Italian outside broadcast production company SBP, a member of the huge Mediacontech Group, recently held a preview European presentation of its 3D-ready OB20 HD truck at La Casa del Cinema in Rome’s Villa Borghese, writes Mike Clark.
3D facilities have been implemented on the impressive 14-metre trailer with an upgrade to the unit’s Snell & Wilcox Kahuna production switcher’s software and a series of other modifications that the company is keeping strictly under wraps.
The artic, designed by SBP’s technical manager, Sergio Nuvoloni, was built by specialist UK coachbuilders A Smith of Great Bentley and then fitted out by SBP. Before its upgrade to 3D the truck had already covered numerous high profile events such as Champions League Finals in Rome, approximately 30 Moto GP circuits in Europe, key music events, RBS Six Nations rugby matches, about 40 matches of Italy’s soccer championship and more.
The triple-expansion unit is a concentrate of technology that includes 24 Sony HDC 1500 HDTV cameras (or 20 plus four HDC 3300) and Probel (Snell) Sirius matrices for both video (256×256 HD/SD) and audio (128×128 AES/EBU). The main production area’s monitor wall is courtesy of eight Clarity 46” displays and four Harris Zandar Fusion Pro Multiviewers, enabling a maximum configuration of 108 monitors — whereas the second production zone has a Clarity 40″ display and a Zandar Fusion Pro, with up to 26 monitors.
At the presentation, SBP Managing Director Marco Balsamo explained that the firm, founded in 1976, had seen a lot of big changes in the broadcast industry and is currently counting a lot on HDTV, in which it has invested considerably. “In Italy, the spread of HD channels on the Sky platform, and soon via digital terrestrial with other broadcasters, shows that the initiative is meeting with success. However, whereas HDTV has changed the way television is used, without modifying its ‘language’, three-dimensional productions on the other hand are destined to modify the narrative aspect, which requires a precise commitment right along the entire production chain — above all on behalf of directors.”
Balsamo went on to explain that, while watching <I>Avatar<P>, he saw how James Cameron had taken care not to exaggerate certain effects, enabling spectators to follow the film without excessive effort. “Our aim in this field is also to avoid effects for effects’ sake and ensure a more constant technique that will enable viewers to appreciate our coverage of the events in question.”
Stressing that 3D changes the way television’s language is interpreted and how producers and directors interact with viewers, he added, “We’re convinced that this next technological step will be as important, or even more so, than the previous ones, particularly if the new 3D challenge is taken up by the key players in the cinema and TV world.”
Considering the possibilities offered by 3D took Balsamo back in time to 1998, when SBP decided to produce sports events with Dolby surround and then 5.1 audio, as he explained, “We were the first in Italy to introduce this new technique for audio coverage, positioning numerous microphones dedicated to reproducing the sound, following tests carried out directly with Dolby UK. I remember we concentrated more on the atmosphere that had to be created in viewers’ home, rather than effects able to showcase the new technique being used. So we tried to avoid a constant sonic assault, ensuring enjoyable viewing with three or four real effects during the match, which also required greater commitment on our behalf to pick out the best effects. The excitement of following the matches thus became more incisive, as it was perceptibly real and not artificial.”
As far as the company’s work in the 3D field was concerned, Nuvoloni continued, “We’ve been experimenting for about six months with DBW in the 3D Stereoscopic Group, of which Eutelsat is also a member.” DBW Communication is a Rome-based audiovisual and multimedia production company, specialising in the field of documentaries and television productions in stereoscopic 3D.
SBP 3D Project Manager Simone de Lella added, “Apart from being able to work on 2D and 3D productions and having an impressive array of high-tech hardware, such as the leading edge audio set-up, with a Studer Vista 8 desk and 5.1 facilities, from an operational point of view additional features include triple expansion — which ensures working comfort, as it can host 20 specialist staffers, but, thanks to double production areas, the possibility of providing national and international coverage simultaneously. OB20 HD can also offer up to ten six-channel EVS XT(2) on board, something no other OB unit in Italy is currently able to do.”
As to the decision to launch a new vehicle of this type in a period that is anything by rosy generally speaking, SBP has no doubts and Balsamo stated, ”We believe it is precisely in periods of great difficulty that it’s necessary to focus on new technologies, the driving force behind the market’s future.”
As far as the truck’ current target is concerned, SBP at present has a request for between 20 and 30 3D projects, so there’s a great deal of interest. The company initially intends feeding the 3D signal produced by the truck to cinemas with the necessary hardware for receiving the signals from sat service integrator Open Sky, another member of the 3D group.
Balsamo concluded, “the current situation as far as 3D TV is concerned in Italy is that there are at present no 3D channels on television platforms, so we’ll see if the key players here decide to launch one, as is happening in the UK. In the meantime, audiences will be able to get a foretaste of what the future has in store by going to selected cinemas or other suitably equipped venues to see the events we cover, such as concerts and sports.”