RF Field Tests and the Silver Screen (Episode 3): OPTEMPO on the Range

When the camera stops rolling, the critical moments have been captured, and the stars are tucked into their trailers, a new team emerges on the scene. Their names may be embedded deep in the credits, but they play a key role in making the blockbuster film come to life. Every night, with a handful of memory cards, the data management team gets to work protecting, curating, and sharing the day’s precious footage. In the movie industry, this process is called “making dailies”. The phrase was born from a critical operational tempo (OPTEMPO) in the movie industry of recording, reviewing and repeating every single day. As soon as they’re shared, the dailies are screened by the creative team to prepare the next day when the camera starts rolling again. 

Switch the movie set with a field test range and the camera with an RF recorder, and the exact same challenge exists. We might not call them dailies but often on a field test range, the same requirements to protect, curate, and share are present. As much as we love our RF recorders, the fact is, they generate a ton of data very quickly. If you’re ready for that data and you planned ahead, you’ll be ready to manage that data. If you haven’t, you’re in for a logistical nightmare with no IT department in sight. 

For teams accustomed to sharing Microsoft docs via email or standard tools provided by IT, it can be a rude awakening to discover that those solutions are a nonstarter for RF recording data. An RF recorder that’s capturing a wideband signal will produce a GB of data every half second. Even a signal with more modest bandwidth, such as GPS, will produce a GB of data every six seconds. To create an OPTEMPO of working every day, it’s impossible to have the person who is operating the recorder also transferring data at night. What happens if you wake up on the second day of your field test and there’s still an hourglass icon on the screen of your RF recorder? The fact is, it’s not enough to simply get the data off the recorder—it has to be done in time to start testing the next day. 

Know Your Data Export Options 

There are really three fundamental ways to offload data from an RF recorder. First, removable media, second, a network connection, and third, a high-speed bus (i.e., USB, thunderbolt, etc). Each of these options have their own trade-offs in terms of cost, time, and personnel. The best choice is going to depend on the budget, the expected OPTEMPO, and the expertise of the field test team. 

The speed of the offload dictates the boundaries of the entire OPTEMPO. That’s what makes this detail one of the most important considerations when choosing an RF recorder. Here are some key questions you’ll want to ask before making the purchase: How much time can you afford to spend in the field exporting data? Do you anticipate creating more RF recordings that can be natively stored by your device? Can you expect to have personnel available for overnight transfers? How many people might want to view the data on a daily basis? After considering these questions, you might quickly discover that the $5,000 discount recorder is going to cost $50,000 in labor, frustration, and wasted test range time. 

When the movie stars wake up and hit the set the next morning, the dailies team is turning in. The cameras are ready to roll and capture another few terabytes of data. It’s a process that’s been fine-tuned over decades of movie making. We can learn from them. Before your next field test, consider the logistics of your daily operations. Don’t settle for equipment that will jam up your process and dictate the tempo. With the wrong RF recorder, you may find yourself making weeklies instead of dailies…