Truck Design Shifts to IT: Engineering Report, Part II

To Read Engineering Report, Part I, CLICK HERE.

As consumer viewing habits drift towards laptops, tablets, and smartphones, the mobile-production industry is presented with an intriguing new revenue stream. However, up to this point, Webcast and multiplatform distribution has consisted of little more than a secondary crew and setup in a B unit.

“I can’t think of an event that we’ve done out of a mobile unit that went straight to Web and did not have a television element,” says Fernander. “Now, do I think that will never happen? I never like to say never. It’s already happening in other markets — for entertainment, premieres, talk shows, and so on. I think sports could potentially get there, especially for college sports. But, to date, I just haven’t seen it.”

However, streaming isn’t the only additional outlet that now falls under the umbrella of your average mobile unit. Home and away feeds, a clean and/or dirty feed for the league, international feeds, isolated camera angles, a Spanish or second-language feed, and a host of others are quickly becoming necessary components of a typical production.

“Having different outlets for the same content has really increased the demand for mobile resources within the compound,” says Corplex President Scott West. “That is definitely a good thing for the industry because the more outlets there are, the more infrastructure and people you need at the compound to handle programming. The influx of new-media needs into the remote-production environment makes truck designers ready to leave some of the legacy formats behind.”

Says NEP Broadcasting CTO George Hoover, “Every truck designer is dealing with legacy formats, and the question is, when can we make them go away? In 1998, trucks would support stereo or maybe Dolby Pro Logic, but now they have to support 16 embedded audio streams, discrete audio signals, AES audio, analog audio, MADI audio, and maybe Cobra Net audio.”

When it comes to easing operations, one of the major trends in engineering is “embedded” signal transport, whereby the audio and video signals travel together. The reason is fairly simple: recording devices like EVS servers simply don’t have enough independent connectors to handle discrete transport of each audio channel.

While there may be interest in eliminating a video infrastructure that supports analog audio, sometimes it is the only way to move the video signal. But, when the day comes that analog support is left behind, there are benefits besides less complex signal transport. “We are longing for that day so we can get weight out of the truck,” says Hoover.

Reducing truck weight to less than 80,000 lbs. is only part of the equation. Trucks also need to meet increasingly tough emissions standards.

“Green tractors weigh more than the old ones,” Hoover points out. “And everybody is having to address the new emissions standards.”

For example, taking a truck to Hawaii for NEP meant making sure it was “green-certified” by California because it needed to reach the ports there.

The one upshot is that some of the changes, such as moving to LED lighting, is having a positive impact. “LED is great as it saves space and has less heat,” says Hoover.

Riding the Technology Curve
The move to IT is also speeding up the equipment-replacement cycle.

“Nothing we put in will last more than five years, with the exception of the audio console and maybe other equipment, like lenses,” says Hoover. “But everything else will be new, like EVS servers or a new version of the production switcher.”

Also being switched out now? Older monitors. All of F&F Productions’ trucks, for example, have been upgraded to virtual monitor walls, according to Orgera.

“GTX-16 already had a virtual monitor wall, but we switched out the 15, 14, and 12 to virtual monitor walls and then put 15’s LCD monitor wall in 11,” he says. “I think [virtual monitor walls] are an absolute must in every truck we build. We are getting rave reviews out of these Boland monitors and the Evertz [multiviewers] that we have for the monitor wall. [Clients] can get whatever they want where they want it and how they want it. You just can’t do that with an LCD wall. Next year, we may put a virtual wall in 11 as well.”

The high-speed–camera market is another hot one, and F&F has its eye on the Ikegami NAC super-slo-mo that will be available early next year, Orgera says. “It acts like a real camera but also has full super-slo-mo [capability]. I know one of the networks has demoed it a couple times, and they’re just raving about it.”

Hoover thinks the super-slo-mo market should be sorted out within the next two or three years. All the camera manufacturers now offer double-speed recording as a standard feature, “but that may be too little too late for those who have already added 100-times cameras,” he opines. “The world loves high-speed cameras.”

As for next-generation delivery formats like 3D and 1080p, although the trucks have a 3G routing infrastructure that can move the signals, nobody on the client side is ordering 1080p facilities, and the 3D format continues to be a niche product for ESPN and events like the US Open tennis championship and The Masters golf tournament.

“There is a price delta on 1080p, depending on how you choose to make the capital purchases,” says Hoover. “So one has to look if it is worth the extra $500,000 to be 1080p-capable if no one wants to use it. Or do you need the extra routing capacity to handle a long-term contract?”

Adds Orgera, “We’re hearing more and more about 1080p, and we’re going to be updating GTX-15 either next year or the year after with a Kayenne switcher and make it 1080p. All cameras on 16 are 1080p, but the switcher and EVS have to be updated.”

One thing is certain: no matter how closely tied the remote facilities are to the studio operations, don’t expect producers and those responsible for telling the story of an event to be comfortable working anywhere but at the site of the event.

“At the level of what we do for a network show, there is no way to do it remotely,” says Sahara. “Once you have all of the camera and audio people out there, you might as well [have the rest of the team] out there.”

Adds Steinberg, “What we do is tell stories, and producers and directors need to be able to talk to team management and be on-site to meet with teams or go to the practice facility. Sitting in L.A. while trying to cover a game in Green Bay does not help tell the story.”

That said, Sahara notes that camera and audio signals can be sent from smaller sports events to a broadcast-operations center, provided a limited number of cameras are used.

“Those shows are not following the storylines to the extent that network shows are,” says Sahara. “So there will be opportunities to bring feeds back to a central studio for production.”

But, even at a regional level, those opportunities are limited, though with increasing technical complexity.

“I never see that day happening, even on smaller events,” says Stiver. “Even if you do a small show, you still need someone there.”

Additional reporting by Jason Dachman

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