Op-Ed: Going Remote to Stay Close

It’s been a busy year so far at Lawo, albeit for different reasons than originally anticipated. While all hands were on deck to ready the equipment for major sporting events in the US, Japan, Europe and other parts of the world, covid-19 brought the world to a grinding halt. Or so it seemed.

Quite a few deadlines had to be met despite the pandemic to allow broadcasters to stay on air or to go full steam as soon as sporting events resume. This has allowed the team to confirm that the solutions designed for remote production are also perfect for deployment and remote commissioning.

Lawo’s belief in manufacturer-agnostic industry standards and its active contribution to leading organizations helped pave the way for AES67, Ember+, and ST2110, without which remote (remi, at home) production would be unthinkable. First applied on a massive scale in 2016, in France, this production approach is now in the process of going mainstream. And there is more to “remote” than meets the eye.

Factory acceptance tests, network and system configurations, improvised, yet professional remote workstations, product demonstrations and training, gear updates… The Lawo team has been able to work through the lockdown and social distancing scenario, delivering an awe-inspiring series of real-life solutions in the face of adversity—thanks to the visionary adoption of IP technology over a decade ago.

Putting two and two together to come up with an effective strategy for each individual case was no doubt the main ingredient. Rather than having to find out to what extent the equipment installed on the client’s premises would tolerate remote access, Lawo engineers merely had to devise ways of interacting with clients and allowing them to both control devices from afar and monitor how they responded, obviously in real-time.

VPN connections played a part, but so did remote desktop and video conferencing software. Control software for the Power Core units (VisTool), mc² consoles series (mxGUI) and other devices (HTML) that provide virtual hands-on access to whatever clients are interested in have been around for a while.

An important consideration was how to allow operators in different parts of the world to see what was going on—simultaneously and interactively. This was solved for the world’s first factory acceptance test for the Norwegian broadcaster NRK, which went so well that it was repeated only days later for other gear.

Although the “communication software” varied, each remote project brought more refined solutions to the table. For WDR in Germany, for instance, which was to be in charge of broadcasting the (now rescheduled) European soccer championship, Lawo’s V__remote4 was used as “eyes and ears” for the specialists in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Desktop-sharing software was all it took to allow operators in Rio de Janeiro to control and configure V__matrix C100 blades in Rastatt (Germany) during a virtual training session, which started out with four Globo engineers but quickly attracted ten more.

In the light of the above, remotely configuring NEP USA’s new SS4 OB truck, and configuring and factory-accepting two full-IP OB trucks in Germany from Belgium and the Netherlands, almost pale in comparison, even though they were successful remote deliveries in their own right.

Other examples include virtualizing MCRs and on-air studios in the US, Colombia, Europe, Ghana and many other countries—all from the homes of Lawo team members who managed to put the “distanced” engineers of the various broadcasters in firm—and safe—control of their operations.

Channel 9’s new green-field project in Australia, for its part, was configured from six different countries and vastly different time zones: Norway (north of the Arctic Circle), Jordan, Germany, Switzerland, the USA and Canada. That particular Lawo team not only prides itself on using its SMART telemetry solution for real-time status updates along the way, but also on the fact that over 50 tons of CO2 were saved in the process, because nobody was allowed to go on-site.

Audio engineers will probably argue that the absolute highlight is Lawo’s “Mix Kitchen” solution for its mc² ecosystem, which can be controlled from any place in the world with a decent internet connection—even using a smartphone as a 4G personal hotspot.

The ingredients for the above have been in place all along. Someone “just” had to put two and two together. The idea came to fruition during a remote product demonstration involving one console in Antwerp (Belgium) for real-time control of its sibling in Groningen (The Netherlands), two webcams and a Google Hangouts session. Layer and page switching, fader movements and setting tweaks in Antwerp were immediately replicated by the console in Groningen. How much more remote can you get to stay close to your customer base?

Oh and, 2020 is a very special year for Lawo. But the team decided that the 50th-anniversary celebrations in different parts of the world can wait until social mingling is deemed safe again. They will likely be even more exuberant when the Lawo team has had time to reflect on what it managed to accomplish in—as the saying goes—interesting times.  For now, most of them are busy assisting Lawo users with viable solutions based on existing Lawo technology.

CLICK HERE for detailed descriptions of a series of successful remote configurations, acceptance tests, demonstrations and training sessions.