Fox Regional Nets embrace X-mo for MLB; Mobile TV Group fills HD gap

By Ken Kerschbaumer

Regional Fox Sports Networks (FSN) across the country will be offering viewers more chances to catch their favorite MLB team in HD. For starters Mobile TV Group is building new 48-foot HD production units to meet demand for lower-cost productions (especially for visiting-team networks). FSN is also deploying more Inertia Unlimited X-mo super slow-mo cameras this season to let more fans than ever see the seams of a fastball with stunning clarity.

“We continue to roll out Inertia Unlimited X-mo systems,” says Doug Sellars, Fox Sports Net executive producer. Previously the systems were used for Los Angeles Angels and Dodgers telecasts but this year the St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, and Atlanta Braves will all get the X-mo treatment.

“We love the technology and it seems to be evolving every three weeks,” adds Sellars. The next version of the camera, due in the next few months, will include a dual output, greatly improving the systems flexibility. The current single-output version can either output live video or record for slo-mo playback but it can’t simultaneously do both. But with dual outputs one signal can pass through to the production truck for live use while the other captures material for replay.

Also new this year is the HD Diamondcam, also from Inertia. Standard-definition versions were previously installed in front of first base and home plate for Dodgers games. The new HD version will continue the drive to full-HD productions. “The more we’re able to get HD product out there and people get a glimpse of it the more we’ll drive HD viewership,” adds Sellars.

Mobile TV Group, which provides home production services for the 15 FSN networks, will make it easier for those networks to offer HD road coverage when they are visiting a non-FSN network. A unique aspect of FSN productions is the use of dual-feed trucks from Mobile TV Group. The 53-foot trucks have an eight-foot area set aside for the visiting team’s production crew. And that means only one production truck instead of two.

The new 48-foot expando units will come in handy when, for example, FSN West is visiting the New York Mets whose home broadcaster is SportsNetNY. Or when SportsNetNY is visiting Dodger Stadium and doesn’t want to operate out of a dual-feed truck. The goal of the new trucks, according to Phil Garvin, Mobile TV Group general manager, is to offer a production solution that comes in for around $10,000 for an event.

“Our first one is on the road and reaction has been great,” says Garvin. “They’ll be located from coast to coast and we’re building four this year and we’ll keep cranking them out.” Future trucks will hit the road in May, August and December.

Thomson Grass Valley 8000 cameras are on board along with a Grass Valley Kalypso or Kayak switcher. EVS XT2 servers are on board and one of the changes from dual-feed trucks is a tape area that faces the front of the truck. “The unit is also 10,000 pounds lighter,” says Garvin.

Sellars is already eyeing using the units to fill in additional HD programming gaps. “We’ll also use those units for college or even high-school sports,” says Sellars.

With FSN quickly accelerating its number of HD events (more than 1,600 this year alone) Sellars hopes to hit the 100% mark within the next 18 months, although no firm time table is set. The FSN team will be heading to NAB with all-hands-on-deck to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

“It’s more important than ever to be at NAB to make sure we stay ahead of technology,” he says.

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