New all-HD truck brings potential for HDTV profitability

In addition to an all-aluminum body and frame (built by Medical Coach and Boulevard Body Works), HD4 uses high-tech graphite composite materials for its floors and walls to reduce weight and improve the insulation capability of the trailer.

Stating that HD production represents a "fresh start" for the mobile truck industry that will enable them to raise the rates they charge broadcast, National Mobile Television (NMT) recently unveiled plans to build a new serial digital truck that features a number of technological firsts.

The new truck, named HD4 is NMT's fourth high-definition unit and its first true multi-format HD vehicle. It has already been booked as part of a multi-year contract extension between NMT and ABC Sports.

Under the terms of the agreement, HD4 will be used to televise all of this fall's Monday Night Football season in the widescreen 720p format. The agreement also provides NMT with exclusive facility responsibilities for all ABC Sports remote productions, including college football, PGA Tour events and ABC's scheduled telecast of Super Bowl XXXX in January 2006.

Mark Howorth, NMT's CEO, said that after years of "simply breaking even or sometimes loosing money on new equipment investments," the new HD truck would enable his company to charge clients roughly 30 percent more than they did to rent a serial digital truck. "Average prices for our mobile unit services have not risen in over a decade," Howorth said. "HDTV represents a fresh start for our industry, but it also represents a huge risk on our part."

Indeed, the new HD4 truck will cost more than $10 million to build, Howorth said, and will be completed by the end of March, in time for the beginning of baseball season on ESPN HD. He added that with the high cost and limited knowledge base associated with HD production, HD in the U.S. would only be successful if there is a "working partnership between manufacturers, broadcasters [rights holders] and mobile production companies. Otherwise it won't work and the HD naysayers will win."

The 53-foot HD4 is being billed as possessing the largest amount of interior square footage of any television truck in the U.S. (in excess of 640 square feet). It also includes an expandable side designed to eliminate the need for the trailer to be on a completely level surface when in operation.

In addition to an all-aluminum body and frame (built by Medical Coach and Boulevard Body Works), HD4 uses high-tech graphite composite materials for its floors and walls to reduce weight and improve the insulation capability of the trailer.

"HD4 is designed and equipped to operate as a true multi-format HD truck, able to meet the technical requirements of any HD broadcaster," said Jerry Gepner, President of NMT. "The days of a single-format [truck] for high-definition production are rapidly drawing to a close."

NMT's Venue Services Group is providing all of the design, project management and integration services for the new truck.

All the equipment in HD4 is state-of-the-art and designed to provide a "plug and play" environment at most any venue across the country, Gepner said. Among the truck's noteworthy technology is a full complement of Canon HD lenses and Grass Valley equipment, such as an XtenDD HD production switcher; Grass Valley Trinix 512 Digital video router, Grass Valley Concerto audio routing switcher, Solid State Logic MT+ digital audio production console and 22 Grass Valley LDK 6000 Worldcam multi-format cameras (with 16:9 aspect ratio).

It also features Chyron (Duet and iNFiNiT!) and Pinnacle Systems (Deko) graphics systems, Evertz, Snell & Wilcox and Teranex up and down converters, and Ikegami multi-format, high-resolution monitors. The main video monitor wall is comprised of numerous plasma, LCD and CRT displays that can be configured in a variety of ways.

The Grass Valley Worldcam digital video cameras are also capable of capturing HD events in the 1080i30 and 1080p24 HD formats as well as 480p standard definition multi-camera productions. With an on-board multi-channel digital audio system that includes a Solid State Logic digital audio console, the truck is capable of producing stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby E, ProLogic and CircleSurround mixes for broadcast or output to video and DVD.

NMT said it currently provides facilities and services for more than 6,000 events annually, including major sporting, entertainment, distance learning, and corporate events for major broadcast networks, cable networks and independent producers. Specific clients include ABC Sports, CBS Sports, ESPN, Fox News, Fox Sports, New England Sports Network, Winner Communications, Automatic Productions, and The Madison Square Garden Network (where it has provided 1080i production facilities for the past two years).

In January, NMT provided ABC Sports with five of its digital mobile production units to produce the network's telecast of Super Bowl XXXVII. The international broadcast, which reached an estimated worldwide audience of 800 million viewers in 220 countries, involved more than 50 cameras and an intricate Telex-based two-way intercom system that linked each of the trucks.

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