X Games Live: From Capture to Connectivity to Transmission, ESPN Continues to Tweak

Larry Wilson has been working X Games TV productions for more than 10 years, meaning he know first-hand just how far the technology and production workflows have come in that time.

“When I started on X Games, it was an SD show on tape,” says the long-time technical manager. “Since then, we’ve transitioned to a live telecast, to HD, and now to live 3D. So it is really an amazing evolution.”

Reaching the 3D Summit
That evolution has culminated this year with a full 5D production (a 2D-3D unilateral production using a single mobile unit and crew) at both Winter and Summer X Games. To produce the show, ESPN has brought in its dedicated 3D truck, NEP SS-32 (paired with Cameron-Pace Group’s ShadowCaster 15), along with NEP Denali’s Summit unit (paired with ShadowCaster 25), which had to undergo a 3D makeover in order to serve in the 5D model.

A week before arriving in Los Angeles, NEP parked Summit at its Pittsburgh shop in order to switch out the truck’s Grass Valley Kalypso switcher in favor of a 3G-capable Sony MVS8000X switcher. In addition, once Summit arrived on-site last Thursday, NEP also installed 3D monitors and panelizers to bring Summit online for 5D production.

“For us, Shadow has often been the add-on to the formula, but this is the first time that it is a truly integrated part of the solution,” says Cameron-Pace Group Co-Chairman Vince Pace. “The goal is to have a single truck running a 5D operation and CPG is working towards that goal. But to be able to pull up to anybody’s A-unit and make very minor modifications to its infrastructure and still be able to shoot a full-on 5D show is the perfect way to service this industry at this time.”

All Fiber All the Time
With only two trucks servicing half a dozen venues across the L.A. Live complex, NEP and ESPN were also tasked with a massive challenge in terms of connectivity. In the past, Summer X would lay down 70-75,000 feet of triax cabling, according to NEP EIC Nick Romano. However, this year the show is, for the first time ever, a 100% pure fiber production.

“We do not have a single piece of triax on the entire show this year,” says Wilson. “This is the first year that we are exclusively fiber. Even Winter X this year had one or two triax-based cameras. That is a result of both the [needs of the] 3D camera systems and the huge amount of distance between the venues and trucks.”

No Shortage of EVS
Between SS32, Denali Summit, and the features production unit, ESPN has a total of 19 EVS servers on hand at L.A. Live, with seven XT3 units and a SpotBox in Summit and five XT3’s and a SpotBox in SS32. With more than 100 available EVS channels on top of 21 EVS IPDirector systems, this year’s EVS network is nearly as big as 2011 despite having one less mobile unit.

“X Games has always been a very big partnership between ESPN and NEP, and the [EVS resources] are a big part of that,” says NEP Account Executive Michael Pean. “Not that our other shows are smaller, but you just have to dedicate a lot of planning time because there are so many moving parts and so many different elements.”

A Sextet of Transmission Paths
ESPN is delivering six transmission paths via fiber out of L.A. Live: a primary left and right eye feed, a backup left and right eye feed (the left eye feeds serve as the 2D primary and backup), a baseband IPDirector path to Bristol for SportsCenter highlights and XCenter, and an ad hoc line that services ESPN3 when the broadband network is streaming content simultaneously to the content being transmitted on the main feeds.

CLICK HERE to read more of SVG’s live in-depth coverage of X Games 18.

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