SOUTH BEND, IND.—College campuses are places for higher learning, and NBC is getting in on that mentality as well this year as the broadcaster is initiating a 4K simulcast to its traditional HD broadcast of Notre Dame home football games using the 39 Flex truck from the Englewood, Colo.-based Mobile TV Group (MTVG). The truck is specifically built to handle 4K production, and with it, NBC has been able to test out the process for possible uses in the future.
NBC announced back in September that it would be offering simultaneous 4K broadcasts of Notre Dame home football games to DirecTV customers. So far the network has handled three broadcasts, with the fourth taking place this weekend as the Fighting Irish take on Stanford. According to NBC’s broadcast director for the games, Pierre Moossa, it’s been an exciting process so far, but there is still a learning curve.
“This is a little bit of a unique production for NBC, in that we still have our normal mobile unit, an HD mobile unit, that we normally do our production with,” said Moossa. “The Mobile TV Group 39 Flex is a side-by-side production.”
Specifically, there are about seven to eight people working in the 39 Flex during Notre Dame broadcasts, a smaller number than what is in NBC’s NEP HD truck. Moossa, who operates from the NEP truck, is in communication with the operators in the 39 Flex so that they can mimic HD production’s moves, creating an identical broadcast for those who are able to watch on 4K.
However, despite the HD broadcast being the driving force behind the production, 4K is quickly putting its fingerprints on how these games are captured. Eleven of the 16 cameras being used during the production are native 4K, with mostly only specialized cameras used for aerial footage remaining just HD. The 4K cameras’ feeds are sent straight to the 39 Flex and then shaded and downconverted to be sent to the HD truck. To do so, NBC has also had to change its format to work with the 4K cameras, switching from 1080i to 1080p for footage, graphics and playback clips.
“The transition alone has required a lot more time and it’s also been a bit of a learning curve there,” explained Moossa. “Generally speaking, it’s a much bigger set-up and it’s a much bigger connectivity between the trucks… but it’s definitely one that’s had a huge impact and a huge benefit.”
Including the game this weekend against Stanford, there are four more Notre Dame home games where NBC will utilize the 39 Flex truck from MTVG. Where things go after that, however, is still up in the air.
“In the short term, there are plans to do more,” said Moossa. “Nothing’s been confirmed yet… but really the Notre Dame focus has been baby steps… let’s make sure we get this operation moving and make sure it’s a huge success and it has been. So now the next steps are to take a look at other properties and projects that we could do that.”
The time when NBC will be able to handle entire productions with just a 4K truck will depend on when 4K is more prevalent and accessible, but Moossa feels that the experience thus far with the 39 Flex has been valuable in preparing them for that step whenever it comes.