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Arena + Visions invest but hold fire on 4K

SIS Live is putting its fleet of 14 OB HD trucks up for sale, but some potential buyers with planned multi-million pound investments have declared that they won't bid for them.

SIS Live is putting its fleet of 14 OB HD trucks up for sale, but some potential buyers with planned multi-million pound investments have declared that they won’t bid for them.

NEP Visions is putting its seven figure capex for the new year into six flypacks specifically to cater for the BBC contracts it landed as a result of the recent tender that saw SIS Live left out in the cold.

“We took a strategic view and concluded that we have a substantial fleet of trucks and that flypacks will give us greater flexibilty,” said Brian Clark, commercial and technical projects director at NEP Visions. Visions has four existing flypacks, which it specifies and systems integrates in house. Its Wimbledon 2013 support for ESPN and the BBC, for example, was a mix of flypack and truck, although it is driving and ferrying trucks to aid NBC’s Sochi coverage this Winter.

The difference between truck and flypack? “Wheels,” said Clark. “You can outfit a flypack for 35-cameras or events requiring three to four cameras. They take longer to build than a truck [on site] and you need a physical location to put a pack into, but there are occasions when you can’t park a truck and of course you can’t put one on a plane.”

Arena Television’s preference is to build trucks “that meet our methodology rather than try and adapt another solution to our needs”, said MD Richard Yeowart.

He reveals that Arena is planning “an unprecedented growth” of four new scanners in the next 12-18 months to meet demand that will see it send facilitites to the Commonwealth Games, Brazil 2014 and the Rugby World Cup. Since Arena’s OB11 entered service in December 2012 the company has focussed on investments in Sony cameras, Canon lenses, bespoke radio cameras and EVS XT[3]s.

Yeowart says Arena was so concentrated on its Sunset and Vine obligation to cover all BT Sport’s football played in England and Wales until 2017 (excepting Champions League, currently), that it didn’t in fact have capacity to land any BBC strands.

That bonanza is being meted out to NEP Visions which takes on athletics, tennis and Wimbledon coverage; CTV, which will support the Boat Race, football and the London Marathon; Presteigne Charter, which will work on the broadcaster’s Formula 1 output; and Telegenic, which will supply the BBC’s rugby league and rugby union coverage.

While Telegenic’s Sony-outfitted 4K truck will be back in action in Brazil this summer, and CTV is prepping a new 4K truck for Sky, neither Arena nor Visions are yet ready to commit.

“The issue we are considering carefully is what camera technology will future proof all of our content,” said Clark. “If we take the plunge on one type of camera, will it suffice for 1080p 60p as well as Ultra HD? I know other companies have got 4K trucks, but where I struggle is having an integrated 4K system in which you can be confident in future.”

At heart is nailing the frame rate, which by most accounts would require at least 120fps for 4K sports acquisition to be viable.

What is divisible by 50 and 60? asked Clark. “You get to 300. While I don’t think that is achievable, a sensible decision has to be made as to what the framerate is going to be in the camera that works for HD today and higher resolutions. We expect to be involved in multiple 4K test events next year and, just as we developed HD, I’m sure people will come up with standards around 4K.”

BT Sport, Arena’s main client, has stated that 4K is not on its roadmap for the first year at least. “4K clearly suits high-bandwidth constant push platforms like Sky,” said Yeowart. “I suspect the market is more limited in terrestrial, on-demand and streamed delivery… and it is unlikely to represent a big market sector for some time. It could, however, be a battleground for broadcasters in the coming months or years.”

By Adrian Pennington