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Page last updated at 16:31 GMT, Thursday, 11 February 2010
New chapter for iconic BBC Kingswood Warren site

By Zoe Kleinman
Technology Reporter, BBC News


Zoe Kleinman explores Kingswood Warren: the BBC's technology HQ

Wherever you are in the world, the chances are that at least some of the technology in your living room started life in this sprawling gothic mansion house in deepest darkest Surrey.

HDTV, Nicam digital stereo Teletext and international standards for digital television were all developed at Kingswood Warren, home to the BBC's team of broadcast technologists since the 1940s.

The end of February marks the start of a whole new chapter for both the tech team and the building, when the BBC hands over the keys to Kingswood's new owner, property developer Octagon.

The broadcast experts are moving to new premises in a refurbished building in west London - and some will head on to the corporation's new HQ in Salford in 2011.

They are currently busy packing away 60 years worth of kit - everything from FM radio and colour TV to the interactive red button was painstakingly perfected in the calm surroundings of leafy Kingswood's wood-panelled offices and labs.

Production magic

Graham Thomas' work brings election night to life.

Graham Thomas, head of production magic, is boxing up his "office" - the studio he first saw when he visited Kingswood Warren for a job interview in 1983.

The studio is notable for the black and white circles resembling targets which hang from the ceiling - used by cameras to locate 3D virtual graphics that are not visible to the human eye.

The studio was also responsible for some of the early work on HDTV

Back in 1983 it contained a giant rotating drum plastered with scenery from Hornby model railway kits.

Mr Thomas' predecessors tested out a "hacked" black and white camera to run at different image capture speeds - the basis of HD. Kingswood built its first HD recording and edit suite five years later in 1988.

Mr Thomas's work since then has brought to life the inimitable Swingometer used by the BBC on election nights, and the on-pitch graphics favoured by Match of the Day in its post-match analysis.

He's now focused on bringing his unique blend of studio camerawork and special effects to the Olympic coverage in 2012.

"We try to do blue-sky," says Andy Bower, head of R&D operations.

"In general consumers are used to a greater pace of change. Televisions used to last 10 to 15 years - now they're used to changing them every five years, maybe less."

Eerie anechoics

However, not all of Kingswood's technology will be making the move.

The site's anechoic chamber will be left behind intact because it is no longer in great demand.

Anechoic chamber, Andy Bower
Andy Bower in the "eerie" anechoic chamber.

The room is a haven of near-perfect silence, thanks to the thousands of metre-long wedges of polyurethane foam which line the walls, floor and ceiling.

It is used to test equipment such as microphones and speakers, as there are no external factors which could distort their performance.

One of the chamber's more unusual jobs involved testing the rustling sound levels of a colostomy bag at the request of its manufacturer.

Andy Bower won't miss it much.

"I personally don't like it," he told BBC News. "It's so quiet in here, you can almost hear yourself thinking. It's an eerie experience."

But he has a novel suggestion for the site's new owners: "It could be used as an immersion tank for a therapeutic centre type thing."

You can hear more about Kingswood on 11 February on Material World at 16.30GMT on Radio 4. The programme will also be available on the BBC iPlayer and as a podcast.

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