NEP Trucks Get Embedded-Audio Upgrades

When NEP’s new ND1 truck rolls out to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Heinz Field this summer, it will be as the flagship for a newly renovated fleet for which embedded digital audio is the basic infrastructure for broadcast sound.

In its role as NBC’s Sunday Night Football primary production truck, ND1’s four 53-ft. double-expanding trailers with seating for more than 75 operating positions will offer a completely 1080p-capable infrastructure and the largest routing switcher available for a mobile production facility in the U.S. The unit’s 100%-fiber-optic connectivity supplies all interconnections between the trailers and from the trailers to the stadium venue. EVS XT3 media servers support tapeless, fully digital recording workflows, with extensive embedded audio support for 16 channels. In addition to the Evertz routing switcher, ND1 houses a Grass Valley Kayenne Elite 9M/E production switcher and Calrec Artemis and Apollo audio consoles. (For more on the technology featured on ND1, CLICK HERE.)

Fleet-Wide Initiative
ND1, which will be NBC’s command truck for the 2015 Super Bowl, follows sister truck EN1, which was built in 2013 for ESPN’s Monday Night Football. NEP embarked on a review of all aspects of its mobile units from the wheels up and worked collaboratively with core clients to build the next generation of mobile units.

The second phase of the company’s fleet-wide technology-enhancement initiative, which began this year, will see major audio-infrastructure upgrades for seven of the company’s U.S.-based mobile-broadcasting vehicles. The enhancement, expected to be largely completed this year and fully finished in early 2016, provides router upgrades to support 16 channels of embedded audio across all recording and playback devices, as well as inbound and outbound paths to remote outside-broadcasting locations. This represents an exponential increase in channel counts, up from the four channels that most trucks had been fitted with previously. Other enhancements in this phase include replacing copper cable with fiber-optic cable to interconnect multiple vehicles on larger productions, and new monitor walls in several mobile units.

NEP has also begun a refurbishing and upgrade program for its B units and a project to install The Wall, the company’s new Apple iPad app for fast and easy configuration of complex monitor walls. The fleet upgrade will take place in cycles over the next three years, avoiding disruption of scheduled productions.

“The transition to embedded audio over HD-SDI video will be a huge asset for both our engineering crews and our broadcast customers, especially those that need to create multiple audio streams in 5.1 [surround] to support various international markets,” says NEP Chief Technology Officer George Hoover. “In addition to reducing engineering and operating costs as well as weight, rack space, and power consumption — always important factors on mobile units — embedded audio will better equip us to support the channel payloads required for multichannel audio in large-scale, live mobile productions.”

Although audio will eventually be upgraded on NEP’s entire fleet of U.S. mobile broadcasting units, the company is planning to complete the upgrade on seven HD vehicles over this summer. The enhancements include PESA router upgrades for fully embedded audio with LED legend-able panels in five unspecified mobile units. The audio upgrade is a full-featured retrofit that will enable channel swapping, shuffle, delay, and phase adjustments for each path while maintaining full sample accuracy. This audio-enhancement project will also include audio-console upgrades to two other mobile units, including the addition of Calrec’s Bluefin technology.

According to Hoover, the audio upgrades are driven in large part by broadcasters who need to be able to generate a discrete 5.1-surround mix for U.S. shows while still having enough capacity to create multiple stereo mixes for international feeds and avoid music-licensing issues. He adds that, while the upgrades and the shift to fiber cabling may not reduce the overall amount of wire on a truck, they will add new capabilities to the vehicles.

The upgrades to the fleet will also provide a more efficient platform for moving discrete audio around the remote sites, he adds, noting that encoding with codecs such as Dolby Digital increasingly takes place at the broadcast center, freeing the trucks to be able to move discrete, unencoded stems around the remote-production chain, with beneficial results for the entire production.

“That makes for much more uniform sound for the networks,” Hoover says. “When the encoding takes place on-site, there’s a lot of potential for any slight change in the encoder settings to result in a significant change on the overall sound. So these upgrades to the trucks’ audio capabilities have implications beyond what you might see at first.”

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