System Showcase: ARET 4K UHD OB For Alamiya Media

We talk to the technical team at Systems Integrator & OB Vehicle builder ARET to delve into the design philosophy and technology selection, for the latest in a series of production vehicles delivered to Alamiya Media to service their sports production requirements.

While featuring a myriad of the latest technology and software-based systems, today’s OB Vans are being purpose built to suit individual client needs. For the most cost-effective results, some clients are shying away from the most complex technology and instead ordering production rigs with legacy baseband infrastructures that are immediately familiar to the crew.

Indeed, workflow has become equally as important as the tools that make them possible.

Systems Integrator and custom OB Van builder ARET, based in Milan Italy, has completed work on its latest full-size OB Van and delivered it to Saudi Arabian customer Alamiya Media for the 2024 football season. Now at 25 mobile units, Alamiya, with headquarters in Riyadh, maintains the largest fleet of outside broadcasting (OB) vans in the Middle East, which is used primarily for on-site live sports productions.

“The goal with this truck, which is just the latest we have bult for Alamiya Media, was to give the team the best workflow and production power for UHD HDR production, streamlining easiness of operation through 12G SDI video technology and unifying the software interface throughout all the equipment,” said Renato Mancini CTO at ARET Video and Audio Engineering. “Due to its multiple software systems, the OB Van can be configured for different projects on site quickly. This was the most important focus on the technical workflow”.

Working closely with Alamiya’s engineering team, Mancini explained that the new 16-meter long mobile production unit, called OB20, includes a full baseband SDI infrastructure to manage all video signals in tandem with an IP Audio network that leverages the AES67 standard.

Mancini said that deploying a 12G video production system meant that wiring was reduced from four 3G lines to a single cable. This, and the smaller Ethernet cables for audio, kept the overall weight of the truck down while facilitating a smooth installation of the equipment on board.

“In 12G systems you have one wire for everything from SD to HDR, so the production infrastructure is so easy to install and maintain,” said Mancini. “IP networks are a bit tricky to get right, but handling audio as packet-based signals made the most sense.”

Elbow Room To Work

The onboard 12G UHD workflow includes HDR processing for up to 24 Sony HDC 3500U HD cameras with Canon lenses. In total, the rig carries five high-frame-rate cameras capable of 8x speed. There are also two UHD RF cameras and eight EVS XT VIA UHD SloMo servers.

The production control room area is segmented into Slow-Motion and Production zones while the audio complement is located inside a noise-isolated audio room separated from the other work areas. The engineering room includes a Shading area plus a double workstation area for engineering activities while all the equipment racks are located in closed different areas.

The trailer features an expandable side for the production area. Opened up fully, the truck’s production space offers nearly 56 sq. meters (14 meters long by 4 meters wide), enough room for about 15 crew members to work comfortably.

“The space is like having a nice apartment in the center of Milan,” Mancini joked.

In a nod to the company it was built for, the OB Van is designed to operate in high-temperature environments, with a generous amount of A/C cooling throughout the truck and special insulation used for the external walls to protect against outside climate conditions.

With more than 45 years of experience, ARET Engineering, together with ARET Coachworx (the sister company dedicated to coachwork and mechanical works), takes the lead on the OB Van design and installation processes. This includes consultancy, mechanical design, coachwork and internal fitting, A/C and hydraulics, electric and power supply, as well as system integration implementation, configuration, commissioning and training.

A Familiar Baseband Core With An IP Audio Complement

A core component of the system design is the Ross Video Ultrix FR12 with a series of Acuity software-defined production engine blades, that adds to the system “a powerful vision switcher of 4 M/E UHD with no resource limitation or differences moving from base interlaced HD 1080i to full UHD-HDR configuration,” said Mancini.  New features and functionality can be easily added via software licenses.

These task-specific blades are housed in a single space-saving 12 RU chassis that includes routing (216x216 UHD), video switching (4 UHD MEs), audio shuffling, a multiviewer with more than 40 heads and a huge number of PIPs. Each one includes frame syncs and audio embedders/de-embedders. The main production room is equipped with an Acuity A3 panel, a control surface with 32 cross-point buttons, that is used to operate the video production switcher. This allows precise control of all video switching operations while ensuring efficient video source management. There’s also a healthy amount of Ross OpenGear Gator UHD processing core with 12G-SDI interfaces, several Carbonite Ultra processing engines as platform converters, and a variety of networking equipment.

The audio control room is equipped with a Lawo mc256 audio production console, which provides native support for SMPTE 2110, AES67, RAVENNA, Dante (via a Power Core gateway), MADI and Ember+. Local I/Os include 16 Lawo Mic/Line inputs, eight AS3 inputs and outputs, eight GPI/IOs, and a local MADI port (SFP).

Audio Control Room.

Audio Control Room.

“The concept that we used for our SMPTE 2110 audio system design was to switch from an old system with multicore cables to just one Ethernet cable for distributing 64 IP channels, packet by packet,” said Felice Filippini, Senior System engineer at ARET, who designed and handled the audio networking and equipment configuration. “So for us the networking was adjusted to have a single core where audio signals are routed from one device to another without delay.”

Weight And Power Reduction

Among the key factors in an OB Van design is adequate space, power consumption, and air conditioning. Looking to significantly reduce physical weight and power requirements onboard the truck, products like the Ultrix switcher and Lawo’s A_UHD Core audio engine for the mc2 audio console were designated as the “best choice” by the team.

The OB Van’s monitor walls are made up of Sony PVM-X1800 4K reference monitors (for camera shading), and six 50-inch Sony professional flat screen displays for the PCR area of the truck.  The Multiview display is handled by the Ross Ultrix system—which allows you to switch resolutions as desired.  A Vizrt graphics system is also on board for real-time 4K graphics production. There’s also the optional possibility to add a Ross Expression engine on board for generating special effects for the video switcher when required.

Serving as the heart of the entire audio/video infrastructure is Lawo’s Virtual Studio Manager (VSM) broadcast control system, which enables IP control capabilities throughout the production truck. The complex yet easy to use software layer is seamlessly integrated with the Ross Video Ultrix system, including its internal router, the Lawo audio consoles and Riedel intercom systems.

“By controlling everything with a VSM software-based, broadcast control layer, we are able to recall any preferred configuration in one click,” said Mancini.

Robust Centralized Conversion

When camera feeds come into the truck as SDI, and the audio is on an IP network, combining the two is handled inside the Ross Video Ultrix system.

“We combine all the layers in Ultrix,” said Mancini. “Everything from the audio console is delivered to the Ultrix as MADI. The Ultrix system embeds all of the audio signals with the video based on preset parameters established by the client. So it really becomes a centralized conversion system.

“We have a lot of experience with this combination of signal paths,” he said, adding that if the video switcher falls, there’s redundancy on the router itself. “We’ve designed a couple of levels of redundancy into the system so that if something goes wrong, we have backup for disaster recovery that is independent from the other path. So all of the layers of production tools on the network are reliable when they are needed most.”

A Legacy Workflow

Both Mancini and Filippini said that although there’s a lot of talk about IP networking in the industry right now, and ARET has designed and built several successful IP projects, most of the engineers are still figuring out how to install it so that every device can communicate with others on board the OB Van. It’s not an easy task.

“The new world of IP is not easy for all broadcast engineers and, at the end, we need to deliver to a customer the best overall solution for him,” said Mancini. “In this case, and often in an OB Van, the complexity introduced by today’s 2110 technology is not paid back by the advantages offered.”

“I think our industry needs to have more time to experiment and learn about the complexities of this new transport system. We know that SDI is very robust,” he said. “It has existed for many years. And the cost of the equipment is lower, which is as well important to our clients.”

IP Audio networking onboard is based on a fully redundant “Red and Blue” 2110 network, for full redundancy. All audio signals are transferred over a 1 GB pipeline.

“We had some challenges in setting up the whole systems as we desired, due to some specific protocol implementation of some vendors which were not compatible with others, but at the end we could interface the vendors and achieve exactly the desired workflow,” said Mancini.

Lessons Learned

The new OB20 mobile unit is a near clone to a series of production trucks ARET has built for Italian national broadcaster RAI, using the same SDI video/IP Audio system design. And they are very happy with the outcome.

“We did a lot of experimentation on this type of combined production system last year and learned a lot of valuable lessons that we used in the new truck for Alamiya Media,” said Mancini. “Clients want hybrid systems, not all-IP everywhere, which can be difficult to operate and manage.

In the end Mancini said that Alamiya Media’s new OB20 is one of the most flexible and technically sound trucks ARET has ever built. The company builds about ten new OB Vans of different sizes each year.

“Flexible means that you can easily adapt to the workplaces and production requirements at hand,” he said. “The truck can handle any signal it receives and convert it to whatever other signal you need. That’s our philosophy for every OB Van we build. Clients want a return on their investment so the truck has to be able to work with whatever the crew needs at any given time during a live sports production.

“It’s also important that the crew feel comfortable working in the truck, so we make sure we discuss with the client their specific workflows and how they like to produce a telecast,” Mancini said.

“Therefore we always like to collect information from the users and collaborate with their engineering teams in order to improve the systems and capabilities our clients request.

The new Alamiya Media OB Van will hit the road in Saudi Arabia and begin its first productions in January.

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