New Trucks Fine-Tune for the Future, Part I

With a wave of new HD trucks hitting the road in 2010 and 2011, one might expect dramatically different designs or significant changes in the equipment assortment from legacy trucks. But, except for the adoption of specialized stereoscopic-3D camera rigs for sports coverage by ESPN and others, there hasn’t been a dramatic breakthrough in production equipment in the past year.

So vendors launching HD trucks in 2010 have primarily been seeking incremental improvements, such as installing more-robust monitoring capabilities, providing better support of surround-sound audio, and future-proofing their routing infrastructure to handle whatever is the next step beyond 720p/1080i HD, whether it is stereoscopic 3D or full 1080p/60-fps production.

Camera technology has been stable the past three or four years, notes NEP Broadcasting CTO George Hoover, with small refinements but no brand-new high-end camera from any manufacturer. Grass Valley is starting to gain traction with its Kayenne switcher, introduced in 2009; Sony has a new version of its MVS-8000x production switcher, with the same user interface as previous boards. Although 100:1 lenses have been available for five years, he notes, there “is no 125:1 lens around the corner.

“The technology is nicely stable at the moment,” he continues, “and this is according to what the manufacturers are doing. There is not a lot of turnover in hardware at the moment. The stuff is fairly new and working nicely.”

The biggest pressure to upgrade comes in monitoring, where clients want to see a virtual-monitor wall with new flat-panel displays. In NEP’s biggest trucks, it uses an Evertz MVP or Harris Centrio multi-image display processor, with a 350- to 400-input matrix feeding 40-50 30-in. flat-panel displays. In its smaller trucks, NEP typically uses an Evertz VIP multiviewer system with 20-in. monitors running as quad or six-way splits.

NEP, which launched two 3D trucks in 2010, normally “refreshes” existing units at their midlife point, about five years.

“That can be as simple as fixing the interiors and painting; there may be no major technology upheaval,” says Hoover. “But, undoubtedly, things like EVS [servers], tape machines, and graphics need to be replaced, and the interior components of a truck get shop-worn. After 10 years, a truck is retired. We don’t have anything here in HD that’s older than 2003 [including the shells].”

Corplex is building on the success of its flagship Iridium truck with the 53-ft. Chromium, which should be completed in 2011. It has a similar ergonomic design, with production benches featuring integral LED monitors that can be raised, lowered, or hidden completely in the counter, depending on clients’ wishes.

“It’s a very successful stab at how we make the workspace more efficient and how we make it more flexible in a real practical way,” says Corplex VP of Operations and Engineering Dave Greany.

Chromium will have an Evertz EQX router with re-legendable buttons and supporting control system, a product that Greany helped Evertz develop in 2008 when building Iridium. A new piece of gear is Evertz’s EMR audio router, which can handle AES digital, analog, or MADI audio.

“It basically mates with the video system and allows you to do a lot of de-embedding and embedding in the video router,” says Greany.

Listen Up: Embedded Audio Is Here
Embedded-audio technology, which can fit up to 16 channels of audio alongside the video streams in a serial digital interface, is becoming increasingly popular among network clients.

“That’s where things are going,” says Greany. “They’ve been doing it in Europe for quite some time, where most facilities are embedded audio. It cuts down on the infrastructure. For an EVS machine, you typically run 16 co-ax cables, eight in, eight out. Now you won’t have any of those, just four or six video ins and outs for each EVS machine. That eliminates 16 wires per machine. Iridium and Chromium are both wired for 11 EVS servers, so that’s 176 wires that you’re eliminating, and all the clutter.”

Game Creek Video also is investing in embedded audio, using it as a key part of the routing infrastructure for the two 53-ft. trucks it launched this year: Larkspur, supporting ESPN’s college-football and basketball coverage, and Dynasty, handling MLB regular-season coverage for YES Network and the World Series for Fox.

“The big news this year for us was really embedded audio,” says Jason Taubman, VP of design and new technology for Game Creek.

What’s driving the use of embedded audio is a push by major networks to produce true surround-sound audio and deliver it to the home. Embedded audio makes that feasible by overcoming limitations in audio-channel capacity amongst various pieces of the production chain.

“Until recently, you could do surround only at the edge of a production, with music or an odd mic,” explains Taubman. “The bottom line was that the production was a stereo production, and the reason for that was the channel capacity of devices like EVS machines and the routers, and the channel capacity to deliver audio to those devices. With embedded, for every EVS channel, you can deliver 16 channels of audio to it and receive 16 channels from it. With discrete audio, you could only get four channels from it. What embedded audio allows you to do down the road is full discrete production, where every sound channel is a 5.1 mix.”

Using embedded audio has significantly reduced the cable count, allowing Game Creek to save 1,000-1,500 lb. per truck.

F&F Productions deployed embedded audio in its latest truck, GTX-16, which made its debut at the US Open tennis tournament for CBS.

“We added a lot more embedders and de-embedders in this truck, and a much larger AES level,” says F&F VP of Engineering Bill McKechney. “We feel embedding and de-embedding is definitely the way things are going. Basically, for all the transmission, [the networks] want embedded audio. If it’s available in a truck to use, they’re going to use it.”

Multichannel Audio Digital Interface (MADI) technology, which can fit 64 digital audio channels on one co-ax cable, is another effective way to streamline audio operations and is being used by both Corplex and Game Creek in their new trucks. Greany, along with several other mobile-production engineers, has pushed Wohler to create an eight-channel audio-monitoring speaker with a MADI interface. The new system will give truck users access to any of the 64 channels residing on a single MADI stream, all running off a single coaxial cable.

“I have 50 [speaker] units between Iridium and Zinc [its support unit], and, right now, I have to run four co-axes to each one,” Greany explains. “That’s 200 wires. If you could build a MADI-powered speaker that you could run one co-ax to and loop multiple channels, then you can run eight speakers off one co-ax, instead of 32 co-axes. So the amount of infrastructure would drop dramatically, yet the flexibility would go up.

“I spend a lot of time in production rooms, and people are all listening to the same things in different spaces,” Greany continues. “Now I’m only feeding them once on the MADI output, and I don’t have to eat up router outputs. We’ve got 400 router outputs just dedicated to speakers, and now I can effectively replace that with a handful of MADI buses.”

Toronto-based Dome Productions is using a mix of MADI and embedded-audio distribution in its latest truck, Echo, a 53-ft. expando that launched in late October and is supporting NHL coverage for TSN and Rogers Sportsnet. Key vendors include Evertz, Calrec, and RME.

“We have a large amount of MADI distribution, as well as embedded audio through the router,” says Dome Director of Engineering Mike Johnson. “We use MADI to bring audio signals to the audio console [a Calrec Sigma], and we take advantage of embedded audio to service the VTR and replay room as well as distribution and transmission. With the technology that exists within the Evertz router, we can adjust channels and embed channels in the router to meet changing requirements.”

(Continues in Part II)