NEP’s latest mobile unit hits streets for NBC

It was a rainy day in Pittsburgh this Thursday but that didn’t dampen the spirits of NEP as it celebrated the completion of the newest member of its fleet: ND3, a 53-foot dual-trailer unit that will hit the road for NBC golf and Sunday Night Football telecasts.

NEP staff and partners on the project including GE Capital, Wachovia, Sony and EVS were joined by local media and the SVG to get an inside look at what is arguably the most expensive and technically advanced truck in the industry.

The truck leaves NEP’s headquarters this weekend and will head down to Edmond, Oklahoma, where it will have a week of shakedown and then be used for NBC’s coverage of the Senior PGA championships beginning May 22. On June 15 it will make its HD debut for the 2006 U.S. Open Championships at the Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, NY, and then it will be used for other golf events before moving to NFL telecasts in August.

With the use of two trailers ND3 will give NBC staffers and freelancers more room than ever to get comfortable during the long days of golf telecasts and the harried pace of NFL telecasts. In the A truck, for example, the main production team (the TD, producer, assistant TDs, etc.) will be housed in a 24×12 room separate from another 24×12 room that will house the graphics staff. The B unit includes an audio room with enough depth for Surround Sound and a tape room.

It’s only recently that mobile production builders have begun building mobile units with two trailers. As broadcasts have moved to HD the early generation HD gear added more bulk and weight to the production and, in order to get the trucks on the road and under weight restrictions a second truck was deployed to carry gear.

“We realized that as long as we needed a second truck to help keep within weight requirements why not make it integral to the show?,” says George Hoover, NEP Broadcasting SVP, engineering. “It gives everyone more room and allows us to have twice as much air conditioning which is always the bane of the mobile truck because everyone leaves the door open.”

The dual use of the unit for golf and football required NEP to change a couple of features. The 24 Sony HD cameras outfitted with Canon lenses, for example, have a number of ENG cameras in large lens adapters. “They can be used as handhelds for football and with long-lenses for golf,” says Hoover. Two Sony CineAlta packages are on hand for interviews.

The dual-use also required the use of Panasonic LCD panels because the monitoring needs for a golf telecast are very different for that of an NFL telecast. The LCD panels, coupled with an Evertz MVP multi-image display and monitoring system, can slice-and-dice the LCD monitors as needed.

Evertz MVP a requirement
“The Evertz system is a requirement in this truck,” says Hoover. “Tape operators working on an NFL game typically have two cameras assigned to them and they seldom switch inputs. But in golf they’ll need to be able to see up to 50 camera locations at once so they can cut the show properly. Each tape position in the truck has two Panasonic LCD panels stacked in front of it and, with the help of the Evertz unit, the screen can accommodate the feeds.

The tape area has 11 EVS XT2 servers (10 with six channels) plus a DNF Controls ShotBox for replay needs. A couple of Sony SRW decks are also on hand for recording and playback. “Golf is really aided by TV,” says Hoover. “In golf the recordist will cut from shot to shot on the EVS units as much of the broadcast is played back from the servers.”

The decision to rely on LCD panels is still one that not all mobile production companies are comfortable with but Hoover says they’re the only way to let someone view 50 screens at once while also addressing weight, heat, and wiring issues. For mission-critical monitoring or editing and lip sync, however, CRT monitors are on hand.

An audible
The move from CRTs to panels also was an audible called in by NBC. NBC originally wanted the truck to be an HD replica of its previous golf truck—complete with CRT monitors. But while the NBC team was in Torino for the Olympics it had a chance to check out a truck at the speed skating track that was outfitted with 17-inch LCD monitors operating in quad-split mode. “We had a couple of phone calls from Italy and turned the change around in 30 days,” says Hoover.

The main production area is centered around a Sony MVX8000A with four mix effects, an eight-channel DVEous unit, and a four-channel EVS with a DNF Controls ShotBox. The main production area is also LCD based to ensure the director has a reasonably good-sized HD monitor. “A 20-inch CRT monitor will only have an HD image that is 9 inches high if it’s letterboxed,” says Hoover. “The LCD panels also ensure the director has images of all the cameras on the course within his field of view when sitting 60 inches from the screens. He can see 48 cameras without turning his head.”

As for graphics, the graphics area is based around Avid Deko 3000 character generator and a Thunder still store for playback and compositing. It will operate in SD mode for the golf season but then make the move to HD for football.

Bigger, better audio
In the audio area Hoover says the back wall is no longer located six inches behind the mixer. The result is rear-channel audio monitors have enough distance to let the mixer more accurately mix a 5.1 channel mix.

A Calrec Alpha console with 72 double-layer faders is at the center of the room. “With so many channels of playback from EVS servers you definitely need more faders for the stereo and 5.1 mix,” says Hoover. “Right now Calrec is the hot digital console in the remote marketplace and Calrec has a long history of an extremely intuitive user interface.”

That’s important, adds Hoover, when different mixers work on the truck and need to be able to walk in and get up to speed in 30 minutes or less. “You can sit down at the board and get audio going through it in a couple of minutes,” says Hoover.

Outboard processing gear from Dolby, Rane, NVision digital audio delays and a large audio router from Grass Valley are also on hand. “The Concerto pulls in signals regardless of flavor and dumps them into a time-division multiplex matrix which lets us get send the signals wherever we want,” explains Hoover. “We can take a digital feed off of tape and get it on an analog Fostex deck without conversion equipment and patching.”

It’s no rest for the weary at NEP as it’s facility and staff is already a buzz with the next big project: the production vehicles for ESPN’s Monday Night Football telecasts. “We have 30 full-time people who work on these trucks, from designers to carpenters,” says Hoover. And with ND3 being the 81st mobile unit built at NEP in its 19-year history there’s little sign of slowing down.

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