NEP rolls out new truck for ESPN at Home Run Derby

By Ken Kerschbaumer
Pittsburgh-based NEP rolled out its latest top-of-the-line remote production truck earlier this week for ESPN, getting a chance to kick the tires, literally, at PNC Park in Pittsburgh for the 2006 Home Run Derby.

NEP is located about 20 minutes away from the ballpark so the ability to have a real-world test so close to home was a huge plus. More importantly, the 53-foot dual-trailer unit, known as SS25 and SS25A, operated perfectly for the broadcast.

It s a promising start for a vehicle that will be a major headliner for ESPN, working events like Monday Night Football, the NBA Finals, the Summer and Winter X Games and the NCAA Women s basketball Final Four. It s truly our big event truck, says Rick Abbott, ESPN vice president, remote productions.

The truck will usher in a new era for Monday Night Football, serving as the backbone for a massive production effort that will require seven production trucks as ESPN turns each telecast into the equivalent of a Super Bowl broadcast.

For Steve Carter, ESPN remote operations manager, the key was ensuring that the truck can easily be converted for use from one event to another. We didn t want it to be so MNF specific that it can t be used for other events, he says. Part of the design is flexibility.

That flexibility begins with a virtual monitor wall within the graphics and stats operations area in SS25A. An Evertz multiviewer is on hand to allow operators to configure the wall to their personal preferences. Three Vizrt graphics units with all of the latest options and features will be installed in the truck for MNF as ESPN and ABC make the move to Vizrt for all college football and professional football telecasts.

Carter says flat-panels work in the graphics area because they re almost a static object so concerns about latency and lag aren t as much of a concern. But the main production area, centered around a Grass Valley Kalypso production switcher and up to 24 Grass Valley LDK-6000 cameras, has more than 120 Ikegami CRT monitors to ensure proper syncing and cuts.

Flexibility also plays a part in the selection of the Kalypso with three Mix Effects because it can have graphics on one layer and another look underneath. For example, we ll be sending a clean feed off the switcher to ESPN Deportes, says Carter. If we go to a certain source on the ESPN telecast that Deportes doesn t want we can program it to go to another source.

Stepping into the main production area it becomes clear that ESPN puts a premium on giving the crew the room and space to work comfortably. Typically a sports production truck is laid out front to back but we went with an entertainment-type truck design, says Carter of the side-to-side layout. Instead of three work benches we have two.

His favorite feature? Because the monitor wall is located on the side of the truck instead of the front it can be pushed out via an expand section. When the wall is pushed out we gain three feet of space and the monitors aren t on top of the crew, he says. More workspace is also found within the other truck, SS25, that houses the audio and tape area. Ron Scalise, ESPN audio consultant, says older truck have a smaller work area that required anyone else working in the area to whisper so as not to disturb the mixer. But the new area gives the mixer the space and privacy required to focus while also having enough space to properly set up a surround sound monitoring environment.

The mixer can sit right in the sweet spot, says Scalise. The room also gave NEP the ability to move audio processing gear from above and in front of the Calrec console and place it in a counter located right behind the mixer.

That makes it more like a recording studio, where the mixer can turn around and tweak the gear easily, says Scalise. It also allows for more monitors above the console so the mixer can keep track of the audio from different playback machines.

That s important, he says, because with home viewers having more top-of-the-line audio environments the mixer needs to be sure they can hear the audio with the same quality as the home viewer. Now nothing will get by the mixer and leave the truck that isn t perfect, he says.
While the audio, graphics and production areas all impress it s the tape area, the largest to ever hit the road in a remote vehicle, which shatters stereotypes of cramped quarters. Up to 14 operators can be located in a room built around Panasonic flat-panel displays and EVS replay devices. And like the main production area, it s laid out in a unique way with seven operators facing outward from a main aisle.

It allows the operators to spin around and talk, says Carter. And again, the operator can lay out the monitor wall the way they want and call up a file and see their layout of up to 16 different images.

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