Live from London: EVS servers, new technology put to test on first full day
It’s the first full day of Olympic competition, and broadcasters at the IBC are busy tweaking workflows, ensuring that all systems are go and adjusting as needed. And adjusting right along are the equipment suppliers, most notably EVS, whose presence within the IBC includes not only 33 XT3 replay servers in use by Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) but approximately 190 other servers in use by broadcasters within the IBC.
“The first day is a storm as up to 40 sports begin and the networks have different operational models that they still want to reconfigure,” says Luc Doneux, EVS, head of EMEA, APAC & Major Events. “So, the first three days, we will see some tweaks that need to be applied so that the production teams can do what they want to do. So we’ll make it better and then settle into fireman mode.”
EVS is very much at the center of the International Broadcast Center and the operations of both OBS and the rightsholders on-site. The EVS presence, of course, extends to the 52 OB vans and production trucks in use at 43 venues, bringing the total of EVS servers in use for the Olympics over the 400 mark.
At the IBC, EVS servers record all the incoming feeds from the events but also, new this year, 48 additional feeds from the mix zones, areas at the various venues where athletes and others are able to be interviewed by rightsholders and the OBS production team.
For OBS, the work done at those mix zones is critical for the Olympic News Channel (ONC), a ready-to-air 24/7 channel featuring highlights, press-conference coverage, and more.
The ONC made one wholesale technology change, making the move to an Avid iNews system and an Avid ISIS server, giving the network a deeper set of editing tools, if needed. The move also required an interface between the EVS and Avid system.
“There are quite a lot of changes compared to the last Olympics,” says Doneux of the Avid interface and other advances. “We are recording more inputs and also all logging information from our IPDirectors are sent automatically to the Avid.”
Another enhancement from EVS that makes production operations easier is a new iPad application called iXT. Historically, signals from the mix zone were logged within the IBC, creating an additional level of complexity between the production team in the field and the team back at the IBC as the production team needed to make sure the loggers back home input the right data.
But iXT eases that burden, allowing the producer in the field to add metadata like names, the venue, and more and then send that information via 3G to the IBC, where it is then automatically matched up with the video and audio signal that arrives via fibre.
“It’s one application, and they can mark the beginning of the interview, the names of the competitors, and that data is also sent to the Avid iNews for the ONC and also to the EVS archive,” adds Doneux.
The crux of any Olympics is the live sports coverage. Live feeds from the various venues arrive at the IBC and are, in turn, distributed live to the rightsholders within the IBC (where they often record them on their own EVS servers) and placed into the Olympic Multichannel Distribution Service (MDS), a satellite-delivered service that has 11 ready-to-air channels (10 live feeds plus the ONC) to rightsholders around the globe.
Concurrently, those signals are recorded on the 33 EVS servers where they are automatically recorded in four formats: both a high resolution AVC Intra and a low-resolution proxy version on the SAN, for the Avid iNews system used by ONC, and then a low-resolution version for Web delivery. The 33 servers record up to 48 inputs and 24 outputs and can hold up to 1,320 hours of content. The SAN, meanwhile, holds 6,500 hours of content and has a throughput of 30 Gbps.
While content is recorded onto the servers, loggers at the IBC also input relevant metadata, which is then integrated with the Olympic data feed that includes scoring data and other information, via Deltatre.
Users throughout the IBC access content and the relevant metadata on the SAN via one of two methods: IPDirector, the EVS toolset that allows browsing and clip creation, or IPBrowse, a simple browse-only application designed for producers and those not looking to edit clips. Thirty networks within the IBC have signed on for IPBrowse.
“It’s much more simplified, and users can browse clips and transfer them across the network to their server,” says Doneux.
A Web-based version of IPBrowse is in use by seven broadcasters and allows them to access the SAN from anywhere in the world. Clips can be browsed, requested, and then delivered via cloud services.
Beginning with the Beijing Olympics in 2008 Olympic rights holders have begun experimenting more and more with keeping more facilities and personnel back home by relying more on file-based transfer between the IBC and home or simply recording the MDS service back home and editing it there. Sky New Zealand, for example, is doing the vast majority of its work back in New Zealand. NBC Sports, France Televisions, and the BBC are taking a split approach. And then there are those like Channel 9 Australia (which has the largest EVS infrastructure within the IBC) or ZDF that do everything at the IBC.
“It’s very traditional to do everything here but broadcasters like NBC or France Televisions are doing a lot back home and getting to a hybrid model,” explains Doneux. “But it is still based on traditional technologies. It’s interesting to see different models and the way the networks want to produce but no one model is the best as it depends on what they have to do, the number of hours being produced, and the number of channels being used.”
Nonetheless, Doneux believes that in the future more and more broadcasters will embrace the “@Home” model.
“I think people will have less people here, maybe a small studio and ENG crews and commentators and a little bit of production for interviews,” he adds. “I see it going more and more in that direction.”
But for now the focus is on day one, getting through the storm, and settling in for a London Games that are already off to an exciting start for sports fans around the globe.