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NEP, NMT Take the Hi-Def Road

The ripples from ESPN and ABC's decision to offer a wealth of HD sports programming next spring are extending to mobile production companies, which have begun assmbling the necessary gear for the productions.

NEP Supershooters, NMT and New Century Productions are all in various stages of planning, purchasing and retrofitting. NEP and NMT expect delivery of equipment to begin within a month and trucks to hit the streets by February or March.

"The fact that ABC and ESPN have planted a stake in the ground with both a commitment to HDTV and a commitment to 720p has broken an ice pack that has existed for a while," says NMT President Jerry Gepner.

NMT's purchase of $5 million in Thomson Grass Valley gear includes a 53-foot $10 million mobile unit with 22 cameras that will be used for ABC's Monday Night Football
telecasts next season as well as for other events during the year.

"We're in discussions with ESPN, and we expect it will do a fair amount of work for them," says Gepner, adding, "We've also seen interest from other broadcasters."

George Hoover, NEP Supershooters senior vice president/general manager, says NEP will retrofit the truck it currently uses for ESPN's Sunday Night Football
telecasts. The truck will be ready to go by March, when it will be used for the Women's NCAA Final Four and also ABC's Oscar telecast. Its first ESPN telecast will be the sports network's first HD broadcast on opening day of the 2004 Major League Baseball season. Baseball is usually the domain of New Century Productions, but, because that company is still in the decision-making process, the NEP truck will be used until the New Century truck is ready.

Thomson Grass Valley appears to be the big winner among manufacturers, with NEP and NMT signing deals for $8 million and $6 million, respectively.

Hoover says NEP and Grass Valley Group had a long-term relationship and NEP engineers would work out with GVG the features they needed. The same goodwill, he adds, has been extended to the Thomson side now that Thomson and Grass Valley Group are one company. "We were looking for a 720p camera solution that would be able to work on non-720p projects, and the Thomson LDK 6000 mk II camera kept popping up on the radar screen," he says. "Thomson was willing to work with us on every issue we raised."

Gepner say one of the attractive aspects of the LDK 6000 is that Thomson uses the superexpander concept for its hard cameras, which means that all the cameras can be turned into hand-held units—a helpful feature for productions besides sports.

"They can also be native in 1080p/24, 1080i/30, 720p/60 and 480p, which kind of covers all of the U.S. production formats right now," says Gepner. "As long as people have chosen different formats for production and distribution, you can't build a customer-specific facility. The days of the purpose-built trucks ended when the net- works divested themselves of trucks."

Nearly half the equipment NEP has purchased will be used in the Sunday Night Football
truck, with 25-26 cameras in the unit. A Thomson Grass Valley Kalypso HD/SD-switchable switcher, HD Profile servers and DVE units were also part of the sale, although delivery of the HD Kalypso switcher is not expected until June or July. So, initially, the truck will use Thomson's XtenDD HD production switcher.

"We're essentially running a Hertz rent-a-car business, and our gear has to work everywhere," says Hoover. "We can't have a truck that can do only HD and not SD or 720p and not 1080i. And that's part of the reason we went with the Thomson camera: because it allows us to operate in any standard."