NDI Magic Inside the Production Truck Lets Graphics Operator Stay Home, 120 Miles Away

By: Brian Leopold

Rob Moser could be in trouble. He’s working on the TV crew for tonight’s United Soccer League match between the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and FC Montreal, it’s three minutes to game time, and Moser is still in his kitchen. Worse yet, he lives more than 120 miles from the soccer venue.

But Moser is unconcerned. With both teams on the field, ready to start the game, he pours himself a cup of coffee and walks back to his home office. In the production truck parked along the banks of the Monongahela River in downtown Pittsburgh, director John Powell notices Moser’s absence. “Graphics, are you there?” he calls out over headsets. Moser sits down at his home computer and turns up his speaker.

 

“Graphics is ready to go,” he says. “Do you want to start with line-ups?” And the game begins. For the next three hours, every graphic generated for the soccer broadcast, every score panel, every player’s name, every substitution, every game clock, will be generated in real time from Rob Moser’s office in Millersburg, Ohio, a small town in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country. Horse drawn buggies ply the streets, and yet, Millersburg is at the center of a technical revolution in video production. Something groundbreaking is happening here. Thanks to NewTek’s NDI technology in use in the production truck, Moser is able to do his job from the comforts of his own home via the internet and remote operation software, saving himself eight hours of travel time to and from the game site, and saving the production company the expense of traveling him.

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The Pittsburg Riverhounds wearing their yellow home jerseys get set for a corner kick against Montreal FC.

NDI: A Revolutionary Technology

NDI, which stands for Network Device Interface, is a revolutionary innovation that is changing the face of video production. Thanks to NDI, Moser can run graphics for any television production from his home, provided that production is being produced with an NDI-enabled switcher like a TriCaster running NewTek’s Advanced Edition software, and with an NDI-enabled graphics system on the LAN with that switcher.

Powell’s cameras are served from the TriCaster as NDI streams, and these are picked up via the NDI Video Monitor on the graphics system in the truck. Graphics Outfitters ScoreHD application is also on the graphics system, and sends its graphics to the TriCaster via NDI.  This makes it possible for Moser to remotely access all the cameras and to produce and send the graphics on only the bandwidth required to operate TeamViewer.  Powell ensures internet performance, however, with the Novatel Wireless 4G LTE router. And Moser isn’t limited to working out of his office. He could do his job from anywhere with sufficient bandwidth.

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Ironically, a technical revolution in video production may be igniting in the heart of Amish country.

“I’m just running a MacBook Pro,” he tells me. “I’m running Boot Camp on it, and then, using TeamViewer to connect to the truck. My network connectivity is nothing special out here in this rural area. I could do this almost anywhere.”

As soon as the game begins, Moser selects one of the seven production cameras from the NDI display running on his computer, and it appears as a window on his flat screen monitor. The camera is shooting the scoreboard clock and Moser uses the video feed to synch up his game clock with the scoreboard clock. Next, he punches up the camera that’s shooting the broadcast booth and checks to make sure he has the name supers for the show’s announcers in the proper configuration. With NDI, Moser can monitor any video source being fed into the TriCaster 8000 switcher back in Pittsburgh, or watch the program feed coming out of the switcher. It’s like he’s sitting in front of the monitor wall, right next to the director, seeing everything the director sees.

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Rob Moser uses TeamViewer with ScoreHD for Soccer from Graphics Outfitters on a Mac Book Pro and NDI to stay at home and work.

“If I wanted to, I could build multiple screens and watch several cameras at once,” Moser tells me. They’d be small, and after a while, TeamViewer might cause the video to stutter a bit, but I could do it. It’s amazing what you can do with this gear. To think, for example, that everything we’re doing on this production back in Pittsburgh is coming out of a single box is incredible. And we’re only just scratching the surface of what the TriCaster can truly do.”

A Bold New World

Working on a television broadcast in the next state without ever leaving your home might seem like some sort of futuristic fantasy tale, but with NewTek’s NDI capabilities, those fantasies are beginning to come true. Back in the production vehicle parked at Pittsburgh’s Highmark Stadium, director John Powell rarely notices that Moser isn’t in the truck with him. The two long-time friends joke with one another throughout the broadcast, trading quips and barbs. As Powell punches through his seven cameras, he can watch the same video display Moser is working from on his MacBook Pro back in Ohio. The graphics monitor is one of the largest on Powell’s monitor wall, directly in front of his TriCaster 8000, and whenever he needs to speak to his graphics operator, it’s easy, since Moser is tied into the same intercom PL as the rest of the production crew.

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John Powell sits in his 5 x 10-foot trailer directing the Riverhounds live production vs. FC Montreal.

“In order to communicate with Rob, we use a Verizon router box, which basically turns an old house phone here in the truck into a cell phone. We feed the output of that box into a Telco box made by Pro Intercoms, and that ties the phone signal into our intercom system. Then it’s like Rob is right here in the truck us with.”

But Powell also utilizes a second cell phone connection with Moser that he uses in case of last minute information. “If I need to get Rob information fast, like say, if someone drops a written line-up change off here at the truck, I’ll just take a picture of it with my phone and text the picture to Rob. It’s almost as fast as passing it off to him in the truck.”

Big Power, Small Package

Entering the production truck at the soccer venue, one can’t help thinking that maybe it’s a good thing Moser is doing his job from over 100 miles away. There doesn’t look to be room for him in the remote truck anyway. With Pittsburgh television veteran Jerry Schaad seated alongside Powell, doing replays from the production vehicle’s NewTek 3Play 4800, there’s very little elbow room left in the vest-pocket production facility for anybody else to sit down.

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Replay specialist Jerry Schaad in the horse trailer operating 3Play.

“This whole operation is basically housed in a 5 x 10-foot box,” Powell tells me. Stepping outside for a moment, I realize that Powell is absolutely right. From the outside, the production vehicle still looks remarkably like the horse trailer it once was. With the exception of a large air-conditioning unit mounted on the roof, the control room looks like it could be hauling quarter horses to a nearby rodeo. But it turns out that, despite its modest hoof print, this production vehicle still packs quite a kick.

Powell knows this production truck well. When he’s not directing soccer matches, he’s Director of Technical Operations for Production Consulting Group, a major distributor of professional AV products, and he helped design and build the vehicle. Although his trailer might be tiny, and its equine roots might still be clearly evident, with a TriCaster 8000 and 3Play 4800 inside, Powell wasn’t horsing around when he equipped this truck to produce live sports productions.

“I have four hard cameras,” Powell tells me. “JVC’s with full CCU capabilities, and then two battery-powered GoPros, which come into the TriCaster as SDI sources. For replays, we have an eight-channel 3Play 4800. We use three talent in the booth; a play-by-play person, color, and a third guest announcer, and their mics run through a small audio board. Just like on a 53-foot truck, the talent have full IFB capabilities, as well as talkback and cough switches.”

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Becky Schoenecker operates a camera for the Riverhounds live webcast with the Fort Pitt Bridge spanning the Monongahela River in the background.

Big Power, Small Power Consumption

Despite the powerful production tools found inside the Riverhounds’ production vehicle, Powell tells me that the truck’s power consumption is minimal. “Everything on his truck can run off a single 20-amp circuit,” he says. “One time, when our generator didn’t show up on site, I plugged the truck into a light pole in a McDonald’s parking lot. It ran just fine.”

Earlier that same day, I witnessed a surprising demonstration of the truck’s energy efficiency, clearly demonstrating Powell’s point. During set-up, a crew member inadvertently plugged the truck and the unit’s air-conditioner, which is powered by its own 20-amp circuit, into the same power leg at the stadium, tripping a circuit breaker. It took more than an hour to find the stadium’s electrician to restore power to the truck, but instead of waiting helplessly for the power to return, the crew was able to continue setting up and testing equipment, using the truck’s battery backup power to bridge the gap. Fortunately, it wasn’t a particularly hot day in Pittsburgh, so the crew was able to function without the air-conditioning without missing a beat, continuing on until the on-site engineer could be located and the power restored.

Back to Game Action

As the first half of the game unfolds, Powell and his crew hit their stride, with Rob Moser’s graphic support from Amish country keeping pace at every turn. The Riverhounds are also having a great game, testing Montreal’s goalie time and time again. Then, seventeen minutes into the half, the hometown team’s persistence finally pays off and Kevin Kerr from the Riverhounds drills a ball into the goal net from the left side, putting the Riverhounds ahead 1-0. Behind the goal, the team’s drum line goes crazy, and so do the 3,000 Riverhounds fans filling the stadium seats. And hopefully, so do the team’s faithful fans who watch the live game coverage on the United Soccer League’s YouTube Live channel.

“The USL has a deal with YouTube,” Powell tells me. “All the soccer teams in the league broadcast their games live on YouTube Live.”

Powell is a veteran of sports television production. For many years, he served as technical director for the NHL’s Buffalo Sabers’ broadcasts and worked on a wide range of sporting broadcasts from college football to NASCAR to downhill skiing. He was accustomed to working out of a full-blown 53-foot production truck, but back in 2005, he was one of the first to embrace the TriCaster transition to a new workflow. Powell says the quality of the broadcasts he’s able to produce out of his glorified horse trailer hold up quite favorably when compared to those major league productions. “A lot of people say TV production is like making sausage. You don’t want to see what goes into it, but the finished product is delicious. Anybody who looks at the finished product of these broadcasts won’t notice any appreciable differences between our coverage and the 53-foot trucks.”

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Audiences can’t tell if the production truck is a 53 footer like those of yesteryear or a 5 x 10-foot converted horse trailer like this one.

And that’s due in large part to the constant innovation that’s been a hallmark of NewTek since the company’s early days.

“NewTek saw the future, and the power of Internet Protocol connectivity,” Jeff Waller, President of Production Consulting Group, tells me. “They saw what it could do in giving people the production tools and the resources they need from anywhere in the world. They were the very first ones to create a live production switcher capable of video streaming, and now, I see what NewTek is doing with this NDI technology as another game changer in the television field. We’ve tested NDI in multiple applications, and the one thing I can tell you is, it works, time after time.”

Imagining NDI’S Bold Future

Five years ago, the idea of generating graphics for a major sports production from over 100 miles from the stadium, would have been considered preposterous. But NewTek’s NDI technology has made the preposterous possible, leaving remote production professionals free to imagine where this new technology will carry them next. As the Riverhounds game moves into the second half, with the hometown team settling into a 2-1 lead, Director John Powell has a chance to mull over the possibilities.

“I’d like to be at my own house, calling and switching the games,” Powell tells me. “It’s not out of the question at all. Once the nationwide bandwidth elevates, and we can send video over the Internet and solve the problem of IP genlock, so all the video signals can be synced up, I could very easily set up a TriCaster in my home office and do the show from there.”

So, instead of only two people sitting inside a remote truck producing a sports broadcast, imagine a remote truck with no one sitting inside. Imagine all the graphics for every Major League Baseball game originating from a single office, maybe located somewhere like Millersburg, Ohio. Thanks to NDI, all that and much more has become possible. Perched on the precipice of this bold new world of possibilities, Powell can only shake his head in wonder and remark, “It’s a crazy world, isn’t it?”

Pittsburgh Riverhounds Fast Facts

Key Equipment & Software Used at Highmark Stadium for Pittsburgh Riverhounds Coverage

  • NewTek TriCaster 8000 production switcher running Advanced Edition 2 software (NDI version)
  • 8 Channel 3Play 4800 for video replays
  • BlackMagic 40 x 40 Video Hub with multiple control panels throughout the system. The system has been slightly modified with tactical fiber ends and bull’s eye connectors.
  • (3) JVC GYHM750 Pro HD cameras in studio configuration with Cannon KT14x4 lenses, (1) JVC GYHM750 Pro HD camera in handheld configuration with Fujinon XT17 lens. Studio configuration cameras on Varizoom tripods and camera heads.
  • (2) GoPro Hero 3 Black cameras in goal nets
  • 4 Channel Clear-Com Intercom and IFB System
  • Rane MLM 103 Audio Mixer

NDI Graphics Package Equipment & Software

  • Graphics System in Production Truck is running:
    • ScoreHD for Soccer Graphics Software from Graphic Outfitters (supports NDI I/O)
    • NDI Video Monitor Tool software to back feed individual video signals to remote location. Available on NewTek website under NDI Tools.
  • Verizon Novatel T1114 wireless 4G LTE broadband router with voice.
  • Pro Intercom AD950 Telco box to connect phone into PL system
  • Remote system: MacBook Pro running BaseCamp and TeamViewer 10.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds and United Soccer League Fast Facts

  • The United Soccer League is a professional men’s soccer league in the United States and Canada that began its inaugural season in 2011. USL is sanctioned as a Division III Professional League by United States Soccer Federation.
  • There are 29 teams in the USL and the current reigning champions are the Rochester Rhinos.
  • All teams play 28 regular-season matches stretching from March to September. All matches are live streamed on the USL’s YouTube Channel.
  • The Pittsburgh Riverhounds were founded in 1999 and played their first year in the USL in the league’s inaugural season of 2011.
  • Highmark Stadium, home of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, was completed in April of 2013. The stadium seats 3,500 with additional standing space raising its capacity to 4,000 for soccer games. The stadium is located at Station Square on Pittsburgh’s South Side, overlooking the city’s downtown skyline from across the Monongahela River. The world-famous confluence of the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio Rivers are less than 500 yards downstream.

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