Veteran sports production company Game Creek Video, based in Hudson, NH, is building a new HD-compatible truck for Madison Square Garden (MSG) Network. The new rig will hit the road in September, in time for the NBA’s New York Knicks basketball and New York Rangers hockey seasons.
In 1998, MSG parked one of the first HD-capable mobile production trucks (HD1, and later HD3) in the United States, built by National Mobile Television (NMT), outside the famous sports arena and began doing multicamera productions. The camera angles were limited and the framing for 4:3/16:9 audiences was rudimentary, but the precedent for HD sports was solidified and other organizations followed suit.
For Game Creek, building the new multimillion-dollar truck, the 20th in its fleet, was made possible by a multiyear leasing agreement with MSG. The truck will be used first and foremost by MSG for Knicks and Rangers home games. It will also fill in for some New York for Islanders (Nassau Coliseum) and New Jersey Devils (Prudential Center) hockey games as well as some major entertainment events, when it’s available. The truck will include MSG signage on the outside.
Typically, MSG games are produced on-site in New York City, then the live signal is sent out to a master control facility in Bethpage, Long island, where additional ID graphics and commercials are inserted before going to air.
“This is the first truck that Game Creek has built for MSG, but we have worked with the network for many years,” said Pat Sullivan, president of Game Creek. “We could not build a truck of this size and capability without the support of an anchor client like MSG.”
The agreement is a good one for MSG because, like many sports producers these days, it does not want to get involved in the maintenance of the trucks and the need to continually upgrade it with new technology.
“We made the decision in 1997 that we were not going to be using control rooms for our productions,” said Jerry Passaro, senior VP of network operations and distribution. “We feel that having a truck parked outside [Madison Square Garden] is the most cost-effective way to do it.”
Since then, MSG has used NMT and Game Creek trucks almost exclusively. “The HD3 truck was coming near the end of its life, and so it was time to upgrade to the latest technology we could get our hands on,” Passaro said. “MSG has always used the newest technology, because our fans expect it from us.”
In early 2008, Passaro — and a team led by Michael Mitchell, chief engineer; Jeff Ostrom, director of technical operations for MSG Media; and Bob Brown, director of network operations — began the multilayered process of designing the most technically advanced production truck they’ve ever used. After years of producing HD shows, they had a clear understanding of what needed to be included and how best to layout the different productions areas inside the truck.
“We sought proposals from all of the major truck vendors and picked Game Creek because we were using their Northstar, Eagle and Yankee Clipper HD trucks for Islanders and Devils games, and we were quite pleased with how the trucks performed and the maintenance service that Game Creek provides,” Passaro said. “We think it’s very important to develop a good working relationship with a truck vendor, and we feel we have that with Game Creek.”
The equipment for the new 53ft expando truck will include at least 10 Sony HDC-1500R HD cameras, a new Grass Valley Kalypso HD switcher (which will be outfitted with a newer Kayenne later in 2010), a PESA Cheetah 3Gb/s-capable router (288 x 576 I/O for video and 1024 x 1024 for audio) and Evertz signal conversion equipment. Audio (5.1 surround in some cases and stereo most of the time) will be handled with a Calrec Alpha audio console with Bluefin audio networking. Also onboard are the latest Chyron HyperX HD graphics systems and six EVS XT replay devices.
This will also be the first production truck Game Creek has ever built without CRT monitors. All of the screens onboard will be flat-panel LCD displays — two main screens from Sony and a host of others from NEC.
“You can't get CRT monitors anymore,” Sullivan said. “Weight was also an issue with this truck, so the lighter-weight LCD panels helped a lot. The high-end LCD panels for critical monitoring really make great pictures, so we don't feel we're compromising in any way by having a flat monitor wall.”
With the new gear, the truck will be capable of handing 1080p/60 productions, should MSG decide to produce games in that format in the future. The new truck will also be immediately familiar to MSG production crews used to working on the other Game Creek trucks. That’s important when MSG is producing more than 300 HD sports events per year. Games are currently produced in the 1080i HD format. An engineer from Game Creek, or MSG’s Ostrom, is usually present for each production.
“We like [1080i] because it gives us a better image on screen,” said MSG’s Mitchell. “In sports, it’s all about what the action looks like on a HDTV set — period.”
Icon Broadcast, a systems integrator also located in Hudson, is currently managing the integration of two Game Creek HD unites, the MSG truck and the replacement for Liberty, which was destroyed in a fire in April.
Icon Broadcast is integrating the truck and installing wiring and equipment based on the designs of Paul Bonar, VP of engineering for Game Creek, and Jason Taubman, VP of new technology and design for Game Creek. Gerling and Associates built the trailer itself.
While Game Creek engineers primarily designed the new truck, MSG’s engineering team had significant input into its inner workings. The building of the new truck coincides with a major renovation now underway across the entire venue, including the famous arena and its numerous production facilities located inside.
“The new Game Creek truck is the first part of our redoing the whole MSG infrastructure and positions us well to handle any type of HD production, be it sports or live entertainment,” Passaro said.
MSG will also continue to use Game Creek’s existing trucks when multiple games are occurring simultaneously.