Growing mobile HD production requires focus on training

The new vice president of engineering for National Mobile Television identifies training and support as top priorities as he assumes his new role

There may be no place where the evolution to HD is more visible than in the production of live sports for television.

Whether it’s regional or national production of baseball, football or basketball, HDTV is becoming a regular production requirement. No company is better positioned to comment on this aspect of HD production than National Mobile Television. With five large HD trailers on the road, a side-by-side HD vehicle and more in the works for 2005, NMT is a major supplier of HD facilities for sports telecasts.

Within the past month, John Kemps has taken over as NMT vice president of engineering. Formerly, the company’s director of engineering for the western region, Kemps assumes the top engineering spot after eight years with the company. High Definition Technology Update caught up with Kemps to get his perspective on the state of HD production and his priorities for the company.

HDTU: It seems that every few months, word comes of another HD teleproduction trailer in the works at National Mobile Television. That must mean demand is growing for HD.

John Kemps: I would say that it is evolving but obviously the demand for HDTV production is increasing monthly. We are currently building two of our dual format HD/SD SBS stand-alone units and making significant upgrades to our first HD truck, HD-1. We also have HD-11 in the early design phase, and recently launched HD-10 and SBS 1 for the FOX Bay Area.

HDTU: What are the priorities in meeting that demand, especially in a period of simultaneous SD and HD production?

JK: The biggest thing that you have to do is look beyond HD to identify the real scope of why you are building the truck. You must make things as flexible as possible.

HD is key. But is it also going to work in all formats? Is it going to be user-friendly for regional sports and entertainment? Flexibility is critical.

We design our mobile units for flexibility and an important part of that is selecting flexible equipment. Thomson, for example, has some very flexible solutions, and we utilize a lot of Thomson equipment.

HDTU: Besides the technology, what other concerns must be addressed to progress down the HD path?

JK: Our biggest issue is making everyone comfortable with high definition. There is a pretty dramatic learning curve with the equipment and the aspect ratios. And there are also a lot of technical challenges.

Last week, we got Sony, Thomson and EVS together for a training day in the Bay Area and invited all of the local freelancers to come for a training day. They could come in and ask questions and spend the day learning, utilizing the equipment and discussing various issues.

One of our biggest challenges is getting people familiar and comfortable with the equipment. When freelancers and people working with the production are more comfortable then the (network) production people are more comfortable.

HDTU: A year or so ago, some of the equipment typically used for SD sports production was not available for HD work. One example that comes to mind is small specialty cameras for positions like behind a basketball backboard. What about today?

JK: We have really good relationships with a lot of manufacturers. A lot of equipment comes out of needs we encounter as we build a truck. We are light years ahead of where we were three years ago and getting better all of the time. However, there still are issues that our manufacturing friends are dealing with all the time.

HDTU: As you look towards the future, what do you see for HD production?

JK: Going forward HD is going to be the norm more and more. What percentage? It is tough to say. But the demand is certainly there. NMT is doing all we can to meet that demand.

HDTU: What priority have you set for yourself in your new position as vice president of engineering?

JK: My driving, biggest concern is for the people. We have to get as much training and support as we can possibly provide them so they can deal with the new technology. My biggest priority is getting our field engineers up to speed and far along down the HD road.

It is certainly a challenge. Basically you have to work around their traveling schedules. Fortunately, a lot of manufacturers have a lot of onsite classes, and we can bring manufacturers to one of our facilities around the country. We have facilities on both the east and west coasts where we can bring manufacturers together and talk about particular technologies and equipment.

And right now I am working hard to put a plan of action together to get these guys and gals the training that they need. It certainly is not easy, but there are some things as a mobile provider that we have to do.

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