Game Creek Video: A Quartet of New Trucks for NFL Network, CSN Houston
By Ken Kerschbaumer and Jason Dachman
Game Creek Video was one of the busiest builders in the remote-production industry in 2012, rolling out four trucks: a pair for NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football package and another pair for the young Comcast SportsNet Houston’s Rockets and Astros coverage.
The NFL Network’s expanded slate of Thursday-night games in the 2012-13 season was produced out of Pride and Glory, two new 53-ft. double-expando trucks. Pride was home to the network pregame show, and game production took place in Glory. This year, both units will handle not only NFL games but also the Combine, NFL Draft, and the Hall of Fame games.
“Pride and Glory are cut from the same cloth, although Glory has a full-time B unit,” says Game Creek VP of Design and New Technology Jason Taubman. “There is now a fiber tether between Pride and Glory so that they can merge the infrastructure and work together as one unit. There are 16 strands of fiber connecting the two trucks so we don’t need three days to run 100 pieces of copper. We can be up and running within a couple of hours of dropping the trailer. It’s plug-and-play.”
Also easing that integration is an RTS tri-bus expansion for the Adam intercom, which results in 64 intercom channels allowing everyone in the three units to communicate.
“It allows intercom frames to be expanded so that one can span into another truck or location and hook up with fiber to form one large frame,” says Taubman. “Before, we used VoIP, which works fine, but it can result in a tiny bit of delay that can lead to echoes.”
The NFL Network production this season was a big one, with 10 cameras used during the pregame show and, for the games, 14 Sony 2500 cameras, two Inertia Unlimited X-Mo high-speed cameras, two super-slo-mos, a Skycam, blimp cameras, and a number of robotic units. A 4M/E Grass Valley Kayenne production switcher was at the center of operations.
The 12 EVS operators (all working on the latest XT3 servers) were located in the Glory B unit, but the equipment was in the A unit.
“That allows all of the EVS operators to be in one place and also allows the producer and director to be within arm’s reach of the graphics and editorial folks so they can interact,” notes Taubman.
Audio is handled by two Calrec Apollo boards.
Helping future-proof the trucks is a 3-Gbps Evertz router that can support 1080p/60 or 3D needs in the future. The video router is 567×1,152, and the audio is 2,560×2,560 embedded, 1,536×1,536 MADI, 576×576 AES, and 384×384 analog for a total of 5,056×5,056. The 3-Gbps pipes opened up a host of new distribution options, but the bottleneck was that only the cameras can currently pass 3-Gbps signals; the EVS replay servers compress the signal down to 200 Mbps.
“Baseband video may go away, and we may be moving IP packets around,” says Taubman. “But it’s not ready for primetime yet.”
Comcast SportsNet Houston
As with Justice and Victory, Game Creek took a unique strategy in building facilities for Comcast SportsNet Houston. Rather than the single-truck dual-feed model used by the bulk of RSNs for home/away shows, Game Creek created a pair of trucks that work in tandem to produce Rockets and Astros telecasts: a 53-ft. HD truck for the home show and a 44-ft. truck for the away show. Although MIRA Mobile Television has provided a similar solution for CSN Bay Area since 2008 (with the 53-foot expando MIRA M7HD and 48-foot expando M8HD tethered via fiber), the use of this side-by-side model for dual-feed productions remains rare in the RSN market. It looks to be on rise, however, according to Taubman.
“Historically, these contracts have been serviced by a single truck that does dual feeds,” says Taubman, “but we are taking a different approach. We are providing them a high-end truck for standalone home shows and a second smaller truck with more-limited infrastructure in it for away shows to use.”
Apollo, the 53-footer, and Gemini, the 44-ft. unit, work almost exclusively for CSN Houston (although the contract is not exclusive), which launched in October after the Astros and Rockets agreed to a $3.2 billion, 20-year deal with Comcast in fall 2010 (the Astros and Rockets hold a combined 77% stake in the network).
“We are hoping that this kind of [model] catches on, and that it is something RSNs are interested in doing,” says Taubman. “We have been looking for an excuse to build one of these mini trucks for a while. And we hope that, once it gets out into the wild, some other entities take a look at it and see that it is something they like more than a gigantic truck doing a dual feed. These trucks can also work out well for some of the smaller yet high-profile shows.”
Apollo marks the third incarnation of Game Creek’s Justice-class truck, following in the footsteps of Justice (2011) and Larkspur (2010).
Apollo features a nearly identical layout to its predecessors’ and is also built around a Kayenne switcher. Where Justice and Larkspur feature a Calrec Apollo audio console, the Apollo truck marks Game Creek’s first installation of an Artemis console.
The unit also features Sony HDC2500 cameras with Canon lensing, two six-channel EVS XT3 replay servers, and three four-channel EVS RO (replay-only) servers, Boland LCD monitors, Chyron graphics, an Evertz EQX video router, and EMR audio router.
Gemini is built around a Grass Valley Kalypso switcher and a Calrec Omega audio console.
“They are going to share some cameras and be hooked together with a fiber tether,” says Taubman. “They will be able to share basically their entire infrastructure back and forth. But the key difference between this and the past [dual-feed model] is that this mini truck can stand alone. It is its own little truck that is completely capable of doing a high school basketball game or an NBA away show. It’s just capped at 10 cameras and five EVSs.”
Game Creek also upgraded its Freedom and Patriot 53-ft. expando trucks over last summer. Both now have flat-screen monitors with multiviewers as well as command-control monitoring so that Game Creek staffers in New Hampshire can remotely ensure that the trucks are operating as expected. Patriot also received an upgrade via a Calrec Alpha console with Bluefin technology with 96 faders and new phone systems.