3 Key Missions in Building Mobile Production Vehicles

One of the largest markets these days is Outside Broadcast (OB), which moves the production studio environment into a mobile production vehicle. Whereas the studio environment may be live or taped, once you hit the road it's almost always live, even to “tape,” which brings to the surface several key areas that need to be in place for a successful broadcast. While assembling and deploying a broadcast truck involves thousands of decisions, most fall under these three critical areas for a successful OB solution.

Nothing could be more important than saving space, and all too often equipment choices are tempered with how much rack space is available and what the units can provide. Combining multiple resources in a single unit can provide better bang for the buck as well as make optimum use of premium space.

While it goes without saying that the thinner flat screens (slim-line LCD's) are a wise choice, seeking a multipurpose monitor yields the biggest wins. A monitor that can display feed information, such as vector info, waveforms, video levels, audio metering, safe area, timecode and signal format information is optimum.

Choosing display monitors needs to go beyond the standard and into the multipurpose or maximum purpose. Using more monitors that can display the most information is the driving factor. Maximum streams, such as accommodated via use of a multiviewer/image processing engine, are also important, as a monitor that can display four streams of live video will be more functional over a unit that can only display one. This dovetails into resolution, as a quad panel needs to have the resolution and dot pitch to sharply represent four individual feeds. Many rigs sport a video wall, with multiple monitors in the 46" and up range each showing 25+ separate images across a video wall.

In general, seeking products that integrate multiple technologies/applications in one device, such as integrated router/multiviewer, frees up space for additional gear or personnel.

Temperature controls are also a big part of an efficient production vehicle, as the unit could be driven to a location with sweltering heat or sub-zero temperatures. Aside from basic comfort for a production team, equipment temp levels must be at a certain sweet spot or malfunctions could occur, so it's essential that the cooling system be robust enough to cover all the needs of the mobile unit.

System startup is another important point—rather than waiting for lengthy sessions of booting up and cycling on equipment, all the hardware and software must be ready at a moment's notice. This would apply to both initial startup and rebooting in the event of a technical glitch. With HD, the frame delays must be minimum, as there needs to be less than a one-frame delay from source to input. This is where the image processing engine comes in because it is essential that everything happens as close to real-time as possible, since decisions and "cut to live" happen in an instant. This is more important with sports, but ease-of-use through intuitive GUIs and high-performance monitoring and control tools really applies to any live or recorded event.

Probably the most important feature is flexibility and making different pieces of equipment talk to each other. Some of this goes back to the monitors, where it is important to be able to move different sources and output to not only different monitors, but also different divisions of a quad (or more) monitor. Routing needs to be instant and displays need to be reconfigured on the fly. A change in the event should not produce a big change in the control room, as the crew should be able to easily reroute the content wherever it needs to go. All of this must work within the constraints of formats, timecode, clocks and program/preview.

While this is only the tip of the iceberg, and assembling a mobile production unit involves many decisions along the way, it is good to nail down several key specifics in the beginning to avoid headaches down the line. It's also worth visiting other already-assembled OB units to get a feel for how they are put together.

Something that comes up in research, and is not listed on a spec sheet, is how the room feels as far as comfort and ease of use. Controls should be immediate and a touch away for optimum use. Another is including future-proof solutions – ones that can expand along with the business needs of the truck. Creating a mobile production unit from scratch is major endeavor, but focusing on these key points, along with seeing what is currently in service, can go a long way toward finding the perfect fit.