TV Pro Gear Builds 3D Flypack for WealthTV
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TV Gear Pro President Andrew Maisner was at the NABA Heavyweight Title Fight between Franklin Lawrese and Mike Molo at the Dover Downs Hotel, Casino and Racetrack. But he wasn't a spectator. Maisner was on location with WealthTV overseeing the live 3D broadcast of the Friday boxing bout, using his newly built six-camera 3D flypack.

Building a production flypack is no easy job - it's everything required for an entire production condensed into a shippable crate - and building one in 3D doubles the challenge. Maisner, whose company has been building flypacks for 14 years for companies like Time Warner, Comcast and NBC, says that as far as he knows, his is the first-ever 3D flypack. "No one else has a package like this," he says. "If you need to do 3D in London tomorrow, you can put this in a plane along with the box that holds the cameras and tripods and you'll have a complete six camera production for 2D and 3D."

This flypack, however, is not for rent. That's because WealthTV commissioned TV Gear Pro to build it for use with its ambitious 3D programming plan. The cable network, which launched in June 2004 and is distributed worldwide via cable and satellite, is a 24/7 HD cable network "devoted to taking viewers on a journey of how wealth is achieved, used and enjoyed."

In January 2012, WealthTV launched its linear 3D lifestyle and entertainment channel, WealthTV 3D, after a ramp-up of a two-and-a-half year production effort. WealthTV co-owner Charles Herring (who owns the network with his father Robert Herring, Sr. and brother Robert Herring) notes the rationale for launching a 3D channel. "When we launched the HD channel in 2004, there were just a few HD channels deployed at that point," he says. "We thought the enhanced viewing experience would be something that would take off. We think the same of 3D."

The privately held company first geared up to creating 3D content. "We produce a lot of our own content and have production shows traveling the world," Herring says. "To equip them with 3D gear wasn't heavy lifting. We purchased a lot of new cameras and retrofitted our edit bays. Today, every time a crew leaves for a shoot, we shoot in HD and 3D." WealthTV 3D content documentaries in Machu Picchu, the Seychelle Islands, Cambodia, Dubai and a 20th anniversary special on Chernobyl.

Although WealthTV's 3D production set-up was ideal for these kinds of documentaries, it wasn't the right set-up for the sporting events the Herrings want to cover. "For boxing events, everyone wants to see them live," he says. "That's where the flypack comes in." When the company tried and failed to find a 3D flypack to rent, they contacted Maisner at TV Pro Gear.

WealthTV: The Dover Downs fight

What's in the flypack? Maisner says he worked closely with his WealthTV 3D counterparts to pick the best and most reliable gear: Six Sony PMW-TD300 cameras with fiber, a Panasonic AV-HS450 3D 20-input switcher, two Panasonic AG-HDP24 P2 recorders (left eye, right eye), a Chyron Lex-3 title generator and a Newtek 3Play424 4-channel Instant Replay/Slo-motion unit modified to do 3D. A two-channel Clearcom system with 4 channels of IFB and 4 wireless belt packs provides high quality intercom. The entire system is battery backed-up by a 1650w Middle Atlantic Uninterruptible Power Supply. Sound is handled by a Mackie 16-input mixer, four Sennheiser Wireless Microphones and 4 dbx limiters. Audio monitoring is by Genelec and Marshall Electronics. "We also have a Telos phone link via Bluetooth that is integrated with the Clearcomm system," Maisner says. "They're doing live events and this gives them communication with WealthTV's studio in San Diego."

Finishing out the mix is an ESE timecode generator, a Leader LV7380 Multi SDI rasterizer and a Blackmagic Design 40 x 40 HD router. "The whole thing is in our shock-mounted, American Transit Association-certified flypack case," says Maisner, who was also the design engineer on the project.

The rationale behind some of the gear went beyond intrinsic quality. "Panasonic has put a lot of effort in 3D and their switchers and recorders integrate well into a 3D workflow," he says. "Chyron of course is the No. 1 title generator. We went with Chyron because everywhere you go in the world, you can find people who know how to operate a Chyron."

To maximize flexibility, Maisner made sure that the 3D system can shoot a wide range of formats - 720P, 1080i and 1080P - as well as switch between 110-volt and 220-volt electricity. "It's ready to shoot worldwide," he says.

After the 3D Flypak's debut at the NABA Heavyweight Fight in Dover, it's next stop is another boxing match in July: a Millennium Events boxing match on July 14 in Vegas that Herring says will be carried "on every single cable system in the U.S. and Canada."

WealthTV's flyback ensures high quality reliable tools to produce to on-air sporting events, at an economical price. Economical, of course, is relative when you're talking about 3D, but Maisner notes that the $500,000 it cost to build the 3D flypack is a fraction of the $10 to $16 million it can cost to outfit a mobile 3D truck. (In fact, the Herrings just bought a mobile truck, and TV Pro Gear is working on outfitting it with the best 3D gear.)

Herring estimates that the 3D flypack will be used 15 times per year over the next 24 months. That kind of limited use doesn't amortize the 3D flypack, but Herring isn't fazed. "First, we intend to increase the number of live events that we do," he says. "As a company, we take a pretty long-term view. We think that getting into 3D early and establishing WealthTV as a 3D and pay-per-view provider in 3D is very important. We realize the payback may be several years down the road. We did the same thing with HD, and it paid off."

In the meantime, at TV Pro Gear, Maisner hesitates to think about creating a 3D flypack for rent. "I've had lots of calls from people wanting to rent it, but not enough to part with $500,000 for the rental market," he says.

The Herrings have cast their vote with 3D TV programming by launching WealthTV 3D and not sparing the expense of programming it properly. They rightly assess that good programming is what will draw audiences to 3D TV programming. If their efforts, along with others', tip the balance to make 3D TV a viable business, a 3D flypack sounds like the best solution for any number of production challenges. TV Pro Gear's 3D FlyPak may be the first one, but it is almost certainly not the last.

Title image: WealthTV Dover Downs -- over the shoulder camera pack