PITTSBURGH—Most sports TV production trailers are built to serve one primary master; i.e. a specific network, client and/or sport. But NEP Broadcasting's new 53-foot HD production unit, the Supershooter 22 (SS22) had to satisfy the desires of two competitor: Fox Sports and ESPN. Fox Sports wanted a trailer tailored to produce NFL games in the fall and winter, while ESPN wanted a unit suited to NBA coverage in the spring and summer.
"Fox and ESPN are very important clients who have similar needs, but unique perspectives on what they want from the HD production units," said George Hoover, NEP Broadcasting's CTO. "So we essentially conducted 'shuttle diplomacy' with both broadcasters, going back and forth negotiating SS22's layout and equipment. The result is a very flexible production trailer that takes into account both of their needs— which was no mean feat."
The SS22 is parked in NEP’s Pittsburgh shop to prep for the next show. "There's a lot that is common in the production of TV sports, whatever sport you are covering," said Mike Davies, Fox Sports' vice president of field operations. "Where the leeway has to be is in the ergonomics of the production space—to maximize efficiency for both networks—and in ensuring that we can use the specialized equipment we both need to meet the unique demand of football and basketball."
"NEP did a great job gathering input from both ESPN and Fox on the buildout of SS-22," says Chris Calcinari, ESPN's vice president of event operations. "Fox wanted more space in tape and we wanted more focus on audio, router capacity and monitoring, which were accommodated in the design."
WHAT MAKES IT DIFFERENT
From the outside, NEP's SS22 looks like most high-end 53-foot production trailers. However, go inside, and you will see some striking contrasts to what's considered "normal."
The biggest difference is the layout of the main production space. Instead of facing front to back, SS22's main space is laid out side-to-side, (extra depth is provided by a full expando wall on the right side of the trailer, at the back of the production space. The monitor wall also has its own expando wall on the left.) This design "allowed us to increase the NEC flat-panel monitor wall capacity by 30 percent," said Hoover, "bringing us from 110 images to 140-150 images." Controlled by a Harris Centrio Multiviewer and managed by a PESA HD Router (256x520), the resolution within the system is so sharp, that "each individual image is HD quality," Hoover notes.
Video switching is handled by a Grass Valley Kalypso Switcher 7 inside SS22; or rather 'SS22A', which is the official name of this trailer. Meanwhile, all of the graphics production is done in a second 53-foot trailer labeled the "SS22B." Graphics are produced using a Chyron Hyper X3 and a For-A HD Telestrator.
"We need a lot of room inside our main production trailer for our seven tape operators, their equipment, and our routers," says Davies. "This is why we asked for, and got, all of the graphics capability set up in a second trailer. It also made room for carrying specialized equipment, like our hypermotion camera and other third party gear."
The SS22’s design allowed NEP to increase the NEC flat-panel monitor wall capacity by 30 percent. Another difference can be found within SS22's impressive 5.1 surround sound audio facility. Located in SS22A, its crowning glory is a Calrec Apollo Digital Audio Console with extra top layer faders.
"We had a very significant requirement from ESPN for a very large audio console with extra faders for their NBA coverage," says Hoover. "The reason they wanted the extra faders was to allow their audio operator to have fast access to a whole range of inputs on the top level, rather than having to drill down through menus to access channels on the fly."
"We have been very focused and deliberate about our audio requirements for 5.1, which includes 16 channels of embedded audio and quick access to all sources," Calcinari says. "This requires a very large console."
Now that HD has become "old hat," as Hoover puts it, much of the technology found on SS22 could be considered "standard" for network sports coverage. This includes SS22's 12 Sony HDC-1550 handheld cameras with a range of Canon zoom lenses, EVS AT3 production servers; Sony HDW-500 HDCAM VTR and Panasonic AJHD-1800 DVC Pro VTR; and an Abekas DVEous MX Dual Twin HD DVE with CPL control. Also standard are the truck's core networking infrastructure, which has been built to 3 Gbps specifications. "The 3G core and large router gives us the option to support 3D and 1080p down the road if required," says Calcinari.
This said, SS22 represents "a tangible advance in the state-of-the-art," says Mike Davies. "What makes SS22 special is that it incorporates many small ideas about HD production into a single unit," he explains. "Field experience has taught us that we need larger monitor walls, fewer functions crammed into the main production space, and as much real estate as can be managed. The SS22 has been designed with these lessons in mind."
SS22 began its professional life in August, rolling out of NEP's Pittsburgh plant to produce the 2011 PGA Championship for CBS. At presstime, SS22 was hard at work for Fox Sports for the NFL season. Davies said the production unit "has the capacity to support all the extra cameras and staff we need in the playoffs." After the Super Bowl next February, ESPN will take over SS22 for the upcoming NBA season.
"This is uncharted waters, building a production unit tailored to two different clients," George Hoover concludes. "But based on the positive feedback we've received to date, I think we hit the mark."