Egyptian company Video Cairo Satellite (VCS) took delivery of a 10-camera HD van last month. Digital Studio takes a close look at the kit inside and also reports on the increasing number of HD-capable OB vans being rolled out across the region.
Over the past two years, the Middle East has witnessed a markéd increase in the level of investment in OB vans. Doha sports channels, Al Kass and Al Jazeera Sport both purchased HD OB vans from broadcast and production service provider, Mediapro in 2006.
This month will also see Egyptian broadcast services provider, Video Cairo Satellite (VCS) take delivery of a 10-camera HD van from JVC Professional while a joint venture between Dubai-based du Broadcast Services and Italian firm SBP will see a massive 24-camera HD van stationed in Dubai permanently.
"Together, we can cover everything from the production of a sports event or live performance and its uplink as well from Dubai," says Mohamed Saeed Al Shahi, director of Du Broadcast Services. "SBP has the experience in production while we have everything after that in the chain. Together, we can provide a one-stop production and broadcast service in both SD and HD to broadcasters in the Middle East."
Egypt's VCS project, in the meantime, was co-ordinated by JVC Professional, which has aimed to create a Middle East van that could withstand the rigours of the region's environment.
"The temperature inside any OB van is an issue. When that van is operating in the Middle East, it becomes even more critical," says Christopher Darnley export sales manager at JVC Professional.
"We have equipped this truck with a high level of insulation and paid a lot of attention to the air conditioning and the airflow within the truck. Another consideration is the level of airborne dust. We have made sure this van has sufficient air filtration to function in the typical conditions of the region."
The decision was also taken to maximise the mobility of the vehicle by upgrading the brakes and suspension. A significant benefit of the air suspension is the ability to lift the rear axle so that the van can park on uneven territory and use the suspension to adjust the height of the axle to create a level working environment within.
The van is equipped with ten Hitachi SK-3020P cameras that have been modified in Japan by Hitachi itself to include a cross-converter module that allows filming in 1080i or 720p formats. The SA-3100 Large lens adapter has been specifically designed for OB truck installations where space is limited but full studio camera functionality is required.
A multi-format Ross MD-X production switcher has been installed on board to complement the van's multi-format approach.
The ability to work on SD as well as HD increases the volume of potential work that the van can accept. In order to further maximise use of the facility and speed up the return on investment, it has been equipped to address both the growing appetite for HD sports footage as well as the well established Arabic movie and TV production industry.
The satellite uplink and onboard editing infrastructure permit the van to be used for live based productions such as sports coverage whilst maintaining the ability to function with larger production teams on documentary, drama or feature film projects.
JVC has carried out full engineering and operator training for the VCS staff at JVC Pro Europe's HQ in the UK.
The rising number of trucks in the region has also led Dubai Studio City to plan a dedicated garage to house and protect the fleet of vans that will be based in the UAE. When the garage facility becomes ready, customers will be able to park their vans in this garage and also get them serviced there.
One believes that other investors will watch Studio City's moves carefully and seek to replicate similar efforts in other parts of the region as well.
In the meantime, with the imminent launch of Dubai Sports City, one has little doubt that one of the main drivers of HD content in the emirate will be sport. Much of the success HD has enjoyed in the United States has been from live sports content and now, with the Middle East being at the cusp of commercial HD transmission, all the signs are that the same will be true of the region's early HD broadcasts.
With the region now acquiring the infrastructure for HD content capture outside of the studio setting, what else is required before audiences can enjoy live 1080i or 720p images?
"They key issue at the moment is transmission. Production can be done in HD; it is only a question of having an HD OB van ready," says Paco Herrero, manager of Mediapro.
"The problem is that the feed from the site of the van must be transported to the broadcast centre using fibre optic infrastructure, which is currently not ready for the demands of an HD signal. Broadcasting in HD requires a change of transmission systems and receivers. At the moment, people are producing in HD and recording in HD for the archive or highlights, but then downgrading to broadcast in SD."
Mediapro, which recently set up an office in Dubai Studio City, operates a large 20 camera SDI truck in the Middle East producing UAE national and domestic football with Dubai Sports. Herrero is confident however that HD is the future for the region's broadcasters, particularly in sports production.
"We produced the last Gulf Cup in Abu Dhabi for Dubai Sports and Abu Dhabi TV in full HD 1080i. There is certainly a trend in Europe that is seeing all the major events being produced in HD.
Given that the Middle East is a market where new technology is very much embraced and accepted, it is only a matter of time before HD programming is available in people's homes on several platforms. We hope next year to see Dubai Sports investing in the production of the Professional Soccer League in the UAE to upgrade to HD."