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building trucks

Building a truck for broadcast remotes is an expensive and time-consuming task. Anyone embarking on such a venture must start the process with good reason. Perhaps your company's experience and workload dictate that an additional truck, available on short notice and with a known configuration, is needed. It is possible that a long run of specialized productions justifies a custom-designed and equipped vehicle. Whatever the reason, once the decision to build has been made, there are some tips to keep in mind while you still have the project on paper. It's always best to begin by getting solid answers to the two most basic questions: How will it be used? What will be analog and what will be digital?

Size for the mission Think long and hard about how the truck will be used and then expand a little in the specific areas where there is room for doubt. The first meetings should include all the major players in your organization. Engineers will build and maintain it and the production people will use it, but the marketing people will have to sell its services. What capabilities must it have to best earn its keep? Missed communication at the basic concept stage will cause problems at every later step. For simple live shots and for interviews shot for post, a two-room uplink truck with two or three cameras and a single effects bank switcher, a couple of tape machines, and an eight-input audio board is all you need. More complex productions will require separate rooms for the various production operators. The tape area is big and bright and noisy while the video engineers need a dark, small and relatively quiet area. The audio op must have a separate sound environment so that various sources can be selectively monitored pre-fader without distracting others. Get as good a collective picture as possible on what the truck will be expected to do.

Analog or digital? One day soon, the question itself will be obsolete, but while we stand on the cusp of these technologies, analog still has its spots. For video, there is no good reason to remain in an analog world. Digital cameras and switchers allow complete video operation in the digital realm. All these devices and EFP cameras allow detailed setup parameters to be saved and recalled easily, saving both time and dollars.

In recording technology, digital videotape and hard drives share a complete truck. Both are used for their respective advantages and any truck used for sports or other live events should have digital tape and hard drive recording features. Hard drive video enables simultaneous record and build, but for sustained, long-term recording, digital tape still has the cost advantage. A smartly-designed truck will use this recording media to its best advantage.

In sound, the big analog audio boards still rule many large trucks but for 24-input and smaller mixers, digital boards have become a bargain. Some capable digital boards for small, project recording studios can be used in remote trucks for under five thousand dollars, but the large, digital mega-mixers will still cost much more than analog boards with the same number of inputs. Recording boards have an extra, though unintended perk for remote truck use. Their individual channel metering can give instant visual cues to a sound op as to which inputs are active, and a constant, steady level indication can instantly warn of hum or buzz on the line. Recording boards are also excellent for musical formats when used with modular digital multitrack recording equipment such as ADATs. Once the general concepts concerning mission and budget have been decided, the actual construction details can be attacked on a solid foundation.

Power issues In remote truck operation, the most basic point is power. Because the truck is mobile, a host of different power situations will be encountered. The main rule here is that power components are not the place to save money. Only the best cable, connectors and breakers should be bought, solidly installed and frequently checked for rigid mounting. The truck will get a lot of shaking around and loose power components. With the high current they carry, this can cause arcing and fire. Beyond that, keep your circuits organized into the areas they serve. It can be handy to shut down video without having to kill the audio or to power up the intercom while other things are dark. At the same time, you don't want to use a 50-amp breaker to run a few intercom stations. One good feature to have on a separate circuit is outside floodlights and storage bin lighting for setup and strike. It's wise to mentally run through various shoots and consider actual situations in detail when thinking out your truck's power needs.

Every piece of gear that goes into the truck must be listed for power consumption, physical dimensions and weight. The power needs of every component must be known because having to redo power circuits is one of the worst retrofits imaginable. One of the best power features is pre-main breaker metering, and it is surprising how many trucks don't have it. The voltage and phase indicators are installed directly after the terminals so that the truck can be AC-connected, the meters switched in and AC parameters can be measured before exposing any sub-breakers or equipment to that power.

Wiring and weight Wiring is threaded into the truck in small increments, a handful here and a few ounces there, but you would get a real appreciation for how much it all weighs if you had to pick it up and hoist it all at once. Wiring is the most insidious weight factor on any truck. It is estimated that fifteen hundred pounds can be shaved off a large truck's weight by using lighter cable and efficient routing. Mini coax is rated at about forty percent of the weight for standard RG-59. For digital audio applications, folded foil-shielded cable can be used in place of braid shielding for significant weight savings in a large installation.

Careful placement of equipment racks can reduce cable use by hundreds of feet. Care should be taken to route AC cable, as well as all others, on opposite sides of the rack when possible to also avoid coils of AC cable. Where conduit will be used, avoid damage when pulling cable through them. One pull-length should involve bends totaling no more than 180 degrees. If insulation is scraped away while pulling and shield-conduit contact is made, noise and ground loops could result and finding them later would be difficult if not impossible. Check cables for continuity and shorted grounds as part of the installation. Avoid overstuffing conduits. To figure the right fill, get the inside diameter of the conduit, multiply the number of cables by their outside diameter and use no more than forty percent fill, which is the American standard. Fish tape and pulling compound will make the job much easier on hands, arms and cable.

While speaker cables can be run just about anywhere, special care must be taken with low-level lines for microphones. Particular attention must be given to keeping mic lines properly braid-shielded, routed away from AC and "pre-amped" at the earliest possible point. Intercom and mic cables are also subject to hum if routed near video monitors. Audio cables must maintain a floating ground. This is especially important when phantom power and "wet" (DC-carrying) intercom lines are used.

One frequent problem area in many trucks is using the wrong connectors for the type of cable used. There have even been multi-pin intercom connections made where the cable was too big for the connector shell, so the shell was simply left off, exposing the bare pins and solder joints at the end of the wire!

Another weight-saving step is to use plastic or aluminum rack tops and sides rather than steel. This can save nearly forty pounds per rack. Take note of what goes where because the truck must be properly load balanced to save undue wear on tires and to be safe on the road. Insufficient weight over the drive wheels can reduce traction and cause loss of control at higher speeds and on slick highways.

What's hot One of the most common problems in new trucks is equipment overheating because of poor air circulation. Note what runs hot and what runs cool. Use appropriate rack placement and spacing. Power supplies should be separated from other equipment by at least five rack units. Power amplifiers will cook anything mounted just above them, and even some wireless microphone receivers run surprisingly warm. Separate these things with ventilated spacers rather than solid rack panels and allow the hot air exiting the top of the racks to be vented out. Air conditioning and heating outlets should be positioned away from where operators will sit and should offer some degree of local control. People don't work well with hot or cold air blasting into their faces or down their backs. Air conditioners make noise, so it's a good idea to have the sound op position as far away from these units as possible.

Creature comforts Aside from air blasts, operators also hate being constantly whacked by doors that open the wrong way or block storage bins. Sliding doors are the best solution and should be used wherever possible in operator and storage areas. The truck's exterior storage bins should span the width of the truck body and open to both sides with garage-style doors on tracks. In the design phase, sit in the operator position in each room, taking note of the reach radius. The most frequently used equipment should be closer. Intercom buttons, compressor panels and camera controls should be within reach while patch panels and power supplies can be more distant. Video monitors need to be mounted as close to eye-level as possible, particularly when they are small and close. Speakers pointed over the audio operator's head will not offer full high-frequency response. It won't help the sound op to have a window if there will always be producers or Chyron people sitting in front of the production monitors. If this is the intent, the audio section must be elevated. Patch cables should not hang in front of video monitors and intercom stations. To avoid these silly things, production people need to work with installation engineers during design and construction.

Communications This area involves intercom, IFB, telephones, telco interfaces and squawk boxes. Aside from having intercom stations mounted where they can be reached and used with gooseneck panel mics of sufficient length, the number and type of stations is an issue. Director, producer, T.D., audio, video and tape ops will usually need multiline stations so that a number of private conversation modes can be set up. Because these units and IFB lines involve carrying DC, it's best not to send these signals through patch panels except where they exit the units in "dry" lines. Multiline telephones are a must, and each line should terminate separately on the audio breakout panel with both RJ-11 and binding post connectors.

Headset cables should connect where they will not have to be run across video switchers, audio boards and other heavily operated gear. A good place for headset connectors is usually in the edge or just under the edge of the console on which the equipment is mounted. Recessed connections are the best way to avoid being constantly banged by passing legs and hands. Telco interface with intercom is needed to avoid clumsy situations using speakerphones and wearing multiple headsets. The auto-answer feature on some of these units is very much worth the extra cost. Breakout panels need to have intercom stations with speakers. These units are very handy during setup and strike, but they also serve to keep an engineer's hands free when working with someone inside to trace problems with lines.

If the truck will be integrated with others in a combined shoot, a good feature to have is an expandable tally system. This can interface two or more trucks with data cable connecting with standard RJ-45 plugs and can allow another truck's camera tallies to operate as if directly connected to the main video switcher.

Many of these design features seem obvious when looking at a properly designed truck, but they don't just happen. All those things that just fall into place when working with a well-built remote truck spring from a great deal of discussion, planning and work.

The first Subway Series since 1956 began with a 12-inning thriller.

Through the Fox Network's innovative use of technology, viewers were brought even closer to the field. From a technical standpoint, this year's World Series coverage was set up much like those of the past. However, this year, new technologies offered the capability to do more with less. In this case, "more" included dazzling effects, POV cameras and behind-the-scenes integration. On the "less" side, the broadcasts were accomplished with fewer people and fewer problems.

Both of the Series' venues used similarly equipped NMT digital trucks, with one significant difference: the switchers. The truck at Yankee Stadium had a Sony DVS switcher (used for games one and two), and the truck at Shea Stadium had a Grass Valley (used for the next three games).

Unlike many sporting events, the location of the World Series' games remains up in the air until the last minute. Because of this, the time available for setup is significantly reduced. Crews, equipment and their associated details need to be set up and finalized in minimal time. This year's World Series needed to be set up in just two days.

Change is not always good Different equipment in each venue added to the stress of the crew. Luckily, crews did not have to bounce back and forth between venues. Doing two games in the Yankee Staduim venue followed by three games at Shea made things much easier than having to re-learn everything every night. Even simple things like buttons being in different places can slow response time and increase the possibility of mistakes. TDs don't want to think about where buttons are located, they want to do their jobs quickly and accurately. When faced with different switchers, different layouts and even different programming sequences, even professionals make mistakes.

Two stars of this year's coverage were Sony's DVS-7350/DME-7000 switcher/DVE and its MAV-555. One reason for their popularity was the seamless integration between these devices. Several aspects of the switcher's design made the job simpler, including a 32-button shot box. Because each of these buttons can be labeled individually, the amount of thinking needed to perform tasks is greatly reduced. In addition, macros provide a method for calling up and combining snapshots, and timelines and crosspoints can be preset. Combined, these items reduce the load on the technical crew, allowing them to concentrate on more important tasks.

Fox used a separate truck for the pre-game shows, which ran between eight and 20 minutes each game. After the pre-game, the feed was switched during a commercial break to the NMT truck. The show open was then done from the announcer's booth and was usually live. Several cameras, including one robotic camera, made it easy to get a quick working shot of the booth. Using subrouters, all the cameras from the pre-game show were made available to the main feed. Included in the five cameras used for the pre-game show were two that watched outside the locker rooms, ensuring that any unexpected activity didn't go unnoticed. Viewers saw pictures from these cameras during the Yankees victory celebration in the locker rooms.

A total of 29 cameras (including "fluff" cameras such as an unmanned catcher cam and the pre-game studio and locker room cameras for post-game celebrations), 20 tape machines and four channels of Chyron were part of the coverage. Switcher inputs numbered 70-75 including videos and keys. For the pre-game show on the field, Fox used Sony hand-held cameras. The hard cameras for the game were Philips. The tape machines were Sony, and a combination of Sony and DNF controllers provided the necessary playback control. Also used for the broadcasts were two EVS machines and a Profile on the pre-game show.

Remote control is critical Machine control is integral to the Sony switcher, making it unnecessary to tie up a DNF controller to control the MAV-555. This simplified MAV operation and freed up personnel. Tape operators (or the technical director) could load the clips in themselves, while still allowing the TD to have complete control over the unit. Syncing up devices was also very easy. The TD could scroll to the in-point, mark an in-point on the switcher, find an out-point and hit "Enter." The same thing was done on the B channel. Hitting "Play" provided a ready-made matte and fill simultaneously.

Although remote control has been part of switcher design for many years, today's switchers require far beyond simple tally circuits. Machine control through intelligent systems is possible and, in cases such as the World Series, coverage is almost expected. Functions such as marking in/out points (both numerically and on the fly), preroll, syncing multiple machines and even nonlinear functions are part of today's broadcast switchers. By marrying the control capabilities of a computer/nonlinear editor with the broadcast quality and expansive capabilities of a high-end production switcher, this sophisticated nonlinear editor/controller can be used in such unforgiving arenas as live sporting events. When coupled with high-quality playback systems capable of slow-motion and reverse play, the result is a live production system that can be used in any environment, including mobile applications.

As serial digital control and intelligent systems become part of nearly every piece of broadcast hardware, it is increasingly important that these systems are well engineered and integrated. Connecting device A's control system to device B's control system is relatively easy today. However, getting meaningful control capabilities from the connection is much harder. As control systems (and the data world structures) are standardized (like the BVW-75 protocol) it will become much easier to simply "plug and play." Well-integrated systems allow one or two key people to do the work of several. In many instances, that reduction of personnel also results in increased accuracy and creates a win-win for facilities and management. Today's manufacturers are working hard to provide the tools for tomorrow's facilities today.

In the hoopla of a live sporting event, especially a major event such as the World Series, it is easy to get caught up in the technology. Having access to well-integrated systems such as the DVS-7350/DME-7000 switcher/DVE and the MAV-555, makes it easier for the production crew to use the equipment to extend the coverage for the viewer's sake, without having to add additional manpower. Plus, automated systems that are simple-to-operate make last-minute changes easier to deal with and less likely to result in on-air disasters.