With two veteran mobile production companies in the United States building new trucks capable of producing an entire telecast and others contemplating similar moves, one could get the impression that demand is high for live content. TV set manufacturers are relying on this to drive demand for their next-generation products and, indeed, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony announced plans at the recent CES convention to sponsor some upcoming broadcasts.
The production companies themselves said they are taking a cautious approach to 3-D technology, building trucks that can just as easily produce a 2-D HDTV broadcast as one in 3-D. This is because production companies are seeing lots of inquiries regarding 3-D, but not a lot of bookings at this point. Therefore, to get the fastest return on investment, an important element in building these new trucks is to design them to be immediately familiar to crews used to working in 2-D HD.
That’s because the cost of building a 3-D-capable production truck is almost double that of a similar 2-D HD rig. A 3-D camera setup costs almost three times that of 2-D (requiring two cameras, two lenses, a 3-D rig and image processor and double the number of record and replay channels on a server).
There is also a lot of experimentation that needs to be done to figure out proper camera angles, shooting positions within a venue and focusing methods, much like the early days of HD production. Several new pieces of equipment will have to be developed to handle the extra data that is inherent in 3-D productions. On-site crews will have to be larger as well, including the addition of extra personnel to handle convergence issues involved with producing a compelling 3-D experience.
NEP Supershooters, based in Pittsburgh, PA, has had a 3-D-capable truck (SS 3D) on the road since last fall. SS 3D made its debut at an ESPN telecast of a major college football game last September that was “broadcast” to special theaters around the country. At that time, ESPN used separate production trucks, technical crews and on-air commentators for the 3-D and 2-D productions. Going forward, the idea for the new truck is to use a single truck for both the HDTV and 3-D TV broadcasts.
Working with 3-D specialists PACE Productions and its Fusion 3D camera rig (designed in partnership with filmmaker James Cameron), George Hoover, chief technology officer at NEP, said their truck has been out since the fall and is steadily working for a variety of clients.
“The simple fact is that it [includes] everything remote producers and directors are used to,” Hoover said. “Everyone is searching for a long-term business model, which will of course be driven by consumer acceptance and demand for 3-D.”
Eric Duke, president of All Mobile Video (New York), which announced at CES plans for a new 53foot double expando 3-D-capable truck with support from Sony, said the main truck will have a traditional 2-D backbone but travel with a “B” unit that will house all of the 3-D processing equipment. It will feature custom 3-D cameras rigs from 3Ality Digital that will use dual Sony HDC-1500 cameras. If a client books an HD show and decides to do a 3D production, the “B” unit can be deployed.
The new 60ft (expandable to 21ft) truck is planned to hit the road this summer and is expected to handle a range of projects, from sports to live events to entertainment. Once completed, it will include Sony HDC-1500 HD cameras, Fujinon lenses, a Sony MVS-8000A HD production switcher, six-channel EVS server and Studer Vista 8 surround-sound audio console. The trailer will be similar in design to the company’s current Titan unit, with a 3G routing infrastructure, Studer Vista 8 audio console, Sony MVS-8000G production switcher, SRW recording decks and HD monitors.
Duke said the company’s new truck, which will be on display in Sony’s booth at NAB 2010 in Las Vegas in April, is preconfigured for 3-D and provides producers with a more efficient way of rapidly deploying state-of-the-art services in 2-D or 3-D without the need for separate mobile units and crews.
Not everyone is sold on the idea of building a new truck for 3-D production. Pat Sullivan, president of Game Creek Video (based in Hudson, NH), said his company has not yet decided to build a fully 3-D-ready vehicle because he hasn’t found a viable business model for it. Game Creek is considering building a smaller trailer that would travel with its larger 2-D trucks and carry all of the necessary 3-D processing equipment.
“Right now, demand for 3-D production is really coming from the consumer set manufacturers, for obvious reasons, but not from our mainstream clients,” Sullivan said, hinting that there might be some work to support ESPN’s recent announcement of 3-D production for the World Cup soccer tournament in June. “In order to get financing for a new truck, I have to have a valid reason for why the truck will be successful. I can’t say it’s there for 3-D just yet,” he said.
The company has done several 3-D sports productions (including the BCS Championship college football game) with two of its existing 2-D trucks, Liberty and the Fox truck, and 3-D technology from 3Ality Digital. The company also helped with an experimental 3-D broadcast to Cinedigm theaters last fall.
“The advent of a single truck doing an entire 3-D production is not going to happen for a while,” Sullivan said. “I don’t see that happening soon because I don't think the necessary 3-D production techniques have been advanced enough to replace 2-D. We’ll be doing a 2-D production for quite some time.”
Both trucks have a Grass Valley Kayenne video production switcher onboard, which is fully 3Gb/s capable and can handle all kinds of 1080/60p 3-D productions. The Fox Truck will be on hand this weekend in New Orleans for the NFL’s NFC Championship game and will also produce the telecast of the upcoming Daytona 500 live telecast on FOX, Sunday Feb. 14, from Daytona Beach, FL.