NEP EN1: Four Units, One Show
In the 2011, ESPN approached us about building a replacement for their current mobile unit. We were already well into planning what our next generation (NX-GEN) of large mobile units would be like. A year earlier we held a series of design charettes with our team of Senior EICs, Engineering Managers, Design Engineers and Account Managers - nearly fifty people were involved! During these intense day-long meetings we re-evaluated all aspects of a mobile unit, literally from the asphalt up, including the trailer itself, HVAC, Power, Video, Audio, Comms, Routing and Control as well as operational issues related to set up, teardown and levels. At the end of our session we had a comprehensive list of all of the features we agreed were important and should be the foundation for our NX-GEN trucks, over which client requirements can be layered.
The Trailer Features
Prior to EN1, all TV truck trailers were hand-built by skilled craftsmen, based upon experience building similar units and reacting to any subsequent problems using the best known practices. With this method, generally, the solution to any structural problem is "more metal" - thickening the metal structure around any stress cracks. Sometimes it fixes the problem, often it just adds more weight. For EN1, using modern computerized stress analysis tools from the aircraft industry, we designed a stronger, stiffer and twenty percent lighter-weight trailer. The end result: greater weight carrying capacity, reduced maintenance downtime, better ride for the equipment, and a longer life for both the equipment and the trailer itself.
For this new truck, components of the trailer are computer-designed sub assemblies which fasten together rather than being welded. Similar components are 100% identical, meaning that when replacement parts are needed, they are now "off of the shelf" items rather than a time-consuming custom build.
Generally, when it comes to the layout of a trailer, there are several approaches - all of which require compromise between internal access and the size of the deployed trailer footprint. Our new designs for EN1 incorporate wide, full-length double expandos, with the entry doors at the end of the expandos, which eliminates side stairs and platforms. This means that EN1 is able to have the largest internal operating space available today, but requires a smaller physical footprint than a regular single-expando. Speaking of stairs: in EN1, their landing platforms are permanently mounted to the trailer, folding up for storage. This reduces setup time and is designed such that it eliminates the risk of someone stepping out without the stairs deployed.
The Framing Structure
Our framing structure for this new unit is all aluminum, including custom made full-length I-beams for strength and support. This makes EN1 both lighter-weight and completely rust resistant. In addition, all of the framing is fastened together, assuring accurate dimensional stability. The exterior walls, roof and flooring are all composite sheets, with excellent R value, further reducing weight, as well as increasing thermal stability and helping to keep the trailer cool. We are maintaining the flip roof design, common in our previous twins, to afford maximum interior height for people and racks. This roof design has actually increased the entry door heights as well.
Although out of sight to most folks, we have greatly simplified the structure under the floor for EN1, creating a more generous space for cables and cable access to accommodate the increasing number of signal formats. Also, with the exception of the end of the trailer, the back of all of the racks are accessible from inside the trailer. This means no more standing on a ladder in the rain to trouble shoot a problem.
For fit and finish, LED lightning is being used throughout to reduce heat loads. New surface materials are being used with an eye not only to a better look and feel, but to increased acoustic performance and sound isolation in all areas of the truck.
Lastly we have incorporated tracking rear axles which steer in tight turns, making navigating in tight spaces easier.
All of NEP's next-gen trailers are EPA Smart Way designated designs, taking in to account new regulations for fuel-efficiency that will take effect in California and across the Country in coming years.
The Clients Requests
Informal discussions were held throughout the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012 amongst the crew and production team. In January of 2012, a full eighteen months before the first EN1 show was slated to happen, we met with the client for several days at their headquarters. NEP arranged for key suppliers to come and discuss where their products were headed for 2013, enabling us to make intelligent decisions about systems and equipment. Several alternate approaches were presented, and we finally narrowed it down to four double expando trailers with separate control rooms for the game, studio show and Spanish-language feed included in the overall footprint.
Over the course of the next ten months or so the final adjacencies and floor plans were locked. NEP Vice President of Systems Integration, Joe Signorino, and his team built a full scale mock-up of the game Control Room so the Director and Producer could check monitor walls, sight lines and personnel adjacencies. Other client staff were also called in to consult.
A great deal of effort was spent defining the workflow in the Record / Replay area under the direction of lead tape operator John Mark. Ultimately the Record Replay trailer was determined to need twenty three operating positions, clustered together by functional responsibilities.
With the pencils finally put down, the layout is set as:
A Unit- Game Production, Graphics, Tape Release Switcher
B Unit- The Engine Room with 500+ x 3000 router, Video for 36 CCUs, Game Audio Apollo and a sandbox that can function as a Record Replay area when the C & D units are not required
C Unit- Record / Replay
D Unit- Studio Control Room, Audio and Video, Spanish-language Control Room and Audio, Finishing Edit Suite, Transmission, and Virtual Graphics
E Unit- freight hauler, sets, lighting and maintenance
Construction began on the trailers in the summer of 2012 with the last trailer, C: Record / Replay, delivered in the spring of 2013. Construction and testing continued up until the trucks departed for the first show.
Room to Grow
NEP has had the privilege of working with the ESPN for over twenty years on the same show that they will be using EN1 for. One thing we have learned about this production over the years is that change is truly inevitable. Along with changing air days and times, the series has moved mobile units from SS8 to SS16 to SS20 to SS25 and now to EN1. Its facilities have grown over the years from a two-trailer unit to what today will be five trailers. With this history, we knew that one of the key mantras while building EN1 had to be "room to grow". Though the capabilities initially are to be the same as SS25, their current facilities, there has to be substantial room for growth, both physically and technologically.
Video and Audio Systems Design Guidelines
- Ability to significantly grow the production levels from today, with the existing core infrastructure, systems, routers, multi-viewers and networking.
- Fast setup and teardown.
- Extensive embedded audio support for 16 channels.
- 100% fiber connectivity between the trailers and the trailer and the venue.
- Fully recallable system configurations.
- Flexibility in work areas, to allow for changing technology, particularly production enhancements, and its associated infrastructure requirements.
- Ability to de-rig some of EN1's trailers immediately during strike without jeopardizing the feed and ingest capabilities at the cleint's headquarters.
- Allowing EN1 to be fully functional with just two trailers, A & B, during smaller events when needed.
As the design team - led by Terry Kulchar (mechanical), Marty Eibeck (video & control) and Mike Naugle (audio & comms) - began to push designs around on paper, two important new concepts were developed: the idea of a central engine room, housing virtually all of the electronics, and the idea of operating positions being viewed as workstations (rather than the traditional concept of a place where the graphic operator, replay operator or editor sits to touch his or her gear).
Central Engine Room
The engine room in EN1 is housed in the B-Unit, and at its core is an Evertz EQX router with 750 inputs and over 2,500 outputs. EN1 uses the router to take in signals from every source in the compound, stadium and remotes or Bristol. Likewise everything in the trailers, venue and Bristol are fed from the router, including the multi-viewers. Unlike some approaches, where the production switcher is fed from the router, an input DA provides a separate feed for each production source to the switcher and router, providing redundancy should either fail.
Speaking of redundancy, all systems are redundant to the maximum capability provided by the manufacturers - with redundant supplies, cross point cards, etc. Any circuit cards that might be viewed as a single point of failure, and are not covered by a hot standby, are carried as spares.
Trailer interconnects are accomplished by the use of TAC12 single mode fiber cables with Delphi connectors. There are no copper connections between trailers. The TAC12 fiber path usage is optimized by multiplexing to a degree that still provides significant redundancy. Loosing one cable does not take down an entire function or system, because interconnects are spread across multiple TAC 12s. The trailers could actually be separated by miles if necessary.
EN1 currently uses Evertz Magnum View as its control system, coupled with NEP's proprietary access and control application nSite.
The Workstations Concept
Now, a little bit about the workstation concept. Outside of the dedicated Kayenne production switcher control surfaces in the main, tape release, and studio control rooms, as well as the main, effects and studio mix room, all operating positions are set up as workstations. What does this mean? Each workstation has their own set of two 30" Boland HD Monitors with the ability to view up to 32 video pictures - fully configurable per each workstations' needs. Additionally, each work station has its own RTS KP32 Adam station, Wohler MADI audio Monitor, power and KVM capability. All devices in the truck that use a keyboard and mouse, along with a video display for control, are routed through a Think Logical KVM router connecting optical to each work station. This means that any device can be operated from any workstation, and quickly switched to another device as needed.
Along with the Engine Room, Video, and Main Audio, the B-Unit includes a flexible Sandbox space. This flexible space operates as a fully functional replay area when EN1 is operating as a twin rather than a quad unit, adding efficiency for smaller-scale productions. Because the Sanbox in the B-Unit physically houses the EVS servers and some VTRS, the A-Unit (production) and C-Unit (Record / Replay) can be packed up and disconnected during after they are no longer needed, increasing efficiency without affecting melt or any post game studio activities.
As built today EN1 can support about a 25% increase in levels, ensuring that it will keep pace as the production for the big game grows, or if new technology comes our way that will help capture the pursuit of victory and agony of defeat.
Focus on Audio
EN1 has two control rooms; game and pre / post game shows, or as they would say in the UK, match and presenter.
The first overarching design goal for audio in EN1 was to improve the listening environments for everyone throughout the truck. First the shape of the rooms were adjusted to closely accommodate the golden ratios for acoustical performance for height, width and depth. Next a unique mix of functional and practical materials were selected for floor, ceiling and wall coverings incorporating optimal acoustical performance for the individual spaces. This includes carpeting on the floor in the main control room and audio mix rooms. Speakers were placed in the best possible locations for 5.1 surround mixing in the audio rooms, and options were provided for different speaker placements according varying to operator preferences. Some mixers like their mains at ear level, with PFLs and video monitoring higher up, some mixers like the video monitoring lower and the main speakers higher and angled down - either option is available.
The audio rooms are designed to be as symmetrical as possible. Noise-making fans have been moved out of the mix areas into adjacent quite rooms. Acoustical performance of interior and exterior walls and doors leading in and out of the audio rooms have been beefed up to greatly improve isolation from adjacent areas and outside the truck.
The Main Console
The main console for the game is a Calrec Apollo with dual faders. In addition, as is typical in most of U.S. football coverage, there is a second console for effects audio - in this case a Calrec Artemis Beam wit forty eight faders. Since all audio enters and leaves the consoles via Calrec's Hydra II network infrastructure there is the ability to share signals between the two consoles. What is different in this case, is the addition of a Calrec CTA core router to fully integrate the resources of both consoles together. Every source and destination is available to both desks. What this gives us, in addition to the consoles technical redundancy, is full operational redundancy. Either console can take over the other's role, or combine both functions on one desk, even if the other console is non-functional.
To capture audio from the booth and files, Hydra Wall Boxes are used at each location, making all microphones available to both consoles. The use of copper cable has been reduced to just the XLR cable from the microphone to the Wall Box. From there, the signal makes it back to the truck via redundant fiber paths. Stating this season, many of the effects microphones will have digital outputs, transporting AES direct from the mic, and eliminating the last vestiges of analog transmission.
The Secondary Console
The Pre & Post Game show is being mixed on a Digico SD10B console. The mix here is fairly straightforward, mostly a few announcers microphones and a couple of playback sources. The SD10 provides a superior solution for this application over the traditional low end mixer that often handles this task.
Quality audio monitoring throughout EN1 is handled by the newest Blue Sky speakers. The main and studio rooms are setup for 5.1Surround. The rear speakers can be raised or lowered easily to accommodate mixers preferences.
General purpose multi-channel audio monitoring throughout the truck is accomplished by Wohler MADI monitors at each of the workstations. Cloud ceiling mounted Tannoy speakers provide a fuller presence for non-critical Program audio monitoring in each room. In the various non-audio workstations throughout the truck, acoustical clouds float over the operator to improve sound isolation from other operators.
Multiple RTS ADAM Frames
Comms is handled by multiple RTS Adam frames bussed together, with individual frames located in the trailers. An RTS Trunk Master is in place to tie the trucks comms directly back to the matrix in Bristol, along with traditional TIFs as well. Each workstation and operating position is equipped with a KP32 Intercom.
Audio routing is by Evertz, with sixteen channel embedded audio available to all record and transmit paths, along with track swapping and shuffle through the router. Extensive MADI capabilities tie routing, consoles and trailers together.
The design of EN1 demonstrates that the audio is as important as the picture in creating an engaging fan experience at home.