Leaving the OB truck at home

What’s a PPU, I hear you ask? What’s a flyaway? There are a few different names and abbreviations for this sort of thing, depending on which area of the broadcast world you’re in. A PPU, or Portable Production Unit, is essentially a broadcast OB truck or a broadcast television production control room in a flight case – a portable, mobile unit, or a series of units that can be taken to any location and set up. Other names and variations on the same theme include ‘flypack’, ‘flyaway’ and ‘de-rig’. Essentially, it all boils down to providing broadcast production facilities, on location, for a temporary period.

But that sounds like a job for an OB truck, doesn’t it? Quite possibly, but it depends on the project. The concept of an OB truck is well known and they’re perfect for those projects, such as sporting events and large-scale televised national events. Where a PPU or flyaway works perfectly is those smaller productions or ones in small or unusual locations. A quick look back at some of our recent PPU jobs show a range from live music to talking heads broadcast programmes to live poker tournaments. What all those jobs have in common is that all the locations were small and space for an OB truck just wasn’t possible.

Another obvious consideration is budget. OB trucks are expensive – but that’s because they’re built for large-scale productions, requiring 30 camera channels and 20 HDCAM VTRs. PPUs are built on a smaller scale and you’re only paying for what you need. Don’t requre audio? Then the audio PPU stays at base and you don’t pay for it. Don’t want to ISO every camera? No problem, no charge.

So what don’t you get with a PPU? There has to be a compromise, doesn’t there? Well, they don’t come with air conditioning for a start and you won’t fit 30 people in one! But that’s the point – you choose a PPU because the requirements of the project are different, be it space, budget or accessibility.

When it comes down to the hardware and functionality, a good PPU or flyaway should offer everything your production needs. Our PPUs and flyaways are designed to include all the same standard broadcast features and functionality that you’d expect to find in an OB truck or television studio. They’re also designed to be able to be rigged and setup very quickly. 90% of our PPU and fyaway jobs are one-day wonders – rig, RX (or TX) and de-rig – all in one day. A separate rig day is a nice comfortable way to do it, but if the venue has time restrictions or there are budget restrictions, it’s not always possible. A recent broadcast programme we provided facilities for was in a cinema. Not only did we rig a 5-camera set-up and record a whole broadcast hour long show in one day, but we had to de-rig in 45 minutes as the cinema was opening its doors for the evening screening! The other quirky element of that job was that there very little space anywhere in the building to set up the ‘control room’ (and no space for an OB truck outside). So we built a bespoke compact flyaway in a corridor. Had to buy fold-away chairs for that one!

We’re also fans of designing PPUs and flyaways that have flexible use with multiple options for clients. There used to be a time when a standard Sony triax or fibre CCU camera would be more than adequate for any production. These days there’s so much choice in terms of cameras, it’s important to offer capability for what the client wants. Cine-style cameras like Canon C300s and Sony F55s aren’t traditional multi-camera cameras, but we’ve designed all our PPUs and flyaways to cater for them. What’s great about this is that it ups the production value by adding uniqueness to it.

So next time you hear “we’d better get an OB truck in for that job then”, remember there are other options out there…

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