SVG Sit-Down: MTVG’s Garvin Discusses New 4K Truck, Evolution of the Dual-Feed Unit

Mobile TV Group made headlines in December when it announced that it will launch North America’s first-ever 4K-capable mobile unit this year. The move marked yet another chapter in the truck provider’s history of staying ahead of the curve, having launched its first HD unit in 2003, well ahead of the HD boom. In addition to the 4K truck, MTVG has transitioned from building single-truck dual-feed mobile units for its RSN clients to solely two-truck dual-feed units that provide more space and control to both the home and away shows. And it has nearly completed construction of a brand-new facility in suburban Denver, set to open this spring.

With this flurry of activity at the forefront, SVG sat down with Mobile TV Group co-owner/GM Philip Garvin for an update on the status of the 4K truck, the new facility, and where he sees remote production headed in the next few years.

Philip Garvin

Philip Garvin

Over the past couple of years, MTVG has transitioned from building single-truck dual-feed mobile units for RSN clients to two-truck side-by-side dual-feed units. Why the switch?
The [side-by-side model] is all we are doing for the home networks who want to do duals. Not every RSN customer wants to do dual, but those who do want it to be attractive to the visitor for the model to work. So the goal is to keep making it more and more attractive for the visitor. We haven’t built single-truck duals for a few years now, and I have no plans to build those anymore. So this is the two-trailer experience, with all the benefits available to both shows.

The next step will be to make the super-slo-mo [cameras] in the home truck available with full control of the slo-mo in the visitor [truck]. Visitors have access now through clips, but [in the future] they will be able to instantly do replays at any speed from their own controller, which [they] could never do before.

Tell us about the new MTVG facility under construction. Why did you feel the need to expand now, and what excites you most about it?
When you see the new facility, you’ll see what excites us about it. It’s spectacular. It’s on a 5-acre site with remarkable views of the Rocky Mountains. What makes it particularly nice is, we needed an industrial site; that is, a place where you can drive trucks in and out. Most industrial sites near major cities are not pretty, but we were lucky enough to find these five acres where industrial [structures] are allowed and tractor-trailers are allowed up on a hill overlooking the entire range. So that was exciting.

The new building will house the manufacturing company, which is Colorado Studios, and the operating company, which is Mobile TV Group, all in one place. We have two separate buildings here [at our current facility].

We have designed the manufacturing space to increase productivity. First of all, we will have five bays where we can work on five trailers at the same time, each fully expanded if we want. We think three bays will be used for manufacturing and two for maintenance. Here we have two, and then a third in another spot that is just not very convenient. We should be able to increase the number of trucks we can build in a year and the speed at which we build them — all in a cleaner environment.

You made a huge splash in December, when you announced plans to build and launch the first 4K truck in North America. Why do you feel it’s time to test the 4K waters?
I think the easiest answer is, because we could. We have been studying it thoroughly for about six months and carefully analyzed the equipment that’s available. There is a personal and a business side to these decisions.

On the business side, we are very, very conscious of the lifespan of these trailers. if you build something that’s no longer highly in demand in just two or three years, that’s not good. You do not recoup your investment on these multimillion-dollar trailers in just a few years; it takes a long time. If you were offering SD in 2008 or 2009, for example, you weren’t getting a lot of business. And yet, you might have built that SD truck just a few years earlier. We built our last SD truck in 2002, and that turned out to be the right decision. But yes, it hurt [truck vendors] that were still building SD in ’05, ’06. Honestly, [when] the HD trucks we built in ’03 were out on the road initially, they hardly did any HD [productions]. They were being used for SD, but it is an evolutionary business.

Not only is 4K more expensive, but we are all going to be building 4K trucks and doing HD with them for many years. So it’s future-proofing and investing in the future — maybe even deferring profits to make that happen.

4K is going to be a lot more expensive, and I’m going to be sending [the 4K-capable truck] out to do HD shows. That’s the financial aspect: it’s an acceptance of lower profits in the short run with the hope of long-term [viability]. We are very sure that, by 2016, we are going to see business for a 4K truck. It may not be a lot of business, but it will be there.

On the personal side, we just love the technology. The reason a person is in the mobile business is not just about dollars and cents; it’s about trying new technologies and making it possible for our clients to do great work at reasonable cost. That’s the fun. Super-slo-mo and 4K are where we can have fun right now and can be innovative and different and challenge ourselves.

How would you compare the potential HD-to-4K transition with the SD-to-HD transition?
From the point of view of a truck builder, it’s very similar. I’m not going to start an HDNet and do my own network like I did with [entrepreneur/investor] Mark Cuban in 2001. But, in terms of building trucks, you have to reinvent a lot of stuff. Some of it is a clean sheet of paper, and sometimes it is building on what you have already done.

In terms of the [consumer] transition, though, it’s quite different. In 2002-03, hi-def TV sets were very expensive, not very good, very heavy in some cases … just disappointing. It wasn’t until ’05 or ’06 that you could go out and affordably buy a 55-in. flat-screen. With 4K, the TV sets are way ahead of that. Production capability was available early in the 2000s, but home consumer monitors came later. Now we have consumer monitors first and production lagging behind. So it’s a flip, but, at the end of the day, from the point of view of a TV truck, it’s the same.

In terms of technology and equipment, what are the biggest challenges facing live 4K remote production right now?
I have two main areas of concern: the switcher and the replay room.

The switcher concerns me because of the limited number of inputs; [for any switcher] out there, [the number] is cut to one-fourth for 4K. Yes, there are a number of switchers, including the Grass Valley[K-Frame Kayenne], that can do 4K, but it’ll be a limited number of inputs.

[As for] the replay room, if 30 channels of replay was enough [for HD], now you need 120 channels of equivalent. We have a massive bandwidth problem in replay, and the channel-count problem only gets worse with 4K. The rest of the [equipment], I think, is pretty much ready to go.