Semi-Studios: Mobile Production Vehicles or Magical Mystery Machines?

You know you’ve seen’em – the super-large semis with full production studios inside them… And although they come in standard van sizes (that your local affiliates have), I’m talking about the ones you could practically live in – with all the bells and whistles that even some of the smaller studios and post-production houses just don’t have!  These are the ones you’ll find at the BIG sporting events (and, yes, the Olympics had their share of them scattered about) and on display at the 2014 NAB Show.  I always make it a point to navigate my way over to where they’re sitting, just so I can walk through them, look around, and dream about having one!

Frontline Communications EFP-OB MTVG Trailer

The thing is, with these production vehicles, they are complete studios on wheels – or can be!  A mobile studio can be any size and made from virtually any vehicle.  In the case of the large semis, a semi-trailer is the choice of many.  Sure, they are all compact and transportable when you see them closed-up and/or on the road, but when they are stationed and begin to unfold, the reality that this is actually a production studio is easier to see.

Little Bay Broadcast ServicesYou can usually tell one of these – because of the large satellite antenna.  The larger trucks usually have them, and they come in all sizes – from ones that fit conveniently on the roof to those that are as large as the truck itself.  But no matter how it looks on the outside, the real magic is what’s happening inside.  It’s the purpose, configuration and mainly the equipment that marks the success of the mobile production studio.

These are “specialty vehicles” – large portable facilities that perform a specific purpose.  In addition to mobile broadcast tasks, specialty vehicles range from mobile command units to hospital ambulances and other functional duties, like providing a communications base in disaster situations.  Sporting and news events occupy the largest slice of the mobile broadcast vehicle, for electronic news gathering (ENG), digital satellite news gathering (DSNG), satellite uplink / downlink and video production.

There are many companies in the United States that specialize in the custom manufacture of these behemoths, loaded with STSExteriorequipment to your specifications and needs, and there are even trucks that are either made-up as demonstration units or units that have been ordered and not taken, leaving them “in stock” and available instantly.  Although most who require mobile facilities create their own, there obviously is a market for these vehicles.

The larger facilities that build mobile studios rely mostly on their own facilities and engineering expertise to not only design the trucks but also to construct them from scratch – starting, often times, from an empty shell.

Frontline Communications in Clearwater, FL provides broadcasters with STSreliable and secure real-time IP based communications via satellite on a standardized vehicle platform.  Offered in lengths up to 53′, Frontline Communications’ EFP/O.B. Trailers are mobile production suites which include all the features and equipment found in fixed production facilities.   Five full racks of equipment can be installed in this configuration.  Specialty broadcast vehicles with dual band satellite capability, tandem axle tractors sporting multiple antennas have been achieved.  Multiple floorplans have been engineered and new ones can be created, with the ability to house up to 30 operators.  For more on Frontline’s products, visit: B2

Game Creek Video in Hudson, NH has, for over 21 years, provided production companies, television networks and news organizations with comprehensive mobile production solutions.  Top-of-the-line equipment is found in these units, such as GVG’s Kayenne (and other model) switchers and Calrec Apollo Surround Sound Consoles.  So many different configurations and floorplans can be seen at:

NEP LogoNEP LLC (located globally and in Pittsburgh, PA) builds and maintains a fleet of mobile broadcast trucks ready for the quick-employ whenever the need arises!  Audio, video, production, editing and engineering sections can be expertly configured in the space of a semi-trailer and provide more than enough technology to handle any event.

NEP Visions has a mobile platform, providing the technical infrastructure and expertise to take 4K content from cameraNEP 350 to satellite, and also recording and broadcasting a simultaneous HD version.

As stated in their February 18th press release: “The cameras will feed 4K content into Sony BPU4000 fibre adapters which generate 4K and HD signals simultaneously, the feeds are then sent to a 4K capable vision mixer to create a live mix from the six camera feeds, adding graphics and subtitles (for the HD version only). Pre-recorded supplementary programme materials have been ingested onto a Sony media server to play in. The live mix is passed to the satellite service provider Links Broadcast. NEP 352The mix feed is recorded on a Sony MasterDeck, both for archive and the creation of a 4K DCP master that will be sent to theatres around the world. NEP Visions will also record 4K ISOs onto two additional Sony MasterDecks for later use. As well as the groundbreaking 4K presentation, NEP Visions will provide a simultaneous live HD feed for distribution by Links Broadcast to over 1000 cinemas worldwide in line with NT Live’s existing programme of broadcasts.”

See their worldwide offerings and more on their website at:

It was just months ago that the very first 4K broadcast was transmitted; a soccer game between two British teams, Stoke City and West Ham on August 31, 2013, was the lucky chosen event.

Four Sony F55 cameras captured the 2160 x 3840 pixel resolution and sent the images at 50 frames per second to two UHD XT[3] video file servers from EVS for replays and graphics inside of a specially-built Telegenic 4K mobile unit (with help from Sony) before being sent to a Eutelsat transponder, with Ericsson encoding/decoding gear creating four distinct HD “tiles” that were reconstructed to allow the full 4K image back at BSkyB headquarters.

Sony_Telegenic_4K_WorkflowThe new Telegenic truck, by the way, had a 576×1152 Miranda router, three 4K monitors and a 65-inch 4K monitor to enable the production team to see the final output. Four Sony SR1000 tape decks are also part of the package, along with a Sony 8000 video production switcher.

When it comes to mobile production units, the sky’s the limit – no expense is spared and the high-tech equipment is maneuvered into spaces you wouldn’t have thought it possible.  I’ll take two, please! 🙂

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Editor-In-Chief, Publisher at Broadcast Beat Magazine, LLC.
Ryan started working in the broadcast and post production industry at the young age of twelve! He has produced television programs, built large post production facilities, written for some of the industry's leading publications and was an audio engineer for about ten years. Ryan previously wrote for Broadcast Engineering Magazine, Creative COW and his projects have been featured in dozens of publications.
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