In the world of mobile production vehicles, bigger is not always better. While the typical state-of-the-art 53ft tractor trailer certainly makes for a roomy work environment that can accommodate a large number of sources for a multicamera production, there are times when they aren't a good fit — either due to limited available space onsite or limited budgets.
Proshow, a Canadian equipment rental and production services company in Vancouver, B.C., has built a new HD 38ft rig that is proving its 30,000lb weight in gold. Using a Peterbuilt chassis, the truck was built by Gerling Associates as part of its Stallion series of production truck offerings.
Cost was certainly a factor in deciding the size and equipment complement of the truck, but Tim Lewis, president of Proshow, said it was also about recognizing an unfulfilled market niche and listening to what its broadcast clients needed most.
Proshow got its start as an audio equipment rental and service company, where it worked with many broadcasters in Canada. The company then expanded to include fly packs complete with a full complement of video gear (cameras, switcher, etc.) to help broadcasters like Global Television produce their annual telethons and other news segments. (The recent Winter Olympics in Vancouver made heavy use of its equipment during the month-long games last February.)
Smaller is (sometimes) better
The issue of a smaller truck came up time and again in conversations with current and prospective clients looking for an economical way to produce a live multicamera event without compromising on quality. Those discussions soon led to the design and build of Proshow's first truck, dubbed Prodigy. It was built in 2008 and designed for SD productions, with the expectation that an upgrade to HD was inevitable.
Sure enough, in the fall of 2009, Prodigy was upgraded to HD capability and began working on events like the WHL finals in the spring of 2010. The summer saw the signing of a new contract with Graystone Media for broadcasts of the University of Oregon Ducks football team. Proshow began covering every home game and some away games in 2010. As the team went forward winning all of its games and moving into contention for college football's national title, ABC and ESPN were also on hand undertaking national broadcasts. The OSN games appeared on Comcast throughout the northwest United States
For each Ducks home game, Proshow's truck helped Graystone produce a live pre-show, the actual game and often a post-game show. Graystone produces the game for the Oregon Sports Network (OSN) to provide Ducks sports coverage. If ABC/ESPN were carrying the game, OSN's production was rebroadcast up two hours later on Comcast.
Larger productions with smaller gear
To accommodate the more complex live sports telecasts, some additional equipment, including new Canon 86X HD telephoto lenses, a second EVS replay server (for a total of 12 channels) and a Blackmagic Design Videohub (72 × 144 I/O) router, were installed on-board the newly refit ProdigyHD. A Sony MVS-8000GSF 2.5 M/E HD production switcher, eight Sony HXC-100 HD cameras on triax, a Yamaha digital audio console and an expanded number of Blackmagic mini signal converters were also added to increase its flexibility and ability to handle a variety of SD or HD projects.
The miniconverters are used to handle any of the numerous formats they work with at the different venues throughout Canada and the U.S. These include Blackmagic's new up/down/crossconverters that are used to downconvert HD signals for displays on producer and program monitors outside the truck.
Always on the lookout for new, more efficient (and lighter) ways of doing things, the Proshow engineering crew controls the Videohub router via a new (free) app on an Apple iPad, which allows them to fully program the monitor wall and reroute sources as necessary from the tablet touch screen.
Because the inside of the truck is more crowded than larger trucks, space efficiency was certainly an issue when installing the equipment. Lewis and Mark Fisher, Proshow's vice president of engineering (who led the installation), were careful to choose compact yet highly dense equipment that offered as many features as possible. The truck includes only two 6ft high racks of terminal gear. The Videohub is used for all of the monitoring of the truck (including a battery of Marshall LCD monitors at the front of the Production area and elsewhere displaying different sized sources with Miranda Kaleido-Alto multiviewers). A separate Nevion Sublime (64 × 64) router handles the live production sources.
Filling in the gaps
Lewis said the goal for Prodigy was always to fill in the gaps left by the larger production companies, not compete with them. The OSN/University of Oregon wanted to go HD this year for the first time, but didn't want to incur the expense of a larger rig and all that comes with it. The price and availability of Prodigy provided the perfect fit.
The Prodigy HD truck is now contracted to do a dozen Oregon Ducks basketball games this winter and the 2011 Ducks baseball season starting this spring, as well as this spring's track and field season. Graystone Media has also secured the truck for its coverage of the WHL on Fox Sports Northwest. The truck also is sometimes used as a “B” rig for larger production by companies like Dome Productions (Canada) and Trio Video (Chicago).
Another benefit of a smaller truck, according to Lewis, is that Proshow doesn't have to have it working 200+ days a year (like the multimillion dollar large trucks) to make the business model work; they can arrive at a venue and be ready for crew call (referred to as “park and power”) in only 30 minutes, about a third of the time it takes the larger trucks to do. After the game, the Proshow crew usually drives away about 90 minutes after the buzzer. As a result, the cost (fuel and crew expenses) to run the ProdigyHD truck is far less than its larger brethren.
Since after the Winter Olympics, the phone has not stopped ringing. Lewis chalks up the incredible interest to regional HD truck availability and having the right truck for the right price.
Michael Grotticelli regularly reports on the professional video and broadcast technology industries.
Tim Lewis, president
Mark Fisher, vice president of engineering
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