NBC Olympics Relies On Visions, Bexel For Flypacks at Beijing Venues
By Ken Kerschbaumer
When NBC Olympics begins its coverage of the Beijing Games on Friday it will also signal a change in production techniques as the network, with one small exception, will rely on flypacks from Visions and Bexel instead of full-blown production trucks.
“Because the games are in HD and the time of year we really felt it was not economically feasible to take a truck out of the North American market for three-and-a-half months,” says Chip Adams, NBC Olympics VP of venue engineering. “So we decided to put all our facilities into a fly-pack operation, and when you do that it affects just about every aspect of the way we operate inside a venue.”
For example, an OB van or mobile unit can pull up a couple of days before an event, plug in, and go. “With a fly-pack we’re going to be in there about a week before just to get the facilities installed, the cables run, to get it to the level of a truck we had in past games,” says Adams. “The real challenge for us is to coordinate the equipment coming in, the install schedules at the venues, working with the host broadcaster to provide the cabins for the venues, and working with the host broadcaster to get power for some of the smaller venues.”
Visions provided OB vehicles to NBC Olympics in 2004 and 2006 but the nature of contracts with other clients made it impossible to send vehicles by boat. Flypacks also made sense because of NBC’s monitoring needs that called for 125 monitors, an amount that pushes the limit of OB trucks in Europe. “We cannot build them as large as they can in the U.S. and the average U.S. director expects to have as many monitors in front of him as he would expect to get back in the U.S.,” adds Martin Anderson, Visions managing director.
Sony HDC-1500 cameras, a Grass Valley Kalypso HD production switchers, and a Calrec Omega BlueFin desk with 70 faders and 100 inputs along with a Trinix routers with 256×256 inputs and outputs will be at the heart of the Visions facility.
Visions won’t be alone in the flypack game as Bexel, which has been involved with the Olympics going back to 1984 in Los Angeles, will support BOB, NBC Olympics, NBC News, and others.
“We’re supporting them with a number of different items, a couple of small flypacks, a couple of Sony 3300 Super Mos, and a number of long lenses,” says Craig Schiller, VP/GM of Live Event and Field Production. “We’re also supporting the remote camera venders with a number of wide angle lenses.”
The new offering from Bexel is the Hercules flypack and NBC Olympics will use it for the aquatic events.
“Over the years we’ve heard a lot of comments about flypacks and the ergonomics of flypacks with regards to the operating positions, being in front of shipping cases, not having proper consoles for operating positions,” explains Schiller. “So we’ve taken that into account and have come up with something that we feel is quite unique. We have combined a number of racks into what we’re calling dual racks. And we’re doing a lot of internal wiring and including some operating positions in what we’re calling modules.”
Hercules has many key components including the Sony MVS-8000G HD Switcher with individual keyer resizers and internal format converters so it is future-proofed to support 1080-line progressive-scan high definition (HD) production in the future.
“It lives at the heart of the new flypack system,” says Schiller, “And with the new interface with EVS this will give users’ access to the flagship EVS XT , one of the fastest, most flexible and reliable HD video servers in the world.”
Other components include the Pesa Cheetah multi-format 128×256 video router, Pesa DRS DA routing 256×256 AES, 256×256 analog audio, and Evertz MVP multi-viewers. For audio demands, Hercules has a Calrec Alpha Bluefin HD audio mixing console at its core, providing ease in 5.1 Surround Sound mixing and routing.
While running fiber optical cable is in fashion, Adams says NBC is using traditional coax cables to get the feeds to flypack facilities.
“We’ll be taking in around 200 video splits from the host broadcaster, and the cost of the terminal gear can get pretty expensive compared to the cost of cable,” explains Adams. “But to use coax, we have to be very careful about where our facilities are located as we need to be within about 100 meters of the host broadcaster technical operations center at a venue.”
That being said, Adams say NBC Olympics is still installing a lot of fiber into the venues for HD monitor feeds, Ethernet distribution, audio transmission and getting RF camera feeds to the compound.
NBC Olympics will also continue to make use of the “Pure World Feeds” with announcers in a commentary booth at the venue. Ethernet circuits then send the audio back to the IBC where a producer can take the announcer feed and marry it to the host feed.
“Depending on the programming requirements the producer can record the event directly to tape, take it in through an edit room, or, if it’s being fed live, through one of the NBC control rooms,” says Adams.”
A perfect example will be the wrestling coverage. Because there are up to three matches going on at the same time a small routing switcher at the venue will be controlled from the IBC. It will have the three feeds from the matches as well as a venue beauty cameras and an END camera feed.
“The beauty camera will be used as a background for graphic results pages and the ENG camera will be used for on-camera coverage of the announcers,” explains Adams. “We hope these additions will give us more flexibility in the coverage.”