The UAE’s first 4K OB van has arrived in Abu Dhabi, and it promises to raise the level of live sports production in the region. BroadcastPro takes an exclusive tour and learns more from senior executives at Mediapro and long-term partner LIVE HD.
Spanish broadcast services provider Mediapro, which has been producing live sporting events in the Middle East for the last 15 years – including the UAE Pro League, the FIFA Club World Cup, the 2019 Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi and the 2019 Asian Cup – has built a new 4K OB van to join its fleet of vehicles for the Middle East market.
Mediapro has an exclusive long-term partnership agreement for the GCC market with LIVE HD, the production arm of Abu Dhabi Media, and is first engaging the OB van for both HD and 4K production during the current UAE Pro League football season, which runs until May 2020. Dubbed OB52, it is one of 60 vehicles owned by Mediapro, and one of three in Abu Dhabi. The firm also has vehicles in Egypt and Turkey.
“This represents a fantastic opportunity to develop 4K live production capabilities in the region, working closely with our valued partners,” remarks Omar Pleite Guerra, GM of Mediapro Middle East FZ-LLC.
With 4K becoming a production standard for several live sporting events and demand for OB projects on the rise, Pleite is confident the vehicle will become a critical requirement for regional productions.
“We realise channels are not yet producing or broadcasting in 4K, but the GCC is teeming with live events and we see a huge opportunity in the live production market for 4K to grow, especially with Expo 2020 drawing close,” he explains. “Likewise, Saudi Arabia is now open for tourism and other economic activities, in line with Vision 2030. A 4K OB unit can amplify that vision by delivering the highest quality audiovisual imagery live to regional and global audiences, to share with the world what is happening on the ground in real time.”
While the OB van, a Mercedes 1848 built by coachbuilder TECNOVE, is dedicated to servicing LIVE HD projects, Mediapro works closely with Abu Dhabi Media and Live HD to pitch for other productions in the region.
The OB van is wired to broadcast in HD formats from 720i to 1080i or 1080p, all the way up to 2160p 4K ultra HD. It is presently equipped with 12 Panasonic 4K camera systems and four special cameras. These include the MiniCam X5A system from 4sky, part of Mediapro Group, as well as a For-A FT-ONE-SS4K, the world’s first high-speed camera designed for super-slow-motion acquisition at 4K resolution. The van is also wired to accommodate a mix of 26 4K and HD cameras.
The interiors of the vehicle are state-of-the-art, with an improved interior to facilitate a smooth workflow for all live and recorded broadcast assignments. For production, it is equipped with a Grass Valley Kayenne vision mixer with up to four MEs, 84 monitor lines, and Sony BVM-X300 and 40” KDL displays. For video control, monitors have displays ranging from the Sony BVM-X300, Postium 24” U-Series and NEC 32” HD, to Grass Valley Kaleido MX 3G 4K multi-viewer systems.
“With the current set of events we are expected to produce in 4K, it is not likely to be profitable, but as a leading player in providing the best broadcast services in the market, we will be expected to have a 4K unit and eventually that will pay off,” says Omar Pleite Guerra, GM of Mediapro Middle East FZ-LLC
Other key kit includes the SAM Sirius 830 video matrix and IQ Modular range, the LAWO V_pro8 and LAWO VSM controller, and the FOR-A FA 9500; while digital glue is managed by the Miranda Densite series. For video recording, OB52 offers the Sony PDW-HD1500, AJA KiPro Ultra and EVS XT4k facilities, with 40 monitor lines and 10 Asus 24” HD displays.
Audio features a flexible Studer Vista 5, 5.1 surround sound via a Genelec 8340, with RTS intercom facilities managed through RTS Adam Matrix.
“The OB van was integrated in Spain with everything from coach building and systems integration companies dedicated to delivering vans to the very highest tech specifications. We use our vast collective experience in OB van design to implement and integrate facilities as per our requirements. Even while the integration was going on and before its arrival in the UAE, this vehicle has already been assigned to numerous projects and events. This 4K OB van is planned to be used in the live production for the UAE Pro League, but we are expecting to provide more 4K services as per LIVE HD’s requirements,” explains Mediapro Technical Manager Nuno Cabaco.
“We have increased the air-conditioning capacity within this truck to ensure it can withstand the heat in this region,” he adds.
Integrating a 4K van is not without its challenges, with one critical element being lighting.
“Lighting is so important in 4K production. We have been particular that we hire only the best CCUs/HDR operators to take the maximum harnessing from the cameras,” says Cabaco.
With broadcasters choosing between HD and 4K based on the requirements of a shoot, they need to have flexibility and “the ability to switch easily from one format to the other, leveraging their existing infrastructure”, explains Pleite.
While it may be difficult to justify the cost of infrastructure required to support both 4K and HD live broadcast contribution workflows, Pleite says the investment will pay off in the long run. “With the current set of events we are expected to produce in 4K, it is not likely to be profitable, but as a leading player in providing the best broadcast services in the market, we will be expected to have a 4K unit and eventually that will pay off.”
Video transport is also a challenge. “With limited and expensive satellite, fibre or MPLS links typically reserved for primary video contribution, broadcasters still need to transport video for alternative cameras for backstage interviews, off-field coverage and return and teleprompter feeds. Typically, you need a 12GHz capacity for production and transmission and will need a big transponder even to accommodate one single 4K transmission. We can support the broadcaster for a transmission, although our primary objective is to record in 4K and hand over the signal to a broadcaster.”
“Even while the integration was going on and before its arrival in the UAE, this vehicle has already been assigned to numerous projects and events, ” says Nuno Cabaco, Technical Manager, Mediapro.
In addition, bandwidth is a challenge. “The resolution, frame rate and pixel depth needed for 4K UHD content requires far greater throughput compared to HD. Live broadcasters are still struggling to accommodate the bandwidth required.”
Mediapro has a team of ten technical experts to operate the 4K OB van.
“A 4K van requires more skills and more infrastructure. First of all, there are more inputs and outputs going in and out from the OB. We need to be well organised on the router and video mixer to avoid mistakes, and that can be a challenge for those who haven’t done it before,” explains Cabaco.