March Madness delivers for HD viewers

Beginning next Thursday afternoon 64 NCAA men s basketball teams will begin battling to reach the Final Four at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis but at least one Final Four is already known: NEP, NCP, F&F Productions and Coreplex, the four truck vendors that CBS has enlisted to shoot and produce the games.

Six out of the eight trucks are HD as CBS expects to delivery every game in HD except for two of the sites in the first round. Why not every game? The CBS Broadcast Center infrastructure in New York doesn t have enough capacity to handle all of the incoming HD feeds.

The coverage will hit its peak quickly, with all eight trucks in action at eight venues next Thursday and Friday. While March Madness has plenty of hoopla like the Super Bowl John McCrae, CBS Sports director of field operations, says the games are produced just like a regular season game. The madness is simply a result of so many games going on at once. The biggest problem, in fact, is keeping photographers fresh as some of them attempt the challenge of shooting four games in one day.

We try to have as many hand-held cameras as possible so we can switch guys off, says McRae. It s tough to shoot all day long and there are some guys who just won t put it down. And often the fourth game is the most important so you want someone who is fresh.

F&F Production s GTX14 truck will pull Final Four duty, traveling from Greensboro, NC to Washington DC and then to Indianapolis on April 1 for the Final Four. The truck is a new addition to the CBS staple, as it was built for the network s SEC football and basketball coverage in 2005. Gear includes a Grass Valley HD Kalypso switcher, a Yamaha D1 audio console, 12 Ikegami HD-79 cameras and a combination of Fujinon 101x and 87x lenses. Three EVS LSM systems and four Sony HD5500 HDCAM decks are also on hand for recording and playback. The second F&F truck is GTX 12, a clone of the first one.

“We design our mobile units to have maximum accessability,” says Bill McKechney, F&F Productions VP, engineering. “The equipment racks are designed so someone can get to equipment even when the truck is in an on-air situation.”

The other strengths of the trucks include the HD signal flow, SDI signal flow, and AES audio. The HD signals, for example, pass from the HD unit to a DA and then to the router so that if there is a failure anywhere the signal can be bypassed or rerouted to minimize signal outage.

The truck also was constructed with lightweight materials like carbon flooring to cut the weight by 6,000 pounds. “We divided the monitor wall into CRT for critical viewing, like cameras and graphics in front of producer and director and the top-third of the wall is basically LCD screens,” says McKechney. “We have a similar approach in the videotape area.”

NEP is providing three trucks: NEP SS24 which actually consists of two 53-foot trucks to create one of the true state-of-the-art HD OB vehicles while SS12 is a standard-definition truck that will handle first round games from American Airlines Center in Dallas.

SS24 has everything that used to be in one truck in two, says McRae. That means a larger control room, larger graphics, a larger videotape area and a shade more cameras.

It s not a stretch to do a Super Bowl in a truck that size and, in fact, the only reason the truck won t get the call for the Final Four is it has to head to Augusta, GA for the Masters production the weekend of April 8 (it will be used for the tournament games in Philadelphia and Atlanta). Gear includes a mix of Sony BVP-900 hard cameras and BVP-950 HD hand-held cameras, the Sony MVS8000 production switcher and the Calrec Alpha audio console that McRae calls the Rolls Royce of consoles for live production.

The only other analog truck is the Coreplex Sterling truck, which will be used in Salt Lake City for round one game. The other Coreplex truck, Platinum, is HD, and outfitted with a Sony MVS8000 switcher, Calrec Alpha 1000 audio console, and new Sony HDC-1500 series portable cameras along with Sony HDWM2000 HDCAM tape machines. It will be used for games in Auburn Hills, MI and Minneapolis.

The Final two trucks are from New Century Productions: NCP V and NCP VII. NCP V will be used in San Diego and Oakland while NCP VII will be used in Memphis. Both trucks feature Grass Valley Kalypso switchers with Calrec audio consoles and Canon lenses. The difference? Unit V has Ikegami HK-388 cameras while NCP VII has Grass Valley LDK6000 cameras. Both of those trucks were built for ESPN, says McRae.