Optical Multiplexing Simplifies SoonerVision Campus Network

The University of Oklahoma’s SoonerVision is among the top video programs in the nation. Its backbone lies in a swift, state-of-the-art fiber system that is not nearly as complex and cumbersome as one might think.

Last summer, OU completed a four-year project that connected all of the campus’s athletic venues (and the school’s journalism building) on one fiber network that feeds to a central control room located within the bowels of Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, and it didn’t need to dig up the entire campus to get it done.

“I knew that it was possible, but I didn’t know that it was this easy and this beneficial,” says Brandon Meier, assistant athletic director, broadcast operations, at OU. “When we started fibering to all of our facilities, we figured we’d need 24 dark fibers because every camera takes two and your gear to transport your audio and video takes two and your intercom takes two.”

Fiber network connects OU’s athletic venues and the journalism building to a central control room located in Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

The athletics department teamed up with Telecast Fiber Systems and invested in fiber-optic transmission equipment that required the use of only a few fibers of the campus’s existing dark-fiber network. The gear allowed SoonerVision crews to transmit signals that would normally need 20-30 fiber outputs and compress them into one fiber-optic stream — a process known as optical multiplexing.

How Does It Work?
According to Jim Hurwitz, director of product management and marketing at Telecast, multiplexing works very much the way a prism splits white light into colors (feel free to picture the album cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon).

At OU, Telecast uses a method of electronic digital multiplexing that that company calls “time-domain multiplexing,” or TDM. Through this process, Telecast takes a large number of smaller signals — camera and audio feeds, intercoms, etc. — and mixes them into one larger proprietary digital data stream, which is put into an electrical-to-optical converter.

The converter creates a fiber-optic beam of light that carries all the data across the network back to the central control room elsewhere on campus. A Telestream technology called TelePort Course Wave Division Multiplexer (CWDM) takes the beams of light in — acting as the prism — and breaks it back into the original signals and feeds them into their respective receivers. The complete process occurs in a matter of nanoseconds.

What Are the Benefits?
Telecast can get up to 16 wavelengths onto a single fiber-optic strand. That allows most college campuses to do large transmissions across campus without tying up many of the existing fiber lines.

“Typically, an athletics department wanting to do [fiber transmission] has to negotiate with the IT Department to get themselves a few fibers,” says Hurwitz. “The fewer fibers used, the less it costs on a monthly basis. Multiplexing drops the total number of fibers needed down to two or three as opposed to 20 or 30.”

OU completed the installation of its centrally located master-control facility in August, making SoonerVision a fully digital, HD operation. The single control room is used to produce live, game-day entertainment productions at six of OU’s athletic venues as well as live broadcasts to the Web.

At each venue, Telecast Fiber Systems’ SMTPE Hybrid Elimination Devices (SHEDs) enable SoonerVision’s Sony HDC-1400 cameras to be linked to their CCUs in the control room while being powered locally. Three Sony PDW-F800 XDCAMs, used primarily for ENG applications, can be added to a multicamera production via Telecast’s CopperHead 3200 camera-mounted transceivers, giving full studio capability to the camcorders.

“I think there are a lot of schools out there saying, ‘That’s great what OU did, but we can’t afford to be in the fiber business,’” says Meier. “A lot of schools have fiber between buildings, but they may only have six, and one or two of them is being used for IT purposes. But many of them have three or four of them just lying there empty. All of those schools only need one fiber, and they could have four cameras, their audio/video gear, and something else all on one.

“It’s changed the way we work.”

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