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Mobile TV Units: A Growing Industry

The production of mobile television units has all the character of an event: it puts into action a good part of the staff of the programmers and the technological industry that supports them in a unique exhibition of knowledge, needs and experiences to finally achieve a mobile unit of perfect design or, what is the same, able to respond to the specific expectations that are had about its use.

Unlike a large number of technical products used in media, mobile units are not mass-produced or repeated interchangeably. Each one responds to specific searches, as a result of a unique and joint experience and involves a technical and creative work that will determine its design. Not only is a mobile unit for the production of dramatized not the same as one of sports productions, but each of these has its own stamp.

The evolution of the industry

Mobile units have been part of production almost since the beginning of television. They arrived in Latin America in the late fifties and were designed and assembled entirely in the United States. Of course, their television system was black and white. Two decades later, mobile units for color television began to be brought and, little by little, the large channels and programmers together with the equipment production houses began to venture into the metalworking part of their design, to assemble their own mobile production units and to adapt them to the environment, basically orienting them for the production of dramatized and sports coverage.

This, added to the fact that it was definitely and still is much cheaper to create mobile units with national design and labor, allowed a significant increase in outdoor recordings, which affected the improvement of the quality of our television. This industry definitely took to the streets and entered not only urban spaces but rural landscapes and more than this, the human geography of each country.

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Thus, outside the closed scope of the studio, where people had to go to television, it began to approach people in a more real and experiential way. With a few exceptions, such as those of game shows, all genres – dramatized, documentaries, newscasts and sports – benefited from a television increasingly close to reproduction in reality.

Today, in the face of the expansion of schedules and the multiplicity of television offers, the demands of competitiveness are increasingly high and this results in a growing demand for increasingly better designed mobile units. In addition, there are conjunctures such as the one that occurs in Colombia with the transition from the mixed system to the privatization of television that not only presuppose large investments in studies, but – given the time they require for their planning and construction – makes mobile television units an effective and immediate alternative to respond. the short period of time available to increase production.

This does not mean that the increase in mobile units will definitely supply the studios, but it will further boost field production. In fact, although when you have studios it is more expensive to make an outdoor television production, there is a consensus that this greatly enriches the elements that are combined in the production and that, consequently, the realizations are more dynamic and interesting for the viewer.

The design of mobile units

The design and elaboration of the mobile units involves multiple technical aspects and the participation of a series of professionals. As for the former, the Colombian engineer Román Becerra, an expert in the field, explains that in the construction of units it is essential to take into account the mechanical, electrical, air conditioning, operability and television system design.

Mechanical design involves the choice of suitable vehicles, preferably national ones that adapt to the conditions of the country's topography. The capacity of the vehicle is directly proportional to the type of mobile television unit. If it is a unit for dramatized, whose main function is the recording, and for this maximum with 3 cameras and 2 recorders, large spaces in the vehicle are not required. On the contrary, the capacity of mobile units for sports productions should be sufficient to house even a dozen cameras, 4 or 5 recorders and a transmission equipment.

The electrical design, like that of any system in a television production center, must be above all reliable. This means that in case a circuit has an overload problem, the electrical engineering construction will be done in such a way that the minimum amount of equipment is turned off.

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The good quality of the cables with which the mobile units are wired is essential so that they are supported without deforming the rise in temperature that occurs during the normal movement of a car. Likewise, the design must consider the variable loads of some equipment creating a balance so that when they rise they do not alter the operation of the rest of the equipment.

As for the design of the air conditioning, it is one of the most important aspects because it faces the double challenge of maintaining an ideal temperature for equipment and for people, which is not always the same. In addition to achieving this difficult balance, air conditioning is usually installed on the roof of cars so as not to interfere with the free height inside the cabin.

Operational design involves at least three aspects: ergonomics, proper operation, and the location of artifacts. As for the first, the fundamental consideration is that the cars must be designed taking into account that the operational and creative television staff remains for 12, 14 or even more hours within the units and therefore it is imperative to create comfortable designs for groups that work continuously.

The ergonomics details are made to the consumer's liking. As for the operational itself, the distribution of space and the design of the size of the cabin, the thermal and acoustic insulation, the interconnection ducts and the measurements of the racks where the equipment goes are fundamental. A mechanical engineer, specialist in television, is responsible for all systems operating avoiding heating and fatigue.

For the location of the machines there are considerations such as material fatigues that are minimized to the maximum with firm anchors that must allow vibrations. The distribution of the weight of each piece of equipment is also taken into account in such a way that the load center or the gravity of the vehicle is not affected and its behavior on the road can be normal. In this field, the type of materials used for anchoring equipment is continuously being improved. The most innovative is the use of dielectric fibers that are ideal for their great mechanical resistance for the assembly of electrical devices.

In addition, it is usual to accept suggestions from producers regarding the location of equipment and other aspects, since it is known that there are customs already acquired by the personnel who will operate the mobile units and that taking them into account will make production more efficient.

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As for the design of the television system, it obviously starts from the type of production that defines the characteristics of the equipment and the way to interconnect them so that in their operation they adequately cover a specific area of production and / or post-production. For example, mobile news units require a simple recording system but in return involve more elaborate post-production and broadcast equipment.

Outdoor cameras and mobile units

Although in practice television cameras are chosen by budget and according to specific needs, it is usual to work with the top-line of the different brands in outdoor cameras. In this regard, there is a growing consensus that the differences between the specifications of the cameras produced by various houses, have an increasingly narrow margin of difference. The "fight" is no longer so much to demonstrate the technical possibilities as it is to guarantee the service support offered by each brand. This implies an increasingly strong trend towards personalized customer service.

On the other hand, although the technology of digital cameras is not yet fully developed, the advantages for its use with mobile units will be multiple: the length of its cables allows the cameras to move far away from the unit, increasing its operational possibilities; its lower vulnerability to external agents is even more appreciated in the conditions of movement because it guarantees greater stability when subjected to different environments as usually happens during outdoor recordings.

In any case, although according to some experts the digitization of cameras is an irreversible and ideal trend for mobile units, in the current conditions analog systems are still important options.

What is indisputable is the rise of mobile television units and the fact that their growing demand will impose increasingly demanding conditions on their design and construction, which will revert not only to the increase in supply but also to the improvement of one of the key products in the production of television.

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