HD in the (U.S.) House

The HRS provides hundreds of hours of video communications resources annually for House members
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The rolling production unit is a common sight in the House hallways.
Flexible HDTV-on-wheels for coverage of Congressional hearings has expanded to the House side of Capitol Hill, following the recent delivery of three portable HD video production systems to the House Recording Studio from Mobile Studios Inc.

by John Merli

The HRS provides hundreds of hours of video communications resources annually for House members to communicate in various ways with their constituents back home—as well as producing and feeding live TV coverage of committee hearings to all House offices on the Hill via a closed-circuit network. (While the internal network does not yet provide HD feeds to the offices, all content is now archived in HD as a future resource.)

The new HD equipment and support hardware from Mobile Studios, a systems integrator and manufacturer based in Boca Raton, Fla., centers on what the firm calls its “flip-top flypacks” (sold under the brand name PortaCast). Rich Rubin, the company’s president, said the three HD systems are chiefly designed to ensure rapid deployment between various House hearing rooms and HRS’s base of operations in the basement of the Rayburn House Office Building. (The U.S. Senate Recording Studio also provides HD services to its 100 members, mostly for archival purposes.)

Typically, Rubin said, a production set-up at a hearing room site should require 15 minutes or less-from equipment arrival to transmission. Three separate hearings can be covered simultaneously.

“The challenge was to create a multi-compact and portable production system that could be easily moved by a single operator to produce HD-quality recordings,” Rubin told GV. “It’s a system that meets all of HRS’s requirements in a very transportable package-three packages, actually-with that key provision that each set-up and operation normally would be handled by only one person.”

Each DTV mobile “crash cart” also has the option of immediately pressing standard DVDs on-site of the just-concluded proceedings, upon request of a House office. (No 1080p Blu-ray disc capabilities quite yet.) Rubin said the overall HRS purchase deal was worth “close to $1 million.”

Rubin said each mobile unit includes a “rolling director” console for switching, camera control and CG input-accompanied by a “rolling accessory case” for cameras, cables, fiber interfaces and tripods. Each console is equipped with a Panasonic AV-HS400A multiformat switcher and AWRP655 robotic camera controller-plus a character generator, audio mixer, HD/SD DVR, and an interface from Telecast Fiber Systems for multiple-camera link-ups.

The HRS, for its part, is careful not to give even the perception of endorsing any specific product or service, but it does acknowledge its responsibilities and goals—-which include providing House members with video resources for broadband outreach, too.

“The hearings are all recorded for archival purposes, [as well as] being televised live on our closed-circuit TV system to all House offices,” said Regina Schmitt, HRS operations production manager. “However, the productions also provide the various committees with the capability to Webcast the [hearings] live on their respective Web sites.”

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Remote controlled cams in a hearing room Schmitt said HRS purchased the new HD mobile carts to accommodate the high number of committee requests the studio had been receiving to request coverage. “Most of the ‘full committee’ [rooms] are wired with AV equipment, but the subcommittees have not reached that goal yet. Our purpose is to be available to the committees when they request their hearings be broadcast or Webcast [online],” Schmitt told GV. “Our goal is to provide members of Congress and committees with a professional product so they can communicate to their constituents and the public.”

Each of the three portable HD setups includes a 26-inch Panasonic LCD display (model BT-LH2600) installed in the PortaCast flip-top cover for camera previews and monitoring program output, while a 19-inch SVGA monitor situated alongside the console is used for character generation. Rubin said each of the three systems also includes four Panasonic HD cameras (model AWHE870N) with remote control heads (model AW-PH360) on Vinten tripods-thus providing a total of a dozen HD cameras in all. Rubin said the “flip-top flypack” design is unique to his company.

The 12 HD cameras dispersed equally among the three mobile units are connected by “tactical fiber cable,” as well as small “throw-down fiber interfaces” that are installed in aluminum briefcases positioned below each tripod. The tripods typically are located in the back of a hearing room-sited up high for optimum camera vantage points (as well as to stay clear of the hearing room audience).

The fiber throw-downs (custombuilt by Mobile Studios) send and receive HD/SD-SDI video and audio between the cameras and the mobile console outside the room in the hallway. Subsequently, Rubin said, video/audio are fed to the HRS’s main CR in the Raymond Building basement via an Evertz transmitter/receiver pair.

www.mobilestudios.com The CR finally feeds the U.S. House inter-office network with SD coverage that is later archived in HD.

While an initial press release from the equipment maker (and some subsequent media reports) mistakenly noted the newly acquired HD/SD content also would be used by CSPAN for that public affairs network’s national coverage, Rubin said this will not be the case. C-SPAN operates out of its own studios on the other side of Capitol Hill near the offices of the U.S. Senate and produces and archives its own coverage.