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Will broadcasters bank on HD truck?

Jun 3, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Bonnie and Clyde have hit the road again, but they’re pulling off different kinds of jobs this time.
Bonnie & Clyde is the name of the newest truck from Core Digital Technologies in Phoenix, which provides production trucks to the broadcast industry. It joins a lineup of vehicles with similar Wild West names-such as Sundance Kid and Doc Holiday-but this $11 million truck, also known as the HD601 Hybrid, is distinct because it can produce high-definition and standard-definition feeds simultaneously.
“This is the solution for one truck, one crew, putting out both feeds simultaneously instead of doing two trucks side by side,” said Jonae Taylor, chief operating officer of Core Digital Technologies.
The truck had its first payday May 16 when Austin, Texas, PBS station KLRU-TV and the Austin Convention Center used the vehicle for a Bonnie Raitt concert. KLRU plans to air the concert on Oct. 5 on its show “Austin City Limits” and may broadcast it in HD. If not, then the station will likely create a DVD of the HD version of the event, said Dick Peterson, senior VP of national productions and executive producer for the show.
“If this HD conversion is going to happen, it’ll happen because people take the chance to make HD product,” he said.
The heavy lifting will come this fall when Bonnie & Clyde hunkers down for its extended tour with CBS for the network’s college football season broadcasts. CBS used a development version of the truck during the 2001 season last fall when it aired the games in both SD and HD. However, the broadcast required a “shadow cut” at the time, necessitating a second technical director to work side by side and call the shots for the HD version.
This year, only one technical director will be needed, since the truck was outfitted in March with the final piece of the puzzle-a Sony switcher that can manage both HD and SD feeds at the same time. “The switcher was one of the last pieces we needed,” said Ken Aagaard, senior VP of operations for CBS Sports, which helped in the development of the truck during the partnership last season.
The truck is the product of last season’s work, said Lawrence Meyers, chairman of Core Digital Technologies. The SONY MVS-8000 4 M/E live broadcast switcher allows for the simulcast of 1080i 16 x 9-aspect-ratio video and 601 4 x 3-aspect-ratio video.
The all-in-one truck achieves CBS’s goal of making the production of high-definition sporting events economically feasible, Mr. Aagaard said. Thanks to Bonnie & Clyde, the network has cut the cost of its high-definition sportscasts by 60 percent from when it started in 1998 with two crews, two trucks and two sets of equipment, he said.
CBS plans to air 17 college football games in both versions in the fall and at least three college basketball games during the 2002-03 season. In addition, Mr. Aagaard expects to use the truck for the Final Four in New Orleans next year and for some earlier basketball games.
Mr. Meyers said the truck will have to be in use 161 days a year, or two to three days each week, to recoup the investment in about five years.
The truck is worth $11 million, but Core Digital spent about $7 million to $8 million on it because some of the equipment makers offered deals to get their wares included in the vehicle, Mr. Meyers said. “The reason we could build this truck is because we have the CBS package,” said Ms. Taylor, who noted that the truck will need to stay busy when not in use by CBS. In addition to sports, she anticipates that it will be used for entertainment shows and live concerts. While the truck’s killer app is the ability to generate simultaneous feeds, it can also produce in pure standard definition or pure high definition.
The truck contains 11 Ikegami cameras and is pre-wired for 20 if clients require more. The cameras include Fujinon lenses. The truck is outfitted with eight Sony tape machines and is pre-wired for 28. Bonnie & Clyde also includes the Mongoose Triax system from Ikegami, which converts HD fiber to run on triax, the cable found in most stadiums. The Mongoose system eliminates the time and cost of laying fiber at a stadium for an HD broadcast.
Core Digital worked with Christie Digital to design the truck’s monitor wall, which includes six rear-projection cubes that can be stacked together in one large wall that can be divided into a variety of monitor configurations. Producers can customize the monitor layout for their particular needs.
The $1 million audio system includes a Solid State Logic Axiom MT digital audio production console.