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Serving up an ACE truck

ACE-Prague is a prominent provider of outside broadcast vehicles in the Czech Republic. Now, as the move towards HD continues apace, the company has added a new OB truck to its fleet, writes Philip Stevens.

ACE-Prague is a prominent provider of outside broadcast vehicles in the Czech Republic. Now, as the move towards HD continues apace, the company has added a new OB truck to its fleet, writes Philip Stevens.

As its name suggests, ACE-Prague operates from a base within the capital of the Czech Republic – but its field of operation is much wider. “Alongside the work we carry out for televisions stations in our own country, we have been involved in productions as far away as Spain, Portugal and Sweden,” reports head of OB department Jan Novák.

Although the company has been involved in the production of a number of successful television series in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, ACE-Prague is mainly known as a provider of outside broadcasts involving sports and music events. Since it was formed in 1998, the company has built up a fleet of OB trucks and earlier this year introduced ACE08HD, its second vehicle built to accommodate high definition. “Even though HD accounts for only about a third of our work, we need to be ready for the future demands,” states Novák. “The new truck will complement our other HD truck ACE06HD and the four SD vehicles that are currently in use.”

ACE08HD measures 13 metres long, 2.5 metres wide and is 3.6 metres high. The coachbuilding of ACEO8 HD was carried out by Czech company KOV Velim, while the system integration and installation was done by ACE itself together with a number of local SI partners.”With the help of our production staff, we are always trying to learn from previous designs and improve new ones. This OB van has been designed to be used for specific TV show productions. It is designed to accommodate eight personnel, but can be adapted for a bigger crew, as necessary.”

Loyal to suppliers

Like its earlier HD truck, the new vehicle has been designed to handle eight cameras. And like all of its other installations, ACE-Prague has opted for Sony to supply these cameras. “It is our policy to use just one manufacturer for all of our cameras,” declares Novák. “In this case, our choice has been Sony HDC-1500. We believe these cameras provide a very good price-performance ratio at the time of purchase. As well as the normal fibre connections, these cameras can also be used with our wireless Gigawave HD-Cam system.”

Sony has also provided the OB unit with video tape recorders – with a mixture of up to eight HD-CAM/Digital/SP Betacam/XD-CAM SD/HD/DVCAM models. Tapeless requirements are currently handled by EVS XT2 HD, but ACE-Prague has also installed a Grass Valley K2 Summit SD/HD server, plus a Dyno replay system. According to Novák, the K2 combines very good performance with an excellent price. Not only that, EVS operators can quickly switch to using K2 without any special training.

The OB unit’s vision mixer has also come from Grass Valley in the form of a Kayak HD 300. This is a 3 M/E switcher with two utility busses in each full M/E. It incorporates 72 inputs, 36 outputs, and a control panel with 32 crosspoint buttons. And because a seamless integration was considered an asset, Novák also purchased a Grass Valley Concerto matrix. “Occasionally, we will need a secondary mixer if we are supplying LED screens.”

Audio mixing has been entrusted to a Studer Vista 5. This Vista 5 has somewhat smaller core dimensions than other models, but is still suitable for all live sports action such as soccer matches, bike races and winter sports. The external stagebox can be located up to 300 metres from the van itself, with signals transported by MADI over a 62.5um optical fibre. Vista 5 incorporates freely configurable channels to act as inputs, groups, VCAs, and Masters. A number of enhancements, such as an optional meter bridge, tight co-operation with various digital audio workstations like ProTools, and integrated Lexicon multichannel effect processors, will probably form part of the next retrofit planned by ACE-Prague.

“Again, as we are constantly looking for costs and performance and we have chosen this model for this project,” reveals Novák.

Comms considerations

For its communications requirements, ACE-Prague again stuck with a trusted supplier. ACE is currently using Riedel Artist system in three OB trucks — apart from ACE08HD, it’s also installed in ACE06 and ACE07. This means ACE is the biggest Riedel client in the Czech Republic.

“We chose Riedel because of our good experience from previous live productions. It’s reliable, has very flexible signal routing and we can connect it over the fibre for longer cable runs.”

In fact, Riedel says that those runs can be anything up to 12 miles (19 kilometres). The Riedel equipment supplied for the truck included an Artist 64 mainframe, three Artist-RCP1028 28 keys control panel, three Artist-RCP1012 12 keys extension control panel, two Artist-DCP1016 16 keys desktop control panel, two CSX-11 commentary units and a FBI fibre converter.

“Artist is a modular system that can be easily expanded to form up to 1,024 x 1,024 non-blocking ports,” explains Stefan Feichtegger, Riedel sales manager. “This makes it a secure investment for future developments. With its Director Software the system can be easily configured via drag and drop programming.”

To provide a link between the truck and a studio, the system can be joined to a redundant fibre connection. This way the studio and the truck will form one single integrated digital intercom matrix. Other communications technology can simply connect via 4-wire if needed. Furthermore, using the Riedel Connect Duo interface ISDN and POTS phones can directly connect to the intercom matrix. The Riedel systems were supplied by local SI partner Kit Digital Czech.

Crystal ball gazing

So, with eight OB trucks on the road, does Novák see the fleet increasing in the near future? “Obviously, it depends on the requirements and feedback we will receive from our customers, but if we will have a chance to build another OB van, it will definitely be a smaller HD-capable vehicle. As regards 3D, as a company we are already very active in 3D post production, but we don’t currently see opportunities for outside broadcasts in this field.

“All of the major broadcasters in the Czech Republic are already transmitting in HD and channels are available via DVB-S(2) services and DVB-T in certain areas. Some of the new production work is commissioned in HD, but there is still a significant amount of work done in SD, mainly because of the cost implications. What is also not helping HD rollout in the Czech Republic is that few people want to pay anything extra for HD production or HD content.”

He concludes: “Am I optimistic about overall production prospects for the next two or three years? If I could have a crystal ball, I would probably be able to answer that question with more confidence!”