The mobile truck takes HD on the road.
The European public's appetite for HD program content is steadily increasing as satellite and terrestrial broadcasters make the transition from SD ahead of the great analog switch-off. Even with the high data compression rates currently employed by broadcasters, the resultant pictures can be impressive when viewed on a 1m diagonal or larger LCD or plasma-panel display. The introduction of HD-DVD and Blu-Ray optical disk formats provides yet another avenue through which content can be delivered to the rapidly expanding.
Outside Broadcast is a Belgian TV facility company with 12 mobile production units. Founded in 1988 and based near Brussels, we specialize in national and international broadcast services. Our production experience includes musical programs, TV specials and DVD-recordings for clients based all over the world. Most of our productions are in 1080i high definition, handled by a fleet of five HD vehicles: Units 4, 7, 8, 9 and 11. We also have two SD vehicles, two flyaway kits and three fixed production rooms.
Unit 11 is our latest (and largest) vehicle. It measures 10m long by 3.8m high and can expand to a width of 3.8m. The trailer is divided into four rooms allocated to vision control (at rear), editing, production and sound (at front). Entry is via doors immediately ahead of and to the rear of the production area. The vehicle was built to our design and equipped by our own engineering team.
Equipment choice was in every case a team effort based on the need for high quality, reliability, operational flexibility, ergonomics and compactness. We were also keen to incorporate sufficient parallel resources to keep a crew on-air if any component failed just before, or during, a production. In other words, we aimed to incorporate workarounds to safeguard against any single point of failure.
Incoming lines from up to 16 HD cameras can be handled in the vision control room. Four staff members can be accommodated at the rear-facing racks desk, supervising camera control, color grading and routing. The cameras are a mix of Sony HDC-1550 HD and HDC-950 HD, chosen for their ruggedness, stability and consistently high performance.
Three Leader LV7700 rasterizing multistandard test instruments are installed in the camera rack. Ordered through elQuip BV in Eindhoven, they simplify the task of color grading for the various types of display now in common use. The great majority of HD audiences are watching LCD or plasma displays, so it is no longer safe to rely only on CRTs. The test instruments enable us to check individual component signal levels and color vectors, ensuring our output conforms fully to standard broadcast parameters. The analyzers are fully compatible with every signal standard we use.
Each test instrument is connected to an external screen and used to monitor incoming camera feeds. We also use them to check video and audio on the transmission output. They are intuitive to use and have all the features we need, including embedded audio monitoring, instead of requiring a string of optional add-ons. The LV7700's small size means we can get two into a 1RU slot, feeding adjacent rack-mounted LCD display screens. Leader's cable-length measurement feature is also useful for checking pulse waveform quality in long-run camera feeds. We have installed the LV7700s in all our HD OB units, providing consistent signal analysis for operators as they move from one vehicle to another.
The picture monitors in Vision Control are a mix of CRTs and LCDs. The CRTs are 16:9 Sony BVM-A14 Class A 14in (35.6cm), and the LCD is a 16:9 Sony LMD 232W 23in (58.4cm) with Axon four-way splitters. Our production crews are becoming increasingly keen on the LCDs as they have a natural contrast and color balance that correspond with reality. LCDs are also much less reflective than CRTs or plasmas, so they throw back no stray light.
Our master sync generator is a DK PT5300 HD/SD multiformat genlockable unit with front panel and remote control. This supports 21 HD formats in addition to SD-SDI (535/625), standard B-Burst PAL and NTSC. It provides sub-nanosecond delay compensation and full genlock capability.
The editing suite can accommodate 16 VTRs, which are selected according to the requirements for each specific production. We can draw from an inventory of Sony HDCAM, Digital Betacam SX/SP or Panasonic D5. Up to 10 EVS LSM slow-motion disk recorders can also be housed here and are used intensively for sports coverage in conjunction with Sony DTR-3000 slow-motion controllers.
In addition to two editing stations, the edit suite can seat another camera control unit operator, again equipped with a Leader LV7700 rasterizing test unit to assist in signal analysis and color balance.
Occupying the middle section of OB Unit 11, the production gallery can be expanded to produce four additional desk positions to the rear of the five-seat production desk. All nine operators face on to a monitor wall with 10 15:9 Sony LMD232W 23in (58.4cm) LCDs mounted as one row of four above another row of six. Eight are normally used in quad-split mode to permit monitoring of up to 32 sources — the top-center two screens being reserved for full-size preview and program monitoring. Each of the four rear desk positions is equipped with its own 16:9 LCD monitor screen, again with quad split.
A Grass Valley Kayak HD/SD vision switcher is located towards the right of the forward production desk. This was chosen both for its compactness and its excellent ergonomics. It is equipped with 48 inputs, 24 outputs, six channels of RAM video storage, and five DVE channels and 2.5 mix/effects channels. The RAM store is useful for processing short clips. Video routing is via a Grass Valley Concerto 128-square HD/SD SDI matrix.
Our framestores are a mix of Leitch and Grass Valley, supported by Axon Digital Design HD/SD synchronizers and up to eight Folsom ImageProHD signal processors. The signal monitors are video scalers, scan converters, switchers and transcoders in one. We use them to convert between RGB, HDTV, component, composite, DVI, SDI and HD/SDI. Each ImageProHD supports a variety of analog and digital output formats, including broadcast and VESA standards. They incidentally allow custom output formats to support specific display requirements. The ImagePro line includes universal inputs, aspect ratio conversion, memory presets, vertical lock, picture adjustments, motion adaptive de-interlacing, and 3:2 and 2:2 pulldown detection.
Other equipment in the production gallery includes a Snell & Wilcox 6200 HD format converter, Axon Digital Design Synapse aspect ratio converters and Grass Valley Gecko audio/video distribution amplifiers.
Intercoms here and throughout the vehicle are Clear-Com Matrix Plus3 72×72. Camera crew and other outside staff members communicate via Telex Radiocom and Motorola wireless links.
The sound control room is centered on two Yamaha DM2000 digital production consoles placed side-by-side. These versatile systems come precabled for multitrack operation. The combination gives Unit 11 a high level of operational flexibility. Having two identical units also means we have a complete backup audio console in the unlikely event of one DM2000 failing. It is a logical way of working, and because each DM2000 console is only 900mm wide, it is space-efficient. Two Sony LMD 232W 23in (58.4cm) LCD picture monitors are wall-mounted in front of the Yamaha consoles, augmented by a pair of 19in (48.3cm) 4:3 LCD panels, which can be used in various roles.
The truck's sound control room is equipped for surround audio monitoring through Genelec loudspeakers located at the front and rear. Genelecs are also used throughout the vehicle. Tying in with the Grass Valley Concerto router in the production suite, we chose a Concerto router to handle audio switching. This is configured for 64 × 64 digital audio and 32 × 32 analog stereo. Waves MaxxBCL and Bmax compressors augment the dynamic control facilities in the DM2000.
These are mounted in an overhead rack, which is tilted forward for easy access by a seated sound mixer. Tascam CD and MiniDisc decks are also accessible if required.
Since its completion, Unit 11 has proved a reliable and high-quality mobile resource covering sports, musical and dramatic-arts events in many European countries, including duty at all Arte HD live transmissions, World Cup football in Germany, and a wide range of pop concerts and other TV productions.
This year, Outside Broadcast will bring another large HD OB van on the market, equipped with Sony HDC1550 cameras. It will be a large 13.8m trailer expanding to a 4m width over the entire length. The arrival of 1080i-native flat-panel displays on the consumer market this year will undoubtedly accelerate demand for HD, both by reducing the price of 720-line downconverting displays and by proving to consumers that 16:9 HD broadcasts viewed on a 40in (101.6cm) screen or larger really are nothing short of home cinema.
Ronald Meyvisch is the technical and operations manager for Outside Broadcast.
Technology at work
Axon Digital Design
Synapse aspect ratio converters
Clear-Com Matrix Plus3 intercom
DK-Technologies PT5300 SPG
EVS LSM disk recorders
Folsom ImageProHD signal processors
Genelec audio monitoring
Gecko distribution amplifiers
Kayak SD/HD switcher
Harris Leitch framestores
Leader LV7700 T&M
Snell & Wilcox 6200 converter
HDC-1550, HDC-950 cameras
CRT & LCD picture monitors
HDCAM, Digital Betacam VTRs
Telex Radiocom wireless communications
Yamaha DM2000 audio console