New HD Truck Carries MTSU to ESPN 360

A newly refurbished HD production truck is helping Middle Tennessee State University elevate its athletics and media departments to a whole new level of exposure.

Since the truck began the process of going fully HD last summer, the MTSU Department of Electronic Media Communication has produced two football games for ESPN 360, various basketball and volleyball games for Tennessee cable stations, and several non–sports-related productions, including a one-hour NASA documentary on the ARES-1 rocket launch for PBS station WNPT Nashville.

The best part for Toffer King, assistant director of technical systems for MTSU, is that all these HD productions are almost entirely student-run.

“The truck is primarily used by production students, so it’s essentially a lab environment,” he says. “Whenever it’s rented out, it has to have a student crew with it. They’ll do everything from producing and directing to running tape, audio, or cameras — basically, anything that it takes to get it done.”

The Mobile Production Lab (MPL), as MTSU refers to it, originally arrived in Murfreesboro, TN, in 1992 as a standard-definition analog truck.  Following last summer’s HD renovations, the MPL is now through the first step of a three-step process to become a full-HD truck.

“Where we go from here depends on how quickly funding happens,” says King. “We tried to make everything that we did when we started refurbishing the truck consistent with what we wanted in the future once it was entirely HD.”

First, the truck was reconfigured to create space for more students and rewired to be able to pass HD video. Second, came a host of equipment upgrades. Among them: a new Yamaha DM2000VCM audio console to replace the old analog console, two one-channel Compix ConverG1 character generators to replace the truck’s aging CG, Fujinon XA50x9.5 lenses to use with the Sony HDC-14000 cameras that MTSU already had in its HD studio, and, most notably, a brand-new monitor-wall system using Tahoma-LE HD monitors from Apantac.

“The Apantac system has worked very well and is definitely one of the more noticeable changes,” says King. “We went from a bunch of little 9-in. black-and-white monitors to these two 46-in. LCDs and still saved over a foot of space in the production area at the front of the truck. It’s definitely got a wow factor to it.”

In an effort to reduce the learning curve for students, MTSU has tried to duplicate the type of equipment in the MPL with the equipment in the department’s main studio (which was completely converted to HD in 2007) as much as possible. As a result, the students are able to avoid potential workflow and clashing-technology issues.

“The students have all seemed to really like it and get a lot out of it,” King says. “Some of the gear had been in there since the truck was first built, and we were always trying to patch it all back together. We spent a lot of time fighting the truck instead of actually using it. Since the changes were made, the feedback has been very positive to say the least.”

The HD refurbishment has allowed the media department to develop a solid relationship with ESPN 360, producing MTSU’s 27-20 win over Florida Atlantic and 38-14 win over Arkansas State last season.  The productions were entirely student-run, with the exception of the talent — which featured the MTSU radio network announcers.

“ESPN has been very happy with what we’ve given them and want to keep going with it,” says King. “There’s obviously a couple things they want to tweak here and there going forward, but they’re definitely interested in maintaining a relationship with us. We’re now working on trying to do a basketball game for ESPN 360 during the spring semester.”

While MTSU’s production plans for the spring are not yet final, continued work with ESPN 360 looks to be on the horizon as well as possible coverage of the upcoming Tennessee gubernatorial debates.

Password must contain the following:

A lowercase letter

A capital (uppercase) letter

A number

Minimum 8 characters