Winter X Games Live: Tech, Facilities Vendors Unite in Aspen, Part 2

ESPN’s technology and facility vendors were back in Aspen, CO, last week for another chapter of Winter X Games. From mobile units to equipment rentals to cameras, these vendors were all over the Buttermilk Mountain truck compound and competition venues to help deliver the 18th edition of Winter X.

Bexel Supplies Routing, IPTV Infrastructure
As part of the file-based production model, ESPN partnered with Bexel to design, integrate, and deliver a video and audio infrastructure that ties ESPN’s remote X Games operations to its Digital Center in Bristol, CT.

Bexel collaborated with ESPN to develop the transmission kit shown here that ties Aspen and Bristol together.

Bexel collaborated with ESPN to develop the transmission kit shown here that ties Aspen and Bristol together.

“With any state-of-the-art large technical infrastructure, the demand on the onsite engineering team to conduct real-time monitoring of thousands of signals has become paramount to maintaining the integrity of the broadcast,” says Joe Wire, VP, sales and account development, Bexel. “ESPN’s X Games continues to be at the forefront of technology with their shared-resources plan: shared cameras, shared audio, multiple transmission paths.”

When ESPN kicked off its Global X initiative in 2013 — with Aspen, Barcelona, Munich, Tignes (France), Foz Do Iguaçu (Brazil), and Los Angeles as host cities — Bexel and ESPN engineering teams collaborated to identify equipment manufacturers and models that would provide reliability, efficient setup processes, and superior space/weight/technical-performance ratios packaged into a double-wide space-saving enclosure. Although Global X has been scaled back to two domestic events per year — in Aspen and Austin, TX — this high-efficiency workflow has continued.

The router 120×96 Harris Platinum MX router provided by Bexel has fiber and copper I/O with the ability to embed and de-embed. Packaged with a Harris Selenio frame for the transmission feeds and a DirectOut M.12k 1024×1024 MADI router, this package allows ESPN to route, monitor, and transmit complex signal flows while maintaining complete comprehension of every path. Bexel built this complete package into a dual 28RU coil spring suspended case and used Evertz terminal gear as the backbone for distribution, amplification, and 3G signal processing.

The system features DirectOut equipment to move MADI signals throughout the broadcast center using DirectOut Andiamo XT boxes to convert and transmit a simultaneous copper and MADI infrastructure to the on-site mobile units.

A quality-control infrastructure that Bexel integrated into the rack allows ESPN’s on-site engineering staff to monitor MADI inputs and destinations, AES audio, lip sync, and multiple transmission streams. In addition, a TSL PAM1-3G16 monitor provides discrete channel monitoring in a refined, small form factor.

To meet ESPN’s needs in moving multiple monitoring signals around the broadcast center, Bexel also provides a 20-channel IPTV system consisting of Evertz 3480 encoders and Amino set-top boxes.

“This system has proven extremely reliable and robust throughout its 2013 journey around the world,” says Wire. “Bexel and ESPN continue to refine this infrastructure to meet the changing aspects of the X Games. Our manufacturing partners are aligned to provide a level of support the market expects for a project of this size.”

NEP Revs Up X Games Presence With EN1, Return to 2D
NEP’s most robust team of mobile units, EN1, has been tasked with an ultra-quick turnaround this week. Following X Games in Aspen over the weekend, the foursome of mobile units (A, B, and D trucks and E support unit) have made the trek to New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, where they will serve as the home of the NFL’s Super Bowl XLVIII NFL International production. Although the cross-country trek is nothing new for ESPN’s Monday Night Football mobile units, the next-gen design and file-based infrastructure streamlines the turnaround from an extreme sports competition to a football game.

President/GM Mike Fernander (right) and Engineering Manager Nick Romano outside of NEP’s EN1 Monday Night Football A unit.

President/GM Mike Fernander (right) and Engineering Manager Nick Romano outside of NEP’s EN1 Monday Night Football A unit.

“With a Monday Night Football show, although camera positions might change, the infrastructure doesn’t change. It’s essentially plug-and-play,” says NEP Engineering Manager Nick Romano. “But the beauty of EN1 is that it’s router-centric, so it can go from a show like X Games, reload the ready-to-go defaults, and be up and running at Super Bowl for NFL International with virtually no downtime. The transition from MNF to [X Games] was absolutely incredible.”

NEP President/General Manager Mike Fernander adds, “I suppose it would be possible to do that kind of turnaround with another truck, but it certainly would have been much harder. With [EN1], it was virtually seamless.”

The presence of EN1 wasn’t the only big change for NEP in Aspen this year. With the discontinuation of ESPN’s 3D service, all cameras at X Games are back to 720p 2D. CAMERON PACE Group supplied a mass of 3D camera rigs over the past two years for the 3D production, but NEP is now back to providing ESPN with an army of 2D cameras.

“Our inventory for X Games has grown because, when CAMERON PACE Group was here, they supplied the majority of the cameras,” said Romano. “We just supplied a few cameras and some of the longer-lens requirements last year, but now we are supplying every camera besides the robos and NAC [Hi-Motion II ultra-slo-mos]. Our inventory has grown so we have [more staff] here to make sure everything is in good shape for the betterment of the show.”

Sony Back at Buttermilk
Per usual, Sony cameras are all over Buttermilk Mountain. In addition to 16 HDC-2500 and 15 HDC-1000 cameras, ESPN is deploying three Sony FCBH10 block cameras for its wireless RF FollowCam systems.

“Sony has supported ESPN and X Games for several years with our HD cameras, and we’re proud to continue this long-standing relationship at the Aspen Games,” says John Garmendi, national account manager, Sony Professional Solutions. “It’s a terrific technology collaboration that demonstrates the true capabilities of our cameras and helps deliver ESPN’S outstanding programming.”

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