News Vans Get Smaller, More Efficient

New tech drives fuel efficiency, easier operation
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AMT recently outfitted this Ram Promaster van for DSNG for Vermont Public Broadcasting.

OTTAWA, ONTARIO, CANADA—The combination of modern fuel-efficient vehicles and Ku-band transmission options is allowing TV stations to shrink their ENG/SNG vehicles. Given the coincident phasing out of the Ford E-350 full-sized van—for years the most common platform for ENG/SNG applications— the timing couldn’t be better: TV stations can now do the same field coverage as they did before, while spending less money on fuel.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest by broadcasters in smaller vehicles,” said Rex Reed, director of product and business development at E-N-G Mobile Systems, a maker of specialty vehicles in Concord, Calif. “They hope by going smaller, these ENG/SNG vehicles will be cheaper to buy and maintain, and simpler to operate as well.”

A FORTUNATE INTERSECTION OF TRENDS
High gas prices and federal laws mandating fuel efficiency have pushed auto makers to develop new cars, SUVs, minivans and trucks that use less fuel and weigh less (by replacing steel with lighter aluminum and other materials). At the same time, “changes like cab forward design, which moves the driver’s compartment on top of the engine, have freed up space in the cargo area,” said Thomas Jennings, president of Accelerated Media Technologies, a broadcast and Homeland Security vehicle customizer in Auburn, Mass.

Coincidentally, some broadcasters have been moving to Ka-Band satellite systems combined with bonded cellular transmission over commercial cell networks. “Both of these transmission types use a smaller form factor and less expensive equipment and require less transmission power than Ku-Band,” said Stephen Williamson, director of sales at Clearwater, Fla.-based Frontline Communications. “Add the fact that modern alternators and DC/AC power inverters can put out thousands of watts, replacing generators, and everything has come together to make smaller ENG/SNG vehicles a practical reality.”

A TRUE RANGE OF SIZES
The intersection of fuel economy and technology advances has made it possible for broadcasters to go very, very small when it comes to ENG/SNG.

One of the most radical examples is the motorcycle-based ENG system shown by Integrated Microwave Technologies at the 2014 NAB Show. The system uses a Kawasaki KLR650 SE dual-sport motorcycle as the platform and is equipped with an IMT Nucomm CPTx-II RF waterproof video transmitter. The news department can then either mount a camera directly onto the motorcycle itself for a real-time one driver shoot, or connect to an ENG camera being used by a cameraman/passenger. The setup has proven popular for covering marathons and similar events.

Since most TV stations typically equip their ENG/SNG vehicles with a full range of TV production equipment—including tripods and lights—a motorcycle is not a practical solution for them. Instead, they gravitate towards van-like platforms, or in the case where a stripped-down vehicle can do the job, an SUV.

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Frontline’s Nissan NV 3500 SR Combo At AMT, “we are selling lots of ENG/ SNG platforms using the Ford Transit and the Dodge Ram ProMaster cargo vans,” said Jennings. “These are smaller, shorter European- style vans that are extremely lightweight and fuel-efficient, yet have enough space to carry a broad range of ENG/SNG equipment.

“Meanwhile, the lower height of the Transit and ProMaster means that their top-mounted masts and satellite dishes only reach heights of 10 feet, versus 12 feet for the larger Nissan NV3500.”

For broadcasters who still prefer Ku-band, Frontline says it sells a lot of larger ENG/SNG trucks using the Nissan NV3500 High Roof and Standard Roof and Dodge Sprinter platforms, which offer better ergonomics, 10-foot, 6-inch heights and higher payloads. “Because Ka-Band has its limitations—Ku-Band has complete geographic coverage and is more resistant to rain fade—some broadcasters still prefer to deploy Ku- Band systems on their ENG/SNG trucks,” said Williamson. “This is why we still see demand for larger, heavier duty van platforms, which are still more fuel-efficient than the old E-350.”

E-N-G Mobile Systems says its customers still prefer a range of sizes—everything from SUVs and minivans to full-sized truck platforms, according to Reed. “The great news for our clients is that they can now choose an ENG/SNG platform that suits their region, budget, and technical requirements; many of which can be operated by a reporter without a technician, thanks to automated self-aiming transmission systems.”

E-N-G Mobile Systems says its customers still prefer a range of sizes—everything from SUVs and minivans to full-sized truck platforms, according to Reed. “The great news for our clients is that they can now choose an ENG/SNG platform that suits their region, budget, and technical requirements; many of which can be operated by a reporter without a technician, thanks to automated self-aiming transmission systems.”