Out With the Old

Fox drives HD trucks
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Fox drives HD trucks

NEW YORK

Demand for high-definition mobile production trucks spiked when Fox Sports committed to HD broadcasts of its entire NFL schedule-six games per weekend-plus the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl XXXIX.

The network had to ensure there would be a sufficient pool of HD trucks for the games. Industry-wide, there is a shortfall of HD trucks to meet the demand for remote HD productions in all sectors, especially sports and entertainment.

To support its HD NFL coverage, Fox Sports issued a request-for-proposal to the mobile truck industry and ultimately made commitments to three companies that are now building five HD trucks. The companies, all long-time providers of trucks for Fox Sports, are F&F Productions, National Mobile Television (NMT), and NEP Supershooters.

Clearwater, Fla.-based F&F Productions is building two new HD trucks, from the wheels up. These will be the company's first.

"Our trucks will do the C-level games," said Bill McKechney, vice president of engineering for F&F Productions. The main difference in the game designations A, B, and C is the number of

cameras and digital-disk-recorder channels used.

The truck bodies for F&F are being built by Gerling and Associates in Ohio. The first is scheduled to be delivered in the latter part of June; with the second, in mid-July. Each truck will be 53-feet long, with 47-1/2 feet of the length expandable out to five feet, and constructed so people can walk through the interior.

QUICK TURNAROUND

The company has always built its trucks in-house, and the new HD trucks are no exception. McKechney said he had no problems obtaining equipment in the tight timeframe.

"If we were building an HD truck last year, there were only a small handful of vendors to choose from, and we couldn't have gotten gear as easily," he said. "This year, everyone has HD gear, so there is so much greater potential for more vendors, making it easier to get equipment."

Torrance, Calif.-based NMT is converting two of its existing SD trucks into HD, with old DX8 becoming HD7 and DX11 becoming HD8. One will be used for B games, and the other for C games. Both are 53-foot expandos, and "carbon copies of each other," said Dave Shaw, president of the Venue Services Group, a subsidiary of NMT that is building the trucks for the company.

For NMT, gutting its SD trucks, which were less than two years old, to convert them to HD was not the easiest pill to swallow, said Jerry Gepner, president of NMT.

"But we recognize that this is where the marketplace is going. We understood [from Fox] that time and their financial constraints would not let us build from the ground up," he said. "That would normally take about eight to ten months. For a delivery in August, that would be extremely close. Fox liked the digital trucks we chose to upgrade. They had used them before and liked the ergonomics of the trucks. We did it in the most cost-effective way possible since we had that option to redo the existing trucks."

As things turned out, one of the trucks, HD7, did have to be built on a very accelerated 11-week schedule, with double shifts of crews working about 20 hours a day to get it ready on time.

ESPN wanted to rent the truck for a peripheral broadcast around the NBA finals in beginning of June.

Gepner said a lot of the requirements for both Fox and ESPN overlapped, and there was flexibility on all sides.

"Our engineers come from the world of trucks and they know the Fox and ESPN producers and tech managers, and know what will work for both," he said. "We've built in more than 100 percent free space. The trucks are capable of 24 cameras. In many respects the trucks far exceed their specs. It's not a one or two year investment."

HD8 has a little more time. It will be ready for the new Fox NFL season.

STRIPPED, FOR STARTERS

NEP Supershooters is also converting one of its SD trucks, SS18, a 53-foot expando, to SS18 HD. This truck is slated for the A games as well as the Super Bowl.

To upgrade SS18 to HD, NEP kept the box, audio and intercom, but threw the rest out, according to George Hoover, senior vice president an general manager for the Pittsburg-based company.

In installing the HD gear, "it almost was an item-for-item exchange," he said. "For the glue-type stuff, the density is up and the size is down."

SS18 will debut at a preseason football game, Aug. 19 in Charlotte, N.C.

All five of the trucks will be multiformat HD/SD trucks. Consistent with its network-distribution standard, Fox will produce the HD NFL games in 720p.

For each of the three truck companies, design of the trucks integrated Fox's requirements as well as those of the companies themselves and their other potential clients. A good portion of the equipment for the five trucks is similar, but each has individual choices on some gear.

Common to all will be Thomson Grass Valley's Kalypso HD video switcher and Trinix router, Telex Adam intercom, Accom Dual Twin DVeous/MX Digital Effects, and a host of EVS digital disk recorders for instant replay and slow motion, including the EVS LSM-XT HD-2 in/2 out, EVS LSM-XT HD (replay only), and the EVS Spotbox. The EVS and Accom units can be switched between SD and HD and work in all the common formats, an essential feature of a mobile unit designed to serve a variety of clients.

The trucks will also be outfitted with tape machines including Panasonic AJ-HD1200A DVCPRO HD VTRs, Sony DVW-A500 Digital Betacam and DVD burners. NEP will also have Panasonic D5 and VHS VTRs on board. F&F Productions will also install Sony Betacams.

NEP will employ Lance Slo-Mo Controllers and NMT will install DNF ST300EVS Slow Motion Controllers for the VTRs and EVS digital disk recorders.

Gepner said the exact equipment complement on the NMT trucks could change to suit other clients' requirements. For example, HD7 and HD8 are able to accommodate six additional VTRs or DDRs, he said.

For cameras, NMT and NEP will install Grass Valley LDK 6000 mk II WorldCam HD cameras with Canon lenses; namely XJ100x9.3BIED (Digisuper 100xs) and XJ86x9.3BIED (Digisuper86xs) zoom lenses for the hard cameras, and XJ21x7.8BIRSD lenses for the handhelds. The cameras will be outfitted for both SMPTE fiber and triax operation.

F&F purchased the new Ikegami multiformat HD/SD cameras that work with triax and fiber. Since these are due for delivery in the fourth quarter this year, Ikegami is furnishing its 720p native cameras in the meantime.

Each truck will be outfitted with Fujinon lenses, including XA101x8.9BESM and XA87x9.3BESM HD sports zoom lenses, plus HA22x7.8BERM and HA13x4.5BERM ENG lenses for the handheld cameras.

Each of the F&F trucks will also have a Panasonic Varicam HD camera for ENG.

For audio, each of the three companies chose a different audio console for their respective trucks to produce the 5.1 mix that Fox required. NMT will install an SSL Axiom MT+, F&F Productions is going with the Yamaha PM1D, and NEP will re-use SS18's existing Calrec Q2 audio console.

Because each truck will need to accept and deliver any type of signal, from analog to HD, they will be equipped with a variety of up, down, and cross converters.

"Our truck carries a mix of conversion products, depending on application," NEP's Hoover said.

Sony upconverters and Grass Valley downconverters are installed, as well as two Teranex Xantus units for up, down, and cross conversion.

"We use the Teranex a lot for graphic elements, especially those with motion," Hoover said.

NMT will rely on Grass Valley Kameleon (Teranex) downconverters, Sony HD upconverters/frame synchronizers, and Leitch HD frame synchronizers. F&F will also have a variety of these converters as well as a Teranex Volare 220.

With this much demand for HD trucks, NMT's Gepner described this as the "best of times, the worst of times."

As he said, "for the best, I've personally had the pleasure of being part of so many new things in the industry, and this is one of the biggest. [Working with new technology] gives every engineer a chance to be creative. On the worst side, it's very expensive, and it's tough to find people who understand it. HD demands a learning curve for the client on both the financial and operations side."