Five F&F Trailers Power CBS’s Final Four Productions

At this year’s Final Four in Houston, F&F Productions is providing far more than just mobile production facilities. In addition to five trailers — GTX15, GTX16, B4, B5, and B6 — the F&F units are providing the services normally tasked to a dedicated support unit, offering full interconnectivity and distribution for multiple feeds, including international. Supporting pregame, halftime, and postgame shows out of GTX15 and the live games out of GTX16, CBS Sports relies heavily on F&F’s expertise to put the Final Four on-air.

“As double-expando trailers, Bill [McKechney, VP of engineering for F&F Productions] has built these two trucks with probably the beefiest infrastructure for a standalone truck of any truck on the road,” says John McCrae, director of field operations for CBS Sports. “These trucks were designed from the get-go to do shows of this size. They have everything we need.”

F&F Productions was integral to CBS's production of the Final Four in Houston

Some additional support gear and cables were added to both trucks, and CBS decided to bring in a third B unit to house the super-slow-motion cameras, communications, and SRW tape operators, but, for the most part, the two trucks came prepared to support all of CBS’s coverage.

Slide Out and Rotate
For the past two years, GTX15, which premiered at the 2007 US Open tennis tournament, served as CBS’s game truck at the Final Four. This year, however, the newer GTX16, which debuted at the 2010 US Open, is handling the live-game responsibilities while GTX15 moves over to the pregame, postgame, and halftime shows.

“The trucks are equal enough that we could have done it either way, but 16 has newer equipment, like the Grass Valley Kayenne switcher and the Calrec Apollo audio console,” McCrae says. “Our audio guy also does our SEC football package so he’s comfortable with the new truck. Our pregame guys are not familiar with that equipment yet, so it was an easier fit to set it up this way.”

While the capabilities of the trucks are similar enough that the live-game team will not notice many changes moving to GTX16, putting the pregame, postgame, and halftime shows in GTX15 allows CBS to do a number of things that the previous truck was short on. The truck that the network had used in previous years was a single expando with an older monitor wall that McCrae says was becoming an issue. F&F, however, upgraded all of its monitors without passing that cost on to CBS.

“One of the things that impresses me about F&F is, they’re constantly upgrading the trucks to the latest technology, without coming back to the client for compensation,” McCrae says. “Every time we start a new season with the trucks, there have been upgrades to bring them up to the latest and greatest, from EVS hardware and software to monitors. It’s the little parts and pieces and the glue that puts it all together that Bill constantly upgrades.”

New Monitors, Highest Resolution
F&F stocks three sizes of HD monitors on these trucks to suit the announcers’ needs, which differ by sport (football announcers generally want a much larger monitor than basketball talent). Both GTX15 and GTX16 have virtual monitor walls that provide a much-enhanced viewing experience inside the truck.

GTX 15 and 16 feature Boland monitors and plenty of interior space

“In my opinion, this monitor wall has better resolution than any other virtual monitor walls that I’ve seen in the business,” McCrae says.

That monitor wall uses Evertz electronics and Boland monitors, and, after viewing demos of nearly every monitor available, McKechney says the Bolands are among the best in the business.

“Technically, the Bolands are able to take HD-SDI, so you don’t have to deal with conversion devices, but they’re also just very good looking monitors,” he explains. “The Evertz technology I feel is reliable enough now that it’s not an issue using them. By the end of the year, just about every one of our trucks will have a virtual wall.”

Fully Upgraded to GigE
F&F Productions also spent a great deal of money upgrading all of its EVS servers to Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) networking capabilities and added EVS Xfile software to expedite the ingest process for the four super-slow-motion systems CBS has at the Final Four.

“In any large show like the Final Four, we can’t exist without GigE,” McCrae says. “We can’t network and move around the material that we need without being state-of-the-art in the EVS world.”

With audio in the middle of the truck, the engineer can see production through a window

Laid Out Like Home
CBS Sports and F&F Productions have a long-standing relationship, so, during the design phase of GTX16 and its B unit in particular, McCrae had a great deal of input into not only the technical capabilities of the truck but its layout as well.

“The layout of Bill’s trucks is amazingly similar to the layout of the old CBS trucks, which makes them remain popular among our production people,” McCrae says. The double expando of 15 and 16 make them much more comfortable and make a big difference, especially when our executives walk in. In the pregame truck last year, they had to stand in the aisle. This year, they’ll be able to sit down.”

The layout of GTX15 and 16 puts audio in the middle of the truck, so that the audio engineer can see production through a window. The double-expando setup allows far more space inside the truck, both side to side and top to bottom.

“We’ve been able to keep the three tiers of production and the extra unit in the expandable side, as well as the expandable height inside,” McKechney says. “We find that now some of the taller people don’t have to bend down anymore, and they really appreciate that.”