Beijing Bound: OB Trucks, Flypacks En-route For All-High Definition Olympics

By Ken Kerschbaumer and Andrew Lippe

This summer China will become an OB lover’s paradise as more than 65 production trucks and a number of flypack units descend on the country for the Summer Olympics. And while “Made in China” has become a manufacturing norm it won’t be for the Olympics. “About 75% of the OB vans actually come from overseas,” say Jan Eveleens, Thomson Grass Valley vice president. “And actually, most of them come from Europe. So that’s already a first part of the challenge, because all these trucks have to go from Europe to Beijing.”

One of those companies is Euro Media. Luc Geoffrey, Euro Media Group CTO, says his company will provide support for the opening and closing ceremonies, swimming and diving events as well as beach volleyball, cycling, the marathon, triathalon and race walking events. Getting in place is requiring a 50-day cross-ocean journey “That is the biggest difference between Athens and Beijing,” explains Geoffrey.

“Seven Euro Media HD OB trucks are making the trip, outfitted with Thomson Grass Valley Kalypso and Kayak switchers, 62 Thomson HD cameras, 12 POV cameras, 10 RF cameras, and 24 EVS systems,” says Geoffrey. “And each truck will have 10 technicians so we’ll have about 110 people in Beijing.”

Euro Media may be rolling trucks into place but the most challenging production for Euro Media will leave the trucks aside and involve a flypack. Why? Because it will need to keep pace with a 118 kilometer cycling race that begins in Tiananmen Square and ends at the Great Wall. Digital HD receive sites will be spread around the course, pulling in signals from the RF cameras mounted on a motorcycle, two cars and a helicopter.

Marathon coverage should be a little bit easier as high-points throughout Beijing will serve as receive points.

Serving Up Flypacks

While EuroMedia’s trucks have spent 50 days at sea, UK-based provider Visions took the flypack approach to serve NBC’s needs for A-level events. Visions provided OB vehicles to NBC Olympics in 2004 and 2006 but the nature of contracts with other clients made it impossible to send vehicles by boat.

“At the end of the day, we have other clients that we have to service,” says Martin Anderson, Visions managing director. “Most of the equipment going to Beijing is used at Wimbledon and we have about six days to get all of the equipment out of Wimbledon, repacked, relabeled, into flight cases, and onto airplanes.”

Flypacks also made sense because of NBC’s monitoring needs that called for 125 monitors, an amount that pushes the limit of OB trucks in Europe. “We cannot build them as large as they can in the U.S. and the average U.S. director expects to have as many monitors in front of him as he would expect to get back in the U.S.,” adds Anderson.

Those flat-screen monitors will make the trip by boat due to weight but once in Beijing they will be matched up with Sony HDC-1500 cameras, Grass Valley Kalypso HD production switchers, and a Calrec Omega BlueFin desk with 70 faders and 100 inputs. A Trinix routers offer up 256×256 inputs and outputs.

Hercules Provides HD Lift

Visions won’t be alone in the flypack game as Bexel, which has been involved with the Olympics going back to 1984 in Los Angeles, will support BOB, NBC Olympics, NBC News, and others.

“We’re supporting them with a number of different items, a couple of small flypacks, a couple of Sony 3300 Super Mos, and a number of long lenses,” says Craig Schiller, VP/GM of Live Event and Field Production. “We’re also supporting the remote camera venders with a number of wide angle lenses.”

The new offering from Bexel is the Hercules flypack and NBC Olympics will use it for the aquatic events.

“Over the years we’ve heard a lot of comments about flypacks and the ergonomics of flypacks with regards to the operating positions, being in front of shipping cases, not having proper consoles for operating positions,” explains Schiller. “So we’ve taken that into account and have come up with something that we feel is quite unique. We have combined a number of racks into what we’re calling dual racks. And we’re doing a lot of internal wiring and including some operating positions in what we’re calling modules.”

Hercules has many key components including the Sony MVS-8000G HD Switcher with individual keyer resizers and internal format converters so it is future-proofed to support 1080-line progressive-scan high definition (HD) production in the future.

“It lives at the heart of the new flypack system,” says Schiller, “And with the new interface with EVS this will give users’ access to the flagship EVS XT [2], one of the fastest, most flexible and reliable HD video servers in the world.”

Other components include the Pesa Cheetah multi-format 128×256 video router, Pesa DRS DA routing 256×256 AES, 256×256 analog audio, and Evertz MVP multi-viewers. For audio demands, Hercules has a Calrec Alpha Bluefin HD audio mixing console at its core, providing ease in 5.1 Surround Sound mixing and routing.

“We take pride in the fact that it is a light-weight system, about 175 boxes, and weighs about 22,000 lbs, explains Schiller. “That sounds like a lot but we have very few CRT monitors in the system.”

Instead 24 NEC 40-inch bezel monitors are at the core of the multi-viewer system. “They actually ship in the modules and when they get to location, the LCDs flip up, and everything’s already wired,” explains Schiller.

A Future of Flypacks?

With flypacks playing a vital role in Beijing, and with little compromise from traditional OB units, will they continue to become a force at future Olympics?

Schiller believes the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 will primarily be based around OB vehicles given the large amount of vehicles available in the U.S.

“Flypacks are good for the smaller systems and the international countries that are coming in and require only a three to six-camera system,” he says. “And there’s no room on the mountain for another 53 footer. So they’re going to have to do build-outs and cabins. The flypack systems are going to be great for that.”

Anderson adds that the London Olympics in 2012 also will primarily be based around OB vehicles.

There is one international event that will be flypack-based: The 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The only question now is, will the World Cup be South Africa-based?