Designing a truck for the 2020s
The massive growth in requirements for sport on television has driven a new renaissance in outside broadcast trucks. As well as sports, these trucks also have to do service on music and entertainment programming, from opera houses to rock festivals. The modern truck, therefore, has to be fitted out with an array of equipment.
Die massiv gestiegenen Anforderungen an Sportübertragungen im Fernsehen haben eine Renaissance bei Übertragungswagen ausgelöst. Neben dem Sport müssen diese Ü-Wagen auch einsetzbar für die Produktion von Musik- und Unterhaltungsprogrammen sein – von der Opernaufführung bis hin zum Rockkonzert. Der moderne Ü-Wagen muss daher mit einer Vielzahl von Geräten ausgestattet werden.
The largest trucks will have two independent production areas and sound mixing rooms, allowing a single unit to provide both a unilateral and the multilateral feed of a major football match. The sound facilities have to be able to capture the roar of a sports crowd, but also be ready to create a sensitive surround mix of singers and orchestra in an opera, or to rapidly switch between bands at rock festivals.
There is the expectation of multiple replays, on live entertainment event shows as well as sports, so the truck has to support many server channels.
Finally, there is increasing interest in new formats, like 4K and HDR. It is now common for major events to be covered in Ultra HD, and a top-line outside broadcast truck must handle these signals without compromise, from camera lens to contribution link.
The technology exists to support all of this. But when it comes to mobile production, the major challenge is that the truck has to get to the location. To be able to take to the public roads, the truck has to meet European standards. In brief, the EU directive limits articulated units to a total length of 18.75m (including the tractor) and a total weight of 40 tonnes.
It is now commonplace to build production units which expand in one, two or even three directions, to create a much larger footprint once the truck has been parked on site. But even given this expandability, it calls for a skilled and sympathetic designer to create a unit in which it is comfortable to work.
The expression “I do not like working in a truck” is still often heard in the field. The reason for this is not due to any technological or functional shortcomings, but rather to the cramped, uncomfortable work environment that the space-constrained conditions provide. If a production crew is to work at its best and achieve the highest level of productivity, the layout and logistics of the systems and operational areas must be optimised.
Videe and Chromaline
Videe has been a major player in outside broadcast since its formation in 1988. Based in Italy, and together with a second entirely controlled company named Videoidea, Videe provides services for broadcasters and production companies across Europe.
The company routinely covers major football matches (Europa League and Champions League’s semi-finals and finals, FIFA World Cup, UEFA European Championships, Serie A and Serie B Italian football Championship), winter sports (FISU University Winter Games, FIS Alpine World Cup, FIS Snowboard World Cup), motorsport (F1 FIA and MotoGP), reality shows (Italian and Spanish editions of Celebrity Survivor, Temptation Island, Acorralados), TV studio programs (Undressed, Take me out, Secret Life) and Barcolana, the biggest regatta worldwide, as well as the Ferrari Challenge and Lamborghini Super Trofeo’s finals and the Cyclocross European Championship.
Videe also provides the coverage for entertainment, politics and music programmes, from the naming ceremony of a new cruise liner to Il Piccolo Violino Magico, an international competition for violin players aged 9 to 13, via Mad Cool, one of the most exciting music festivals in Europe, and the Spanish General Elections’ live debate.Chromaline is a systems integrator specialising in outside broadcast units. Its CEO and chief designer has been involved in the outside broadcast industry his whole career, and the company prides itself on creative, imaginative and practical solutions to the many challenges of building capable and workable spaces.
Videe had identified the need for a new, Ultra HD-capable flagship unit, to be called OBX. The in-house team of engineers and systems developers created a set of requirements for OBX, then called in Chromaline to specify the particular technology and layout of the truck. Together they worked with Tomassini Style, a leading Italian coachbuilder, to realise the project.
Through careful design of the triple-expanding space, the team created 76 square metres of working space in the trailer – the size of a city apartment!
The fundamental design features a large, central working space with the directors and support staff on one side, the production team in the middle and the replay operators on the other side. Because this wide space is fully open, it allows everyone to communicate readily. It also contributes to a feeling of space and comfort.
At the back of the trailer, alongside the dedicated 5.1 audio room with Calrec mixer, there is a second production control room with its own sound suite and replay controllers. This area also has its own entrance, which allows two simultaneous productions to operate within OBX without disturbing each other.
This second production area is bound by movable (although soundproof) partitions. During entertainment events, the partitions can be opened up to create a spacious, comfortable VIP viewing area to the side of the production suite. Guests and key clients can see and hear everything that happens without getting in the way of the operations.
Creating flexibility in the production space requires more than just adding a partition. To ensure OBX can be quickly assembled once on location, equipment that must move to allow the expanding sections to close is built on specially designed mounts that enable it to be single-handedly flipped into the operational position and ready to go in moments. In addition, more than 200 sensors check that everything is properly stowed when the truck is opened or closed.
One of the challenges for international operations like Videe is that different countries — and even different broadcasters — have different operating practices. For example, some people like the vision mixer in the middle of the production desk; others prefer the operator at the end, allowing the director to sit in the middle.
For OBX, Chromaline designed a simple and secure system that allows the Sony switcher to slide seamlessly along the desk, without the need to unplug a single cable. It means the production switcher can be where the crew wants it — not where the engineering says it has to be.
One of the areas in which it is tempting to save weight is in environmental engineering, but nothing makes a production environment more uncomfortable than the staff being too hot or too cold. Chromaline designed a bespoke, wide-ranging air conditioning system, capable of completely changing the air in the trailer every two hours and minimising humidity. The vehicle also has floor and ceiling heating. It is designed to keep the team cool in the blistering heat of a Sicilian summer or warm at the side of the piste in Val Gardena.
Other ways in which the needs of engineers are thought out include siting the connection panel inside the truck, rather than on the tailboard. Riggers can simply pull cables up to the truck and in through a panel: the business of aligning and inserting connectors is done in the dry, climate-controlled interior. The trailer has a sophisticated auto-level system, again to minimise the need for engineers to work outside the vehicle.
A final nod to operator comfort is in the way that the striking exterior design — based on the OBX logo — is carried through to the internal finishing. But the design elements are not just to look good: they conceal the air circulation ducts and embedded working lights.
To meet the expectations of Ultra HD, the truck can support 30 4K cameras. Two Sony HDC-4800 cameras provides the bulk of the coverage. These have full Super 35mm sensors, and can be used with PL cinematic lenses, as well as broadcast B4 lenses for sports. The truck also carries 18 Sony HDC-4300 cameras. Using the cinematic lenses, these cameras are approved for 6K Ultra HD production by Netflix.
By linking the Sony cameras with the network of Sony’s PWS-4500 live server system, users can enjoy up to 16x super slow motion in HD (8x in 4K).
At the core of the infrastructure is the Platinum IP3 router from Imagine Communications. This is a powerful router which switches digital audio and digital video, including embedding and de-embedding audio from SDI inputs and outputs. MADI and AES3 inputs and outputs are also supported. Not only is the IP3 a powerful solution for OBX today, but the IP3 also includes Imagine’s Magellan™ SDNO routing control system – enabling the integration of IP endpoints into the system – making it the foundation for a future transition.
As the truck is currently configured, the single IP3 frame supports 512 x 1024 video and 8000 x 8000 audio sources and destinations. The video signals can be HD-SDI, or they could be Ultra HD signals as quad link 2SI: whatever the format, they are all clean switched through the Platinum IP3.
In addition to video and audio switching and the related embedding and de-embedding, the Platinum IP3 router also includes powerful signal processing functionality on the input modules, to adjust signal colours, audio delays, and suchlike – even synchronizing wild signals into the truck’s timebase. The IP3 router also features integrated multiviewers, with a single IP3 frame capable of driving up to 1024 PiPs across 192 displays if needed. On the OBX truck, it drives 14 multiviewer displays inside the production area. Having the processing and multiviewers inside the router saves on cost and time of cabling, and it saves space that can be given back to the operational team. Because the truck may be required to deliver its outputs in multiple formats, this is particularly useful to ensure that there is appropriate colour correction between formats, as well as shuffling audio tracks as required.
To create the maximum working space in the truck – and thereby give the operators a comfortable working environment – extensive use is made of multiviewer screens, each individually configured to the production and the operational area. The audio room, for instance, has a single screen in 32:9 aspect ratio.
In all, there are more than 400 signals which are required for operational monitoring. By collating all these signals inside the main system router, it allows engineers to create tailored monitor layouts for the production in hand. OBX may be covering football, opera and downhill skiing in the same week: the monitoring is configured by the click of a mouse.
All of this functionality, including extensive redundancy, is incorporated in a single 28RU frame. This small form factor enabled another design goal — that of keeping all the core video and audio infrastructure in just five racks, which are housed at the front of the trailer.
The architecture of OBX also includes Imagine’s Selenio™ MCP modular solution for signal processing, including Dolby E encoding and management, and Selenio 6800+™ modular processing units. To simplify system management and to provide a fast turnaround between jobs, the infrastructure is controlled by Imagine’s Magellan SDN Orchestrator in combination with hi, human interface, an intuitive and easy-to-use control software layer for live broadcast and media infrastructures.
Videe identified the need for a new outside broadcast for prestige work, and wanted it to put it on the road as quickly as possible. Having identified Chromaline and Tomassini as partners, they set about defining requirements. Chromaline generated more than 11,000 drawings before starting work.
Final purchasing decisions were not made until the NAB Show in April 2019, but the truck was complete and ready to be showcased at IBC in September, where it was very well received. The truck achieved the design goals of being technically uncompromised in delivering anything broadcasters and production companies could ask for, as well as being a comfortable, practical and productive place to work. OBX is now out on the road, creating coverage to be seen around the world, and setting a template for the next generation of outside broadcast vehicles.