Game Creek Encore Unit Shines, Shows Off IP Tech at Big East Tourney

Game Creek Video’s latest remote-production facility for Fox Sports, Encore, is living up to its name and earning raves from those who have had the chance to see it onsite for its second event, the Big East Tournament this week at Madison Square Garden. The unit ushers in a new era of large-event–truck design, offering not only a massive physical footprint but also a massive bandwidth infrastructure, courtesy Evertz IP routing, to help the truck meet today’s HD needs for large-scale productions like the U.S. Open golf tournament in June and, in 2016, the Super Bowl. More important, it is ready for tomorrow’s needs and next-generation production formats like 4K/Ultra HD.

“When we design a truck, we look to get eight years out of it, and we knew that a baseband routing design would not get us through the next eight years, even at 3 Gbps,” says Game Creek Video President Pat Sullivan. “Also, with monitoring demands for the U.S. Open topping 1,200 images, we knew we couldn’t hit that number with baseband routing. A key ingredient was, we want a lot of headroom [because] the shows grow; they don’t contract.”

Jason Taubman with the IP-based Evertz router inside Game Creek Video’s Encore production unit.

Jason Taubman with the IP-based Evertz router inside Game Creek Video’s Encore production unit.

The massive unit comprises three 53-ft. trailers providing nearly 2,400 sq. ft. of production space when the sides are expanded: 720 sq. ft. in the A unit, 905 sq. ft. in the B unit, and 675 sq. ft. in the C unit.

“The ceiling was built high so the expando pieces could nest together,” says Sullivan. “It’s a pretty clever design.”

According to Game Creek Video Engineering VP Paul Bonar, each of the B unit’s dual expando sides extends 5 ft. for almost the entire length of the trailer.

“The thing I probably like the best is the ceiling height,” he says, “but I also like that the graphics room or replay areas in the B and C units can be back to back, front to back, or even front to front and back to back at the same time,” says Bonar. “Plus some of the benches have four different areas that can be placed depending on the needs of the client.”

The truck made its official debut last weekend at a Boston Bruins game and then traveled to New York City, where it is being used for FS1 coverage of the Big East Tournament.

“This is the future of large TV production,” says Mike Davies, SVP, technical and field operations, Fox Sports. “It’s exciting to have this truck here at the tournament, but I would be lying if I said this event is testing this truck near its capabilities. The real test will be the U.S. Open.”

6,900 Uncompressed HD-SDI Signals
Although the physical size of the unit is definitely a newsworthy feature, the real accomplishment is the move to an uncompressed 10 Gigabit Ethernet infrastructure, thanks to an Evertz EXE video-service router, a Magnum SDVN controller, Evertz 570IPG high-density IP gateways, and the 3067VIP10G 10GbE multiviewer system that can drive 140 displays can route up to 23 terabits per second of data. That 23 Tbps of data translates into as many as 6,900 uncompressed HD-SDI signals and also accommodates 4K/Ultra HD services.

The main production area in the Game Creek Encore A unit

The main production area in the Game Creek Encore A unit

“What Game Creek is doing is very unique, and it has been a development project between Evertz and Game Creek that has had up to 50 people [at Evertz in Toronto] banging away on this,” says Davies. “And, when we get to the U.S. Open, this facility will eliminate trucks and, in the end, reduce costs.”

Jason Taubman, VP, design and new technology, Game Creek Video, says the move to IP routing was one of necessity, given the large monitoring needs for the U.S. Open, and it was Evertz that stepped up and had the pieces in place to do uncompressed routing over IP.

“It was kind of scary,” he says, “but they demonstrated it, and we took a deep breath and pulled the trigger. “We had complete confidence that Evertz could deliver the full-scale system in our time frame. There was an incredible amount of development work to do, but Evertz pulled it off.”

The Effect on the Production Team
There has been plenty of discussion in the industry concerning the role that IP technologies will play in the traditional broadcast environment, which, typically, makes use of baseband routing in a remote-production environment. One of the key issues is whether a move to an IP infrastructure will change the way a production team and its engineers work. Both Game Creek and Evertz have worked hard to make sure the answer to that question is no.

“Our goal was to have the router operate exactly like the baseband routers in our other trucks,” Taubman explains. “The audio router is the same, and the presentation of the video router is the same, but, in the middle, there is IP switching. But no one working in the truck is aware of it. The baseband patch field looks like it always did.”

The Encore B unit has a high ceiling, allowing full double-expando sides.

The Encore B unit has a high ceiling, allowing full double-expando sides.

He notes that another goal was to avoid latency; Fox wanted to cap monitoring latency at 1.5 frames. That means a move away from encoding and decoding in JPEG2000 and toward uncompressed IP encapsulation and decapsulation so that images get through the Evertz multiviewers and onto the Boland monitors below that 1.5-frame threshold.

The IP infrastructure does more than just solve bandwidth and latency issues. It also creates a new philosophy when it comes to how the physical spaces within a truck are managed. For example, the A unit has space for 25 EVS XT3 servers that will each handle up to 12 channels. But, thanks to the 320-port cascaded IHSE KVM switch connecting the A, B, and C units, it is conceivable that an EVS operator can sit down at nearly any keyboard and monitor workspace within the truck and immediately connect not only to the EVS network but also to graphics engines. And the B unit is set to accept up to 24 graphics devices so that the production team can have access to 24 key/fill pairs of graphics for golf.

“The ultimate goal is that someone can sit down at a workstation and call up anything in the truck,” adds Taubman.

The Audio Piece
A production unit is about more than a router and replay devices, and Encore also delivers on that as well. The audio area features a Calrec Apollo and a secondary Hydra router that will be useful for handling incoming audio signals from across the golf course during the U.S. Open production.

“We added a lot more MADI and video monitoring in the audio area,” says Taubman. “We used to have three monitors, but now it has seven monitors with nine images in each.

DirectOut Technologies built a new MADI-based 16-channel audio-monitoring system for Game Creek Encore.

DirectOut Technologies built a new MADI-based 16-channel audio-monitoring system for Game Creek Encore.

Another piece of innovative audio engineering is from DirectOut Technologies. Game Creek put out a request to manufacturers to create an audio-monitoring device that allows a user to sit behind an interface that has a knob for each of the 16 channels of embedded audio on an EVS channel and then monitor any of them. DirectOut created the MADI-based M16, and 64 of the devices are located throughout the three units.

The front-bench production area also has enhanced monitoring. Each Boland 32-in. or 24-in. monitor will be able to handle nine or 12 images. A Grass Valley K-Frame production switcher has 9M/E and will provide plenty of firepower for big-time productions because mix effects can be split off for submix duties.

Handling the Cameras
The unit is also ready to handle the massive camera complement for a show like the U.S. Open. In two identical, configurable video areas, there is room for eight camera shaders, who can handle upwards of 40 Sony HDC2500 cameras with camera-control units that are also wired to be 4K-ready. The truck also features two edit rooms in the C unit.

Following the Big East Tournament, the truck will head across the country for an important test at Washington’s Chambers Bay, the site of the U.S. Open in June.

“It will make an appearance at NAB [in April],” says Sullivan. “Its first live golf tournament will be a men’s four-ball tournament in San Francisco during the first weekend of May.”