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Monday, March 16, 2009

Gearhouse Broadcast's HD-1: An Expanding Truck For Australia's Expanses

Gearhouse Broadcast’s HD-1: An Expanding Truck
For Australia’s Wild Expanses

Neal Romanek

(as printed in Dec. 2008 TVBEurope)

Gearhouse Broadcast’s new HD OB truck, called HD-1, could very well be the biggest OB truck in Britain. There is no doubt, after it finishes its transoceanic voyage next year and arrives at its destination in Australia, it will be the biggest OB truck in Australia, and probably the Southern Hemisphere.

HD-1 will be used in Australia for Channel 7’s coverage of Australian Rules Football. Kevin Moorhouse, Technical Director of Gearhouse Broadcast, says that on the matches the vehicle will be operating at about 70% capacity. But he anticipates that with the vehicle’s 28 camera capability, it will soon become a one-truck solution for 95% of Channel 7’s onsite productions.

TVBEurope toured the vehicle as it was being systems integrated for its new Australian venture at the company’s European headquarters in Watford, UK. Gearhouse Broadcast’s trucks are coach-built by A Smith Great Bentley Ltd. HD-1’s project manager is John Fisher, who has been in the industry for over 40 years. HD-1 is the sixteenth truck John has built and he will start integrating number seventeen on behalf of Gearhouse Broadcast in the New Year.

Making their truck builds long-lasting and future-proofed is vital for the success of Gearhouse Broadcast’s integration business model. All in, to build and integrate HD-1 was a multi-million pound exercise. The chassis alone takes between 26 and 28 weeks to construct. All the cable in the truck runs down a single underfloor channel in the center, rather than in the expands, so that - stationary and supported by the chassis - there is negligible wear on the cable over time. Kevin Moorhouse says of Smith’s construction, “They build trucks like battleships. It costs around three quarters of a million pounds just to build the chassis, but we expect to get ten years out of that chassis.” In fact, the group’s first truck, Unit 1, built almost 20 years ago, has just been refurbished and is still operating.

Gearhouse Broadcast made the decision to have no video jackfields on any inputs or outputs of the router in their OB vans. Given the router’s size it would be impossible to overpatch the router if it failed on a production. Also, with HD signals, the addition of a jack field’s extra connections introduce losses into the signal path. Gearhouse trucks have back up Cross-Point cards and I/O cards in case of router failure. It is this simple stripping away of everything that is not essential, while retaining and augmenting the most vital features, that has resulted in steady improvement in each iteration of Gearhouse’s OB trucks. Solutions to the puzzle of cramming three dozen workers into a confined space loaded with sophisticated technology - technology which, literally, cannot afford to fail - are solved with a simplicity and elegance.

The HD-1 seats up to 38 people. The triple expand configuration allows for unprecedented floor area. Closed for transport the unit width is 2.5 metres and will be fully within regulations for travel on Australian roads. Deployed, the 16.5 metre long truck is an impressive 7,5 metres wide –with 40 kilometers of cable inside.

The HD-1’s Pro-Bel 576 X 576 Video Router was first employed at the Beijing Olympics. The company’s ability to swap components in and out from their own inventory allows for fine tuning of their budgets – and rates for their customers. When Gearhouse has already earned money on equipment from previous shows, they can then offer such “used” technology – in this case, three months old – at more flexible pricing, if need be.

The Production section at the center of HD-1 features a unique 3-level step area. An engineering necessity was, in this case, turned into an opportunity for design innovation. The fifth wheel of the Australian rig is higher than the British standard and so required more area beneath the floor to accommodate it. The resulting steps up, allowing space for the fifth wheel, also create a tiered production area with unrestricted line-of-sight for each one of its 16 positions.

The new Sony LMD monitors Gearhouse used at the Beijing Olympics proved themselves superior in quality and resolution. Accordingly the production area was fitted out with twenty-one 24” Sony LMD 2450’s and eight 17" Sony LMD 1750’s.

The Production area also features a fully specified Sony MVS 8400 4ME Vision Mixer, with 80 Inputs, 48 Outputs, and built-in DME.

The Vision & Engineering area, in addition to the Pro-Bel 576 X 576 Router, features 5 Sony HD Grade 1 Monitors, 24 HD/SDI External Remote Source inputs
5 HD down Converters, 10 Cross Converters, 10 Synchronisers, 4 SDI Aspect Ratio Converters and 3 HD Hex Splits.

The VTR section of the truck sports 12 six-channel EVS HD XT2’s with 4 Digital VTRs, as well as a Pro-Bel 576 X 576 HD/SDI and 256 X 256 AES Routers.

HD-1 has space for three audio engineers at a Calrec Sigma Audio Desk with Bluefin technology. The Calrec Sigma has 320 channel-processing paths, allowing up to 52 × 5.1 surround channels on one Bluefin signal processing card. The truck’s audio has 320 Channel Processing Paths, 128 AES Inputs & 128 Analogue Inputs, and 128 AES Outputs, & 112 Analogue Outputs, a Pro-Bel 256-256 AES Audio Router, and a Riedel 144 X 144 Talkback System. Also included are four Dolby E Encoders and six Dolby E Decoders.

While Gearhouse Broadcast is setting new benchmarks for OB systems integration in Australia, the company will also be flying in a new and better set of tools to Sub-Saharan Africa. South Africa-based satellite broadcaster Supersport has commissioned a flyaway kit from Gearhouse for domestic football matches. It will rival anything available in Sub Saharan Africa and top most kits available in the rest of the continent. André Venter is Head of Operations for Sub-Saharan Africa, a new position created at Supersport. He vetted several companies looking for an immediate – literally immediate – solution for 8 camera Supersports football broadcasting in Africa. The production infrastructure might vary widely from country to country and for Supersport to provide consistent, first-rate service, it would need a robust kit that could be moved and deployed quickly and easily - and they wanted it immediately. Gearhouse Broadcast was the only company who, when tasked with Supersport’s request for “immediately”, responded with “no problem”. It was able to supply a loan flyaway within a week, and then set about building the three permanent flyaways. André Ventre explained “We wanted to show the world that Africa is capable of producing high quality productions that are on a par with any broadcasters across the globe.”

The fly away kit will feature an 8-camera system made up of Sony BVP E30’s, a Sony 2.5 M/E DVS vision mixer, Teletest rack mount monitors, Harris Inscriber G1 graphics, 2 x 6 Channel SD EVS XT2, Pro-Bel router, Harris glue, RTS/Telex comms system, Yamaha DM2000K digital audio mixer, and Sachtler tripods. A wide variety of Canon lenses will go with the kit too.

Word is out across African broadcasting, and Supersport is ready to ask Gearhouse Broadcast for more. First-rate, reliable technology appearing at the right time and place has stimulated a demand for more of the same.

With the world-wide credit crisis on everybody’s mind, it is gratifying to see demand for Gearhouse’s services continuing to expand. Will the OB systems integration slice of the industry remain recession-proof? Managing Director Eamonn Dowdall says they have yet to feel the pinch and adds “When people cut down on the luxuries, their subscriptions to the premium football channels is one of the last to go.”



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