Archives for September, 2010

GTX-16 Opens to Rave Reviews at US Open

It is not often that a production truck goes live for the first time with its biggest show of the year, but that is exactly the case for F&F Productions’ brand-new GTX 16, which is making its debut as the core production unit for CBS’s and ESPN’s coverage of the US Open.

“This is definitely the biggest show [GTX 16] will do all year, and it’s only the first show,” says Marc Orgera, VP of sales and marketing for F&F Productions. “The response [from ESPN and CBS] has been very positive so far. It’s a learning process for everyone right now. There is so much technology on this truck that our engineers still don’t even know its full capabilities.”

The truck is built around a Grass Valley Kayenne production switcher with a K2 Summit server and features a Calrec Apollo audio console with up to 1,020 channel-processing paths, five six-channel EVS XT[2]+ servers, and a 3G Evertz router with 288×576 inputs and outputs.

No Need for Plan B
Built by Spevco, the GTX 16 is an all-in-one unit that does not require a B unit. It is wired for 24 cameras and 25 VTRs, and the flat-panel–monitor walls allow operators to be located on both sides of the center console. As a result, the entire production — from graphics to audio to the front bench — is housed in the double-expando truck. Although GTX 16 is capable of working with a B unit, as it will for CBS’s SEC college-football coverage, it is operating independently for the US Open.

“You can fit all this technology and have plenty of space left over into a single, contained unit,” says Orgera. “You don’t have to have tape, EVS, and graphics in one truck and then production and audio in the other truck. There’s major cost reduction for the client because you’re not running two units, which means a quick setup and no interconnecting between A and B units. You don’t need four engineers to run the truck, and that is a huge cost saving.”

The Quick Switch
For the second consecutive year, ESPN and CBS Sports are using the same truck for their respective US Open productions (GTX 15 was used last year), making for an interesting situation on CBS’s coverage days. The CBS crew has an opening of just five minutes between the close of ESPN’s coverage window and the start of CBS’s to change over the truck’s settings and switch out personnel.

“This is a truly shared truck, meaning everything is made for two crews,” says Orgera. “It’s a hot switch. From the time ESPN gets up out of the chair to the time CBS sits down, they really only have about five minutes.

“The program for the monitor wall, switcher, graphics, and so on are saved on the computer,” he continues, “so the EIC switches everything over that way. It can be hectic because you’re just hoping that everything comes up the way it’s supposed to. It’s all computerized so there’s no way to tweak anything. The hardest thing is getting everything set up where everybody wants it. After that, it only takes a few moments to come back up.”

Building a Truck in Less Than a Month
F&F Productions received the truck at its headquarters in Clearwater, FL, on July 23 and needed to deliver it to Flushing Meadows for the Open by Aug. 20. As a result, the F&F team was forced to complete its fastest truck buildout in recent memory.

“Even for us, that’s cutting it close,” says Orgera. “ That’s a quick buildout, to say the least. Even the first few days we were here [at the US Open], they were still messing with the routers to get it perfect. The important thing was, we’ve got great guys back in the shop who can handle that kind of turnaround.”

Off to Tennessee 
Following the Open’s conclusion this Sunday, GTX 16 is bound for Knoxville, TN, where it will kick off CBS Sports’ SEC football season with Tennessee-Florida. CBS Sports has tapped the truck for its SEC A Game throughout the college football season and will then use it for March Madness in the spring.

“We’re still learning how big a show we can actually do with this truck. It’s not maxed out yet,” says Orgera. “We’re hoping that, after college football and before March Madness, we can get quite a few entertainment shows in. This truck is ready for pretty much anything.”

F&F Taps GV, Ikegami for US Open Coverage

Mobile production company F&F Productions debuted its new GTX-16 mobile production truck in New York to help televise the 2010 U.S. Open tennis tournament in Flushing, N.Y., on CBS Sports. The tournament began Monday and runs through Sept. 12.

The HD-capable production truck features a Grass Valley Kayenne Video Production Center and a Grass Valley four-channel K2 Summit-based ClipStore System, for producing both sports and live entertainment programs in HD. The replay system is based around a four-channel K2 Summit production client, providing a platform for instant, non-volatile replay of more than 10 hours of video, key, and audio clips.

“We continue to choose Grass Valley switchers because of their reliability factor, which is most important to our clients,” said Ryan Hatch, senior vice president at F&F Productions. “We also like the Kayenne’s features and color-coded control panel, which is easy to operate for the crews and gives us a lot of flexibility to produce all types of live productions.”

The GTX-16 also features 12 Ikegami HDK-79EC camera systems employing three 2/3-inch 2.5 Mega-pixel-specified CMOS imaging sensors.

“As our business continues to grow, we rely on the latest HDTV cameras from Ikegami for the flexibility to be able to produce content in 720p, 1080i, or whatever format our clients request,” comments George Orgera, president and CEO of F&F Productions. “With the Ikegami HDK-79EC and its CMOS technology, we have that flexibility and are native in all of these formats. The Ikegami HDK-79EC is the best available. Its CMOS imaging technology not only delivers sharp, multiformat HD, it’s also lighter-weight and consumes less power.”

Configurable for either portable use or as a “hard” field/studio camera, Ikegami’s HDK-79EC’s 1980H by 1080V active-pixel CMOS sensors are switchable between interlace and progressive readout modes. Providing a full 16:9 aspect ratio, the HDK-79EC’s CMOS sensors provide 1080/60i, 1080/24p, and 720/60p HD as well as optional 50Hz formats, 1080/50i and 720/50p, high-speed dual-link 1080/60p, and Super Slow Motion, 720/120p and 1080/120i.

“In this day and age, a lot of stadiums—especially at colleges—are still triax,” Orgera notes. “We have Ikegami’s triax adapters and fiber adapters for the cameras, so we can go either way.”

To Beat the Heat at US Open, ESPN Keeps People, Assets Moving

The sweltering, 90-degree temperatures in New York this week are certainly taking their toll on the players at the US Open, but broadcasters are feeling the heat as well. Operationally, broadcasters CBS, ESPN, and Tennis Channel regularly rotate the camera and microphone operators who must sit outside on the courts, but it is never easy to ensure that everyone is hydrated and healthy when the thermometer flirts with the 100-degree mark.

“CBS is attuned to the rhythm of breaking shifts a few hours earlier and making sure the water supplies are out there,” says Jamie Reynolds, VP of event production for ESPN. “The question is, how well can we create a depth chart at every position and keep people fresh. With temperatures like this, we get into a higher, faster frequency of rotation. But there are certainly plenty of people here on-site to make sure nobody gets spent.”

Instead of bringing a larger team to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center to accommodate the more frequent shift changes, Reynolds is working the same workforce smarter. Instead of six-hour rotations, for example, the team might do four-hour pulls to get more-frequent breaks.

Although the nighttime hours might be long — tennis is frequently played past midnight at the US Open — fewer resources are required under the stars. At most, two courts are used during the evening session, rather than the five that are televised during the day.

“We have a second shift that comes in prioritized for the evening body of work, so you know that you’ve got fresh folks coming in,” Reynolds says. “We have the same kind of relief plan in place so that the night matches are optimized.”

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