Game Creek’s Apollo, Gemini Trucks Provide Perfect Pair for CSN Houston

There will be plenty of fresh faces at Minute Maid Park this season — both on the Houston Astros’ revamped, ultra-young roster and in Park’s broadcast compound, where Comcast SportsNet Houston will roll out a brand-new mobile unit for its first season of Astros baseball next week. The regional sports network, which launched last fall for the tipoff of the Houston Rockets’ NBA campaign, will deploy Game Creek’s new compact Gemini truck to produce the visitors feed at Astros games, while continuing to use primary truck Game Creek Apollo for the home feed.

“Apollo is a very powerful truck, but it doesn’t have split-feed capability, which [CSN Houston] needed to have,” says Jason Taubman, VP, design/new technology, Game Creek Video. “Gemini responded to that need. It is basically a dual-feed truck that is deconstructed and actually has two physical trucks.”

Rather than the single-truck dual-feed model used by most RSNs for home/away shows, Game Creek has created a pair of trucks that work in tandem to produce CSN Houston’s Astros and Rockets telecasts: the 53-ft. Apollo HD truck for the home show and the 44-ft. Gemini for the away show.

Apollo is a full 53-ft. single expando that follows in the footsteps of Game Creek’s Justice (2011) and Larkspur (2010) trucks; Gemini is housed in a much more compact, 44-ft. double expando. Despite its size, Gemini is capable of serving as a standalone production unit on smaller shows. Although it will be used primarily for the away show at Houston Astros and Rockets games, it will also work as a standalone unit on several high school and college sports shows for CSN Houston.

“In addition to Rockets and Astros, CSN Houston also has some high school and college stuff that needs to be standalone and has much smaller production needs,” says Taubman. “Gemini can do that perfectly. It doesn’t need its mothership; it can do shows all by itself. It also tethers to Apollo in way that makes it a lot like a dual-feed model in that you can share all the resources between the trucks. But then, it can also disconnect and go off and do its own thing.”

Gemini is built around a Grass Valley Kalypso 3M/E switcher and a Calrec Omega audio console (featuring Bluefin technology), both harvested from Game Creek’s Eagle truck, which was retired last year. It is capable of handling up to 12 Sony HDC 1500 cameras (although it will usually be equipped with about six) with Canon lenses. Other gear includes one six-channel and two four-channel EVS XT2+ replay servers (as well as an EVS SpotBox and XFile2), Chyron Duet graphics (upon customer request), and Evertz EQX video routing and EMX audio routing. The monitor wall consists of seven 15-in. LCDs arranged as 28 quad-splits thanks to the trucks’ Evertz multiviewers.

Both Apollo and Gemini will work almost exclusively for CSN Houston (although the contract is not exclusive), which launched last October under a $3.2 billion, 20-year deal between Comcast and the Astros and Rockets (the teams hold a combined 77% stake in the network).

Although Apollo has served as CSN Houston’s primary mobile unit since the Rockets’ season began, Gemini has been working a variety of shows all over the country since debuting in February as the B unit on an MSG Network New Jersey Devils-New York Islanders telecast.

Taubman and company are excited about the potential of this two-truck model for RSNs. Although MIRA Mobile Television has provided a similar solution for CSN Bay Area since 2008 (with the 53-ft. expando MIRA M7HD and 48-ft. expando M8HD tethered via fiber), the use of this side-by-side model for dual-feed productions remains rare in the RSN market.

“We are looking for new opportunities to build more of these as the need arises for our clients,” says Taubman. “We would like look to repurpose [equipment from another truck] again, and we have a couple of trucks left in our fleet that haven’t really been touched since they were built back in the early days of HD. So they are candidates to turn into Gemini-like trucks if we were to find the right contractual scenario.”