Font Size

- Aa +

Sat 13 Feb 2010 04:00 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

Road warriors

Vijaya Cherian looks at some of the key factors that drive the OB business in the Middle East, the challenges stakeholders face and the new technologies that will help produce improved live sports coverage.

Road warriors
Several broadcasters in the Middle East have invested in OB applications in 2009.
Road warriors
Dubai Media Inc. used this new HD OB van, delivered by Sony Professional Solutions Middle East, just a few days before the launch of the Burj Khalifa to cover the event.
Road warriors
Hassan Chahine, chief technology officer at DMI.
Road warriors
Goodman says dealing with 5.1 surround sound signals in OBs is a big challenge.

Vijaya Cherian looks at some of the key factors that drive the OB business in the Middle East, the challenges stakeholders face and the new technologies that will help produce improved live sports coverage.

Outside broadcast is increasingly gaining significance in the Middle East broadcast landscape thanks to the growing popularity of live sports coverage in the region.

The absence of quality operators and crew, however, has brought many OB service specialists such as Spanish company, Mediapro to our doorstep.

MediaPro has a strong presence in the Middle East and has worked extensively with several Arab entities such as Al Jazeera Sport, Abu Dhabi's Live Facilities and Dubai TV to provide both production and crew support services mainly for sport.

"Our OB vans are primarily built for specific sports and don't have the flexibility for all-around productions," says David Mas Erliso, engineering and sales manager, Mediapro Middle East.

MediaPro has been involved in the production of several sports events in the region over the last few years. Those in 2009 include the Arabian Gulf Cup of Nations Oman, the Rugby Sevens World Championship Dubai, UFL U.A.E. Football League, FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup and FIFA under 20 World Cup Egypt.

"We are a major player in the Middle East television production world and provide several specialised equipment to our clients including real-time 3D graphics generators based on live gathered metadata, the Omnicam, Super Slow Motion cameras, Spider Cameras and so on," says Erliso.

"These technologies were used at the 2009 FIFA UNDER 20 World Cup in Egypt. Transmissions are also now almost 1005 in HD and as a frontrunner in developing live transmissions in 3D, we will be ready to test this in late 2010 in some markets," he adds.

Although MediaPro also provides OB vans to clients in the region, the company finds that its expertise in providing services and crew has attracted more customers.

"Previously, most broadcasters in the Middle East did not have well equipped OB vans but now, many of them have state-of-the-art solutions," he says.

One company that has been steadily supplying OB vans to the Middle East market is Aret. The company, which has designed and integrated OB vans for broadcasters in Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, recently supplied an SD OB van to a client in the Levant region.

The compact six SD-SDI camera OB van, based on a Mercedes Vario chassis, was equipped with Sony cameras, Codan Broadcast routing switcher and modulars, Kroma monitors with Image video quad splits and a Kayak vision mixer.

"Previously, we saw two different kinds of customers: those more committed to excellence and others, who concentrated more on the project efficiency. Today, we see that customers expect excellence to merge with project efficiency," explains Umberto Asti, vice president of international sales, Aret.

According to Asti, most clients want OB vans "that can excel at different kind of production applications, have compact dimensions and weights and ‘easy-to-go' solutions while also having a range of brands that integrate well".

"Each one of these requirements is not difficult in itself. It is challenging, however, to achieve all of them. Working in harsh weather conditions, for instance, is more difficult when you try to make the vehicle size more compact and squeezing the size contradicts the concept of an all-purpose design. Likewise, striving for excellence while meeting stringent budget requirements is paradoxical and all customers want an efficient after-sales support but do not want it included in the pricing," explains Asti.

This is not to say that big HD trailers are not in the pipeline, says Asti, but they are fewer in number.

One of the biggest and most demanding applications for OB is sport. The bar for the production of live sport has continuously been raised and manufacturers have constantly tried to cater to this demand.

Bruno Schmetz, sales manager of EVS Middle East attributes this to the "increasing sophistication and number of cameras that are being used; the transition from standard definition (SD) to 16:9 and/or HD; the request to have continuous access to all of the material, including all camera angles; the need to exchange content more efficiently; and the introduction of dedicated feeds for new media such as the internet and mobile phones".

He also tells us to wait and watch as many of 2010's flagship events will use new technologies "for the production of live replays, including super motion and ultra motion (up to 1000 frames per second) action replays; for near-live timeline editing; the compilation of clips and metadata management; to generate graphic overlays more efficiently; and to access, browse, and download media files from a secure website".

According to Schmetz, EVS is prepared to meet the above challenges with a new video production server that it launched last month, The server, which belongs to the XT series, claims to offer more bandwidth and greater capabilities to broadcasters.

"It inherits the qualities and main features of the XT[2] architecture and is an ideal platform for all types of live and near-live productions, including instant replay, live slow motion and ultra motion replay, real-time editing, video delay, and playout," claims Schmetz.

"The XT[2]+ comes with a full range of software and remote controllers, such as the MulticamLSM, IPDirector, and INSIO. The new server offers an even greater and more flexible open architecture with extended support of formats and codecs for a better control of and a smoother integration with third-party systems," he explains.

ARET's Asti adds that OB vehicles skewed towards sport will also be kitted out with "hyper slow-motion cameras" in the future.

"We have been testing this technology and the result is amazing," he claims.

Lens manufacturer Fujinon also launched a series of lenses last year to cater to sports coverage. Recently, the manufacturer set up a Technical Service Centre in downtown Vancouver for the opening of the Winter Olympic Games in February. The Centre will serve as the technical service headquarters for all of the Fujinon TV lenses that are being used to televise the event.

Although sport is the priority for most broadcasters in the Middle East, ARET's Asti adds that broadcasters are now looking for other features as well within OB vans.

"We have seen an increased demand for IP applications for news and consequently for other equipment working in IP environment such as IP intercoms," Asti points out.

Recently, the company provided what has become a norm with most broadcasters - an SNG van that also doubles up as an OB vehicle.

"We recently delivered an HDSNG, Ku Band plus three to four HD cameras and a 12KVA diesel generator on board for a client. The challenges of this project were many because everything is fitted in a tight space and the total weight was not supposed to exceed four tonnes," he explains.

Dubai Media Inc. covers launch of Burj khalifa

Dubai-based state broadcaster Dubai Media Inc. recently undertook a massive OB operation with two high definition OB vans recently supplied by Sony Professional Solutions Middle East and two standard definition vans to cover the launch of the world's tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa, in Dubai on January 4.

Hassan Chahine, chief technology officer at DMI says the production posed a huge challenge to the team primarily because of the significance of the launch.

More than 6000 residents gathered at Downtown Dubai to attend the launch of the Burj Khalifa. Mobility was almost impossible. Cameramen and production crew had to stay where they were stationed and had to resolve any issues by themselves. More importantly, Dubai Media Inc. had taken delivery of its most advanced HD van only three days prior to the launch.

"This was a true test of our team's ability to improvise at the event and they did a very good job despite the fact that there was no time for training on the new OB van. The whole production went without a single hitch," claims Chahine.

"The big challenge was that the site was ready only a few hours before the opening so we could do a full rehearsal prior to the launch. Secondly, with such a huge crowd at the event and the huge security involved, movement from one location to the other was practically impossible for our operations and technical team.

"Thirdly, communication via our mobile phones was difficult as the network was overloaded on the day of the event. Our internal communication system did a much better job there. In addition to all this, we had only just taken delivery of our new HD van. Usually, the testing of electronic items, training on the equipment and so on takes a few weeks. We had to eliminate all those elements in between and take the van straight to the event," he explains.

DMI used 40 cameras at the event of which 20 were HD.

Owing to the high security and lack of mobility, DMI had about eight generators on site to take care of any power issues.

In addition to this, DMI also had cameramen stationed at Meydan, the new horse race course, to get a larger view of the whole area.

DMI was the host broadcaster and was responsible for producing the entire event.

"A lot of effort went into designing a comfortable layout for the OB in a soundproof environment. The use of exotic vacuum technology materials helped us achieve a very good result on this one.

In addition, the 12KVA diesel generator provides nearly double the power required from the whole system, allowing us to power up the lighting systems. Even the uplink chain is fully redundant, equipped with a double RF switch. From a technical point of view, this is a very impressive OB van," claims Asti.

Similarly, Saudi Arabia-based systems integrator First Gulf Company recently supplied two OB SNG vans to Saudi TV.

Several issues, however, are still to be addressed in the Middle East.

For one, local operators need to be exposed to new technology as it is being used.

"The job of an OB operator is not always rewarding in the Middle East market," cautions Schmetz.

In many cases, a lack of communication between directors and operators have had a negative impact on productions, he says.

"In some countries, the technical director is the decision maker. In some cases, the head of production as well as the operators who actually use the technology also influence the decision-making process. In the Middle East, however, hierarchy is strictly maintained. Consequently, the technical director and the production team are not always in sync and this hinders the quality of the production.

If the decision maker does not have a fundamental understanding of the whole process or does not know how a certain technology can help them extend their production capabilities as well as improve their workflows, it's difficult to move forward," he adds.

Besides this, Schmetz points out that most of the big events in the Middle East are produced with locally available equipment but operated by foreign crew.

EVS, which organises regular training programmes for the industry through its office in Dubai, says it is, therefore, looking to "build and enhance the local know-how, as well as improve the collaboration between directors and operators".

MediaPro, which provides skills such as cameramen, replay operators, TV directors, sound engineers and producers from international markets to the Middle East for the production of live sport, seconds this.

"There is a serious lack of professional OB van technical operators in the Gulf. We have tried to address this by helping with knowledge transfer from our crew to local operators," says Erliso.

Although the coverage of live sport is a key application now, several broadcasters in the Middle East also use their vans for the coverage of other important events including live performances, the Arab summit, the Hajj prayers and so on. As a result, those with older OB vans are seeking to upgrade or install new features.

One of the chief challenges in this area, according to Calrec Audio, "has to do with 5.1 surround sound signals".

"This challenge is twofold - the manipulation of these signals, and the capacity to deal with the sheer number of channels. Now that HD has 5.1 surround as an accepted standard, and sport is still driving demand for this, it has become clear that many older digital consoles do not have the capacity to deal with the number of channels necessary," says Henry Goodman, business development, Calrec Audio.

"At every level of the production chain, where there were previously two audio channels, six are now necessary for true 5.1, and there is pressure to move from 48kHz to 96kHz and beyond. Modern consoles have to be powerful enough to cope, and also have enough in reserve to deal with any changes in the future, such as 7.1 audio," adds Goodman.

We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with a wide variety of technologies at the same time. While broadcasters have barely coped with high definition and its demands, we are being told 3D is the future and 5.1 surround sound should be a given at production shoots. End users constantly seem to be in a state of catch up with the latest technology and the Middle East is doing well on this front.

Where it sorely lacks, however, are skilled OB operators, producers and other technical crew. This is an issue that must be given serious consideration by Arab governments. Presently, most manufacturers hold training programmes only on their own products. People, therefore, tend to buy solutions they are most familiar with although they may not be best suited to the applications for which they are being purchased.

What the Middle East requires is training centres and objective trainers who will seek to give students and end users a wider perspective of the technologies available in the market so that they may be able to make informed purchasing decisions.

PALS unveils special designs for OB applications

Turkey-based PALS Electronic Devices Co. Ltd., which is well known for its coach building capabilities and provides both DSNG vehicles and OB vans to some of the biggest broadcast stations in the world, recently annnounced the availability of three types of vehicles that can be modified to cater to different work applications.

The NewSNG Comfort is specifically designed as a Dynamic News reporting vehicle and is built on a Mercedes Vito or equivalent platform. Compact in design and easy to manoeuvre through any city, it is versatile and equipped with the latest digital technology (HD). It is cost effective to operate and is designed to use as a fast response unit to cover breaking news events.

The NewSNG COMFORT operates in minutes to transmit live streams. It is based on the Mercedes Sprinter (or equivalent) and  combines the Pals' series Lightweight DriveNews 1.2m/1.5m  Antenna System with the PAC-350M controller with Autopeak.  The NewSNG Smart vehicle is designed to accommodate three to four HD cameras.

The NewSNG Producer is specifically designed for NEWSNG Fast, flexible Live productions and transmissions of (HD) outdoor events. The PRODUCER is based on a Mercedes Vario (7.5 tonnes) and consists of integrated Vehicle Satellite uplink, a complete production section that includes Audio/Video production equipment, single or dual RF systems, HPA (1 +1),  DVB Modulator, MPEG encoder and Professional IRD for monitoring. This vehicle can accommodate up to six (HD) cameras.