Take it outside

As the quality and quantity of outside broadcasts in the Middle East increase, many broadcasters are investing in the latest equipment to ensure top class pictures from the field. ITP.net visits two regional companies looking to hit the road.

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By  Marcus Webb Published  October 31, 2002

I|~||~||~|Outside broadcast is big business. From live coverage of sporting events to location filming for drama serials, shooting footage in the great outdoors offers broadcasters a refreshing alternative to the studio. Two of the Middle East’s most successful broadcasters, MBC, which transmits out of Dubai Media City, and Sharjah TV, which broadcasts over a network of terrestrial transmitters and on the Arabsat and Hotbird satellites, have made substantial investments in OB equipment.

The two stations have different plans for their new kit. MBC’s most recent outside production was covering Elton John’s concert in Dubai, while Sharjah TV’s OB van will next be used to produce a local drama and, while their objectives may differ, both companies see outside broadcasting as an asset to their productions.

Reinventing the wheel

“Seventy per cent of our programmes are produced in house and outside broadcast is an important part of that,” says Abdul Rehmen Ahmed, head of engineering, Sharjah TV.

“News reports and sports events such as football, horse racing and boat racing are all covered and we decided it was time to improve our facilities.” Sharjah Television decided to upgrade its existing five camera OB van from analogue to digital and is also investing in a brand new vehicle. Both projects are being carried out by Salam Technical Services.

“We are working very closely with the team from Sharjah Television as they are the people who will be using the equipment on a daily basis,” explains Suhail Shafi, senior engineer, Salam Technical Services.

“We are changing the entire van from analogue to digital step-by-step. At the moment we are changing the audio and vision mixers, later we may change the VTRs.”
The Sharjah TV OB van will be split into three sections: production, sound and engineering.

“I think by converting to digital Sharjah TV will see a massive improvement in the quality of footage for very little outlay,” says Shafi. I think it is essential to go digital, the levels of detail and quality are far superior to analogue,” he concludes.
The refurbished van will be equipped with a Sony SDI camera system and Sony digital audio mixer, Leitch distribution equipment, and a PDS6000 vision mixer, plus Deko 500 character generator, both manufactured by Pinnacle.

“Because of its compact size and powerful performance, the PDS6000 is ideal for an OB truck where space is limited,” explains Niaz Siddiqui, director broadcast and communications, Salam Technical Services. “It is very effective when partnered with the Deko Character Generator as it is easy for the vision mixer operator to drag and drop pages from the CG into the PDS. It is also very cost-effective and allows Sharjah TV to transmit the sort of high quality live broadcasts you would normally expect from much more expensive equipment. In fact, the entire vehicle is designed to provide fantastic results for minimum outlay.”

The vehicle is microwave linked back to the station, and, although there is no editing equipment on board, a manual edit can be produced from the vehicle.

“Outside broadcast equipment in the Middle East has to be very durable,” explains Ahmed. “It has to cope with extreme heat and high levels of humidity. We are very happy with how the new equipment has held up so far and are sure it will continue to do so.”

Integrating the existing analogue equipment with the new digital stock has proved problematic, but the Salam team is coping well. “We are hoping to have the installation completed within twenty-one days, which is well before the one month we were originally given,” says Shafi. “It is obviously much easier to produce a new van from scratch rather than carry out a refit, but things are going well.” Considering all the high tech equipment involved, it is surprising that the only problem has come from the smallest of items. “I am having trouble with nuts,” exclaims Shafi. “Some of the existing racks do not use the same fittings and that has caused some minor problems. But if nuts are all you have to complain about then I guess you're doing pretty well,” he laughs.

Hello yellow brick road

MBC has not had to deal with the problem of ill-fitting nuts; having recently taken delivery of a purpose built eight-camera content creation system housed in an 11m trailer chassis.

“To provide the best quality coverage of the big sporting and musical events we needed to invest in a state-of-the-art-vehicle,” says Ihab El Baba, technical manager MBC. “This is a brand new vehicle, every piece of equipment on board is cutting edge.

“Eight cameras is the perfect size for us at the moment,” Baba continues. “We are covering a lot of news and sports events and don’t really need anything bigger. When you are dealing with vehicles of this size you have to consider transport. This van will move all around the Gulf, Saudi, Qatar, wherever so we don't want it to be too big.”
The main complement of eight BVP-950P cameras is accompanied by G-Cam, a microwave camera system provided by Gigawave. Introduced in 1998, the G-Cam system incorporates a standard MTV-series analogue transmitter in the camera docking unit and a standard PTV-series or MVL-series analogue receiver at the remote end of the link.

A unique video encoder before the transmitter takes YUV inputs from the camera and processes them into a format, which includes no amplitude or phase components for transmission across the link.

VTR facilities are provided in the form of two DVW-A500P and two DVW-500P machines.

Production control employs the Sony DVS-7250 vision switcher alongside the Pinnacle DVExcel effects editor and an Aston Character Generator.
Also integrated into the video system are a disk based slow-motion machine supplied by EVS, Sony routing & distribution equipment and comprehensive technical monitoring facilities.

A Midas XL4 Audio mixing console is integrated with a range of sources including Compact Disc, Mini Disc, DAT Tape and a wide selection of microphone and processing facilities.

“This is an entirely digital facility capable of both production and post production,” announces Baba proudly. “We can produce an entire show from this vehicle.” The new equipment was tested to the limit when it was rolled out to cover Elton John’s concert, one of the most ambitious outside broadcasts ever attempted in the Middle East. “It was be a big gig for us,” concedes Baba, “we had four engineers working on the night, plus the camera crew and editing team. It was a huge operation.”

With plans already underway for more outside broadcasts, transmitting al fresco looks set to take off in the Middle East like never before. Judging by the results already seen, the breath of fresh air will be good for everybody.
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