depending on where they were placed.
"The permanent theme of the Olympic Games is coexistence with the environment. In order not to spoil the scenery in a place which is home to so many people, we attached speakers to poles which were already there."
On the premise that the RAMSA speakers were going to be used in snow, they were all painted white as standard. However, speakers for poles in Park City where the Giant Slalom and the Snowboarding events were to be held were painted brown to match the trees. After setting up the speakers the RAMSA team covered each one carefully with a black cloth so that people walking along the road would be completely unaware of them. In addition, to prevent sound leakage outside the venues, they used the high-directivity speakers developed for the Nagano 1998 Olympic Winter Games and took care to place these to face spectators walking up the slope of the main street so that they would emit sound in that direction.
Everyone was impressed by the lively atmosphere
Sports, sights, sounds. These three elements were perfectly fused to make the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games a most memorable experience for all concerned.
In each venue, which was in a festive mood, the cheers of the audience brought out the best in the athletes day after day. Whereas at Nagano there had been DJs in only two venues, at Salt Lake City RAMSA DJ mixers were set up in more than half. The rock concert beat of the music and the DJ's microphone together worked up the atmosphere to new levels of excitement.
If events were ever delayed by driving snow, ASTROVISION would immediately show what was happening in other venues while the DJ would use his microphone to interview members of the audience and hold quiz games. On St Valentine's Day, to the tune of "Let's kiss!" lots of kissing couples and mothers and children were captured on screen. Ideas to stop people growing restless while they waited for an event to begin worked with the help of visuals and music which meant that ASTROVISION and RAMSA were always at the center of things.
USA TODAY ran a major article about the excellence of the visuals and the sound at the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
Panasonic's digital cameras also played a vital part in the Olympic Games.
Some sense of the lively atmosphere in the stadium could also be gleaned by television viewers.
Tae Satoya all in white against the gleaming silver of the Rocky mountains. The beautiful flower ceremony music flowed through the stadium via RAMSA speakers. The stadium filled with resounding applause as ASTROVISION captured the expression of Satoya receiving her bouquet.
The jubilant expression of Tae Satoya, the first Japanese competitor ever to win a medal in an individual event in two consecutive Olympic Winter Games, when she said, "I won this medal all by myself," was relayed worldwide by Panasonic's cameras and cast a dazzling light on Japan in the middle of the night.
* These reports were written in March 2002.