Philip Stevens talks to an OB provider setting pace with 3D facilities
There can’t be many outside broadcast production facilities companies that can list a former professional footballer among its founders. Yet in 1993, former Bayern München goalkeeper Manfred Müller, along with broadcast professional Achim Jendges joined forces to create Berlin-based TopVision Telekommunikation. A year later, the company offered the services of the first fully digital SDI OB truck in Germany. Over the following decade, the fleet list grew with TopVision providing the first digital vehicles with expanding sides in the country.
In 2005, the first HD football match was covered for Sky Germany, and within 12 months the company had its full HD 1080i25 or 720p50 OB Van on the road.
Although sports coverage plays a major part of the company’s activities, the portfolio includes high profile concerts and other events. Besides Sky Germany, the client list includes ARD, ZDF, Sportcast, Plazamedia, Swiss Television, Austrian Television ORF, DFB, Infront, Kentaro, and Music Delight Concert. Outside of its native Germany, TopVision operates in countries as far apart as Japan, the USA, Korea, Greece, Russia and the United Kingdom.
“We have always seen ourselves as trendsetters,” states Eduard Palasan, TopVision’s chief operating officer. “Seven years ago, we started to invest heavily in HD and for some considerable time now 100% of our work has been in the format. In fact, we now longer operate any SD vehicles.”
Now, that commitment to high definition is being complemented by an increasing amount of 3D production working alongside HD simulcasts. And to meet that requirement, TopVision commissioned unit OB1.3D, the first dedicated 3D truck in Germany.
“We had input from many different sources when it came to the design of the interior,” emphasises Palasan. “We were asked to ensure there were facilities for more 3D cameras than normal, including those with slow motion capabilities. To accommodate that, there had to be inputs for many signals from numerous sources. The engineers, of course, wanted more space. But there was also a call for a second production room for unilateral output, for editing, the creation of highlights, virtual enhancements or graphics and so on.”
He adds that room was found in the main production gallery for the client’s producer, lighting cameraman, editor in chief, and other executive personnel. All those needs were met in a truck which is 16.5 metres long and has an expanded width of up to 4.6 metres. It was built in Germany by BFE of Mainz. “Obviously, the truck can also be used for HD production,” declares Palasan, “but there is an increasing call for its 3D capabilities.”
Commitment to cameras
In HD mode, this truck (indeed all of TopVision’s OB vehicles) can accommodate up to 34 cameras – a mixture of Sony HDC1000, 1500 and 1550, with HDC3300 being used for SuperSloMo. “We also use up to 10 LMP HD 1200 mini-cameras where space is very limited. They have the advantage of being remotely controlled over long distances and can support 1080p, 1080i and 720p formats.”
The LMP HD 1200 cameras also figure in the 3D specification, along with ten HDC1500R and four Sony HDC-P1 cameras. Palasan believes that the narrow body of the P1 – it is just 86mm – makes it ideal for 3D requirements. The camera has three 2.2-million pixel 2/3"-inch type Power HAD FX CCDs and a 14 bit A/D converter that produces a sensitivity of F11 at 1080/50i.
All the cameras are fitted with Canon lenses. The truck is equipped with seven Element Technica Quasar, Pulsar and LMP 3D rigs.
Just as the main cameras come from Sony, so the vision mixers (there are two MVS-8000G with 4M/E) originate from the same source. Palasan is lavish in his praise for that manufacturer. “As far as we are concerned they always provide the best and most modern equipment with the most up to date software and innovations. In particular, they offer special solutions and enable us to capture quickly those ‘surprising moments’ during a live event. Oh yes, they also provide the best price when it comes to value for money!”
Sony, along with Panasonic, provides the VTRs in the form of Sony HDCAM and XDCAM HD, Panasonic DVC Pro50, AJ1800 and P2 AJ2500. “We also have Avid Sports editing fully networked to 8 EVS HD XT  and XT  on each OB Van.”
On board graphics is supplied by a Vizrt 3D HD Trio character generator and Viz Engine rendering system. From the vision mixer, the right and left eye images are streamed in full HD 1920 x 1080 to the 3D monitors. The crew can then view flicker-free images using circular-polarised 3D glasses.
Palasan makes the point that live production graphics needs are quite different from recorded programmes. “Obviously, you need to utilise realtime tools like the Viz Engine, so that operators can modify every parameter and see those changes right away.”
Audio mixing is handled by a 40-fader Aurus digital mixing console. This system is based on Stagetec technology which includes EBU-R128-compliant loudness metering, a spectrum analyser and true-peak metering. The TFT screens on the unit can be switched between showing the RTW meter and the Aurus display.
“Because TopVision transmits not only sports fixtures, but also concerts and other musical events, we feel that Stagetec Aurus is the best and most compact unit with more features and effects than any other live OB console,” declares Palasan.
Major musical event
The audio capabilities – along with other technological innovations in TopVision’s 3D truck - were put to a demanding test during a 2011 event of the Heavy Metal group The Scorpions. The show was recorded as live in Saarbrücken for a 3D Blu-ray disk.
“We had to use 10 3D cameras for this production,” explains Palasan. “This was more cameras than had ever been previously used for a 3D concert, and included a Steadicam, a Polecam, SupertecnoCrane, a panther and a Dolly CruiseCam PMT. Not only that, we utilised a 3D ENG camera for gathering audience shots and other material relevant to the bonus track on the Blu-ray. It was a challenge, but everyone worked very hard and made it a superb success.”
About 20% of TopVision’s current work is produced in 3D, and Palasan is determined that will increase in the coming months. “I am very optimistic. With an increasing number of 3D channels, there will be a need for content, content, content! However, to be honest, I cannot see too many new developments in 3D technology in the near future. Everything is far too expensive and getting finance for anything new will be difficult in the present climate.”
“But,” he concludes, “if there is to be progress I would like to see enhanced lenses, improved 3D editing software and the introduction of better and integrated analysis software.”