X Games Austin Live: NEP’s ND1 Debuts; Tech Vendors Fan Out Across Three Compounds

After making a home in the cozy confines of L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles in recent years, ESPN’s X Games technology vendors and service providers now find themselves sprawled across the massive Circuit of the Americas (CoTA) in Austin, TX — with an additional operation located nearly 15 miles away at the capitol building. Nonetheless, they are once again hard at work servicing one of the most complex shows on the annual sports calendar.

The NEP engineering and ops team inside ND1's A unit

The NEP engineering and ops team inside ND1’s A unit

NEP’s ND1 Sets Sail
The big news in the Venue A compound this year is the debut of NEP’s much hyped ND1 mobile unit. Soon to be the home of NBC Sunday Night Football, the foursome of double-expando trucks (only three are in Austin) boasts an Evertz routing switcher, Grass Valley Kayenne Elite 9M/E production switcher, and Calrec Artemis and Apollo audio consoles.

“It’s really just an amazing piece of work,” says NEP Engineering Manager Nick Romano. “Every operator position is uniform so they can be multipurpose. It could be graphics, tape, whatever — it’s interchangeable. And everybody’s got their individual controls, so it makes it more of your own area, which I think is pretty amazing.”

In addition to ND1, NEP has rolled out SS32 for Venue B and SS14 for Venue C downtown, as well as an army of cameras, equipment, and engineers.

“I’ve been working this show for a long time, and the engineering crew here is just awesome,” says Romano. “I think it shows the level that the NEP engineering is at now. We can just step up and take on anything that comes at us.”

BSI's Clay Underwood inside the RF mobile unit at Circuit of the Americas

BSI’s Clay Underwood inside the RF mobile unit at Circuit of the Americas

BSI All Over the Spectrum at CoTA
Broadcast Sports Inc. is back coordinating all RF transmission for X Games, as well as supplying a host of wireless RF goodies. First, the company has deployed eight on-board/in-car cameras each for the Rally Car and Super Truck events. In each event, four cars will be outfitted with two cameras, a driver-cam and an on-board cam. Each car can dual-stream both cameras simultaneously, but only two cars’ feeds can be viewed in the truck at one time.

“We don’t always do dual-streaming, but they wanted to see both images out of the car at the same time,” says BSI Technology Development Manager Clay Underwood. “We don’t do more than two cars simultaneously because of all the other elements here and there’s only so much spectrum available.”

BSI has also provided one wireless RF handheld each for Venue A and Venue B, a wireless Steadicam that the two venues share, and three additional wireless cameras for the host position and X Games Event Productions.

In terms of audio, BSI has scattered 24 wireless mics throughout CoTA: eight talent mics overall, eight effects and parabola mics apiece at Venue A and Venue B. For communications, BSI has deployed 16 separate partyline intercom systems and 10 IFBs to communicate with talent. In addition, the company is once again delivering a video-return feed to talent monitors throughout the venues.

Where the Robos and the Antelope Pico Play
Fletcher, another longtime X Games tech vendor, is providing Venue A and Venue B with seven robotic cameras each, as well as two NAC/Ikegami Hi-Motion II ultra-slo-mo cameras.

The Fletcher Sports team onsite at CoTA: (from left) Nick Bee, Nick Serna, and Ceon Forte

The Fletcher Sports team onsite at CoTA: (from left) Nick Bee, Nick Serna, and Ceon Forte

In addition, Fletcher is testing the new miniature Antelope PICO ultra-slow-motion camera, which is positioned on the Street course inside one of the pits to capture a POV-style shot of a skater or BMXer crossing on a rail overhead.

“X Games is definitely a show where we like to bring new toys and new approaches. That’s why we brought the PICO to test and put it through the paces,” says Fletcher Lead Technician Nick Serna. “We have made some adjustments, and [the X Games] is perfect place to test it out. We’ll see how it does in the heat with the extreme elements.”

At Venue A, Fletcher has deployed a robo inside the announce and judges booths, at the Sports Science “lab,” and in the athletes lounge, and several robos are repositioned to different courses throughout the day. At Venue B, robos cover the booths; three are deployed on Rally/SuperTruck course, and two are on the Moto X course. In addition, one NAC ultra-mo is dedicated to Venue B; the other was downtown for the Vert competition on Thursday and will be located at Venue A for the rest of the weekend.

Illumination Dynamics Lead Generator Technician Bruce Ward (left) and Director of Broadcast Services Rich Williams have worked a combined total of 53 X Games events.

Illumination Dynamics Lead Generator Technician Bruce Ward (left) and Director of Broadcast Services Rich Williams have worked a combined total of 53 X Games events.

ID Powers Up at CoTA
Illumination Dynamics (ID) is once again powering ESPN’s TV operations, as it has for more than a decade at X Games events. While CoTA is a massive, almost brand-new venue, it also presents a surprising challenge power-wise.

“This particular venue doesn’t actually have a lot of available power available because it was designed around having European power,” says Rich Williams. “When [CoTA does] large events like F1, they bring in big generators and run them in European 50 Hz with European connectors. So there isn’t a lot of infrastructure power-wise for [ESPN].”

As a result, ESPN is powering nearly all event production (handled by a separate vendor from ID) and TV operations via generators. ID also provides power for ESPN’s downtown-Austin production for Vert events on Thursday.

In the Venue A TV compound, ID has deployed a tri-pack of 300-kW generators; the Venue B and downtown compounds each have a 175-kW generator. On top of that, several single, studio-style generators are on hand at several courses, including the BMX Dirt and Moto X courses, and the host set.

In addition, ID provided lighting facilities and crew for the host positions, announce positions, and judge positions throughout CoTA.

DVSport Centralizes X Games Replay

DVSport Software's Justin Rudd at the new judges replay facility at CoTA

DVSport Software’s Justin Rudd at the new judges replay facility at CoTA

X Games has joined the rapidly growing “centralized-replay” club, thanks to a new DVSport Software system implemented at CoTA. Instead of being located at each venue as in the past, judges are located in a central replay trailer, which can access every single camera feed available during the ESPN telecast. The DVSport system simultaneously records eight incoming feeds (seven cameras and a dirty program feed) and plays them back in sync for the judges to view as a mosaic on three large monitors.

“We have a few different [on-screen] layouts for the judges, which vary from event to event,” says Justin Rudd, VP/director of sales/marketing, DVSport Software. “We are marking each event and each run that occurs. The judge can then ask to see a specific angle or a whole run again, and we can play it back instantly. We have full control of the video [playback] with a simple [LSM] controller.”

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