Fall Tech

SVG Tech Insight: Establishing A Safe, High-Quality Sports Production With Modern Technologies

This fall SVG will be presenting a series of White Papers covering the latest advancements and trends in sports-production technology. The full series of SVG’s Tech Insight White Papers can be found in the SVG Fall SportsTech Journal HERE.

As sports resume amidst a global pandemic, athletes are returning to a markedly different environment, with stadiums implementing changes to protect the health of coaches, managers, players, staff, and fans. One such change is that crowded stadium stands will now sit empty, making live broadcasts and streaming paramount to reach audiences watching from home. Much like returning athletes, production professionals also face new challenges and changes as they return to work and adhere to guidelines that ensure safer working conditions for crew members. Productions are exploring how they can reduce the number of staff present at the venue, in the OB truck, or in-studio; spacing equipment further apart on-set to practice social distancing; and facilitating remote workflows where possible, among other considerations.

Emergent and established technologies are making these changes possible without compromising production quality. The first step to creating a more socially distant and safer working environment, however, is to begin to better understand the distinct types of technology available, including fiber, broadcast over IP, and streaming.

Achieving distance with fiber

For the purposes of complying with new guidelines for distancing, fiber technology can be harnessed to simply extend existing SDI cabling. SDI video cable runs, including those which are 12G-SDI, have limitations to how far they can be run without degradation or signal drop out. But these shorter distances can be significantly extended by using fiber converters like the FiDO range from AJA.

Fiber optical converters allow the transmission of digital information (in this case, digital video and audio) as light pulses through glass or plastic fibers almost as thin as a human hair, and can extend high-frame rate 4K/UltraHD video and audio up to 10km. They are available in two types: single-channel fiber converters, which carry a single video and audio feed, and dual-channel fiber converters, which carry more than one feed. Professionals can also opt to use single-mode or multi-mode fiber converter models. Multi-mode fiber cable is more flexible for cable runs and can be curved and taken around corners without loss of signal, but overall distance is curtailed compared to single-mode. As fiber converters are also generally format agnostic, various SDI-based signal types can be transported, even RAW camera formats.

Fiber converters are easy to deploy and available as transceivers, transmitters, or receivers. Rather than cabling a camera directly back to a monitor or recorder via SDI cable, the camera’s video output can be plugged directly into a highly portable fiber transceiver or transmitter, like the AJA FiDO-TR-12G or the FiDO-T-12G. The optical fiber cable run can then be extended from the fiber converter to wherever the updated monitoring positions are on-set, without any loss in signal quality. When using fiber to achieve greater distance between gear on-set, professionals will also need to think about how they will terminate the fiber cables, with either ST or LC connectors, and fiber converter options exist for both.

In recent years, fiber converters have been appearing in more OB environments, as they provide immense flexibility. ST connectors, in particular, offer a locking barrel connector that’s resistant to the rigors of OB environments. LC SFP connectors, on the other hand, are more typically seen in production and broadcast studios. Simply add the fiber transceiver or receiver converters that correspond to the production’s requirements at the other end of the fiber optical cable run to provide the desired output. With additional functionality like audio embedding/disembedding, fiber converters offer a cost-effective, hassle-free solution to creating more distance between equipment and crew on-set.

Exploring video over broadcast IP advantages

Video over broadcast IP (Internet Protocol), or the transmission and switching of video, audio, and metadata over standard network equipment such as a LAN, WAN, or the internet, offers a host of advantages to sports productions. It provides incredibly dense channel routing or switching capabilities, and the ability with some approaches to embed and disembed essences, whether video, audio, or metadata. Unlike streaming, it is also designed to handle the broader bandwidth of uncompressed video with as little latency as possible.

In video over broadcast IP implementations, IP converters — like the IPT/R 10G range from AJA — are key, providing a bridge between current SDI or HDMI sources to a range of IP approaches and back as needed. Several standards can be utilized to implement IP converters, with broadcast production environments often favoring SMPTE ST-2110. The SMPTE ST-2110 standards suite is the grouping of specifications for transport, synchronization, and description of the individual elementary essence streams (video, audio, and ancillary data) over IP for real-time production, playout, or other professional applications.

Typically, SMPTE-2110 systems afford more flexibility, as its ethernet transmission base allows for embedding and disembedding of audio or video. NMOS (Networked Media Open Specification) control of all IP converters, for instance, can be centralized to a remote laptop station to ensure the safety of the operating staff and allow the operator to dynamically route video and audio essences with ease. New sources can be added dynamically as needed, and just as with fiber, an existing network can be easily updated by using an appropriate IP converter at each end of the video signal chain, to provide safer distancing with high quality and low latency video. IP offers advantages to both live production for OB trucks as well as to permanent studio installations, with the ability to scale to almost any format and frame rate further down the road. IP does require much more complex installation and management than fiber.

Remote monitoring with streaming technology

Traditional fiber and IP pose tremendous advantages in live sports production environments when used to extend distances between production stations that offer video and audio, with up to 10km of range being offered for fiber and around the globe for IP. However, for some productions, the technical requirements of remote workflows that allow production staff to monitor video content from afar extend far beyond the reach of even fiber. Unlike downloading content for on-demand viewing, a process by which the file must be transferred to a computer or device before playback can begin, streaming allows the media transmission and playback to happen simultaneously in near real-time.

Streaming serves a range of monitoring needs in live sports production, whether for reviewing a live feed from the arena or stadium remotely, or edited materials that will be woven into the broadcast or OTT feed. It is easy to implement with plug and play streaming, recording, and encoding solutions like AJA HELO. To achieve a high-quality feed without compromising the video quality or frame rate, it’s important to look for a unit that can accept baseband video via a HDMI or SDI video input and convert the signal for live streaming to the appropriate destination. Having a suitable web browser to control the streaming device from anywhere in the world is yet another important consideration, as is the device’s ability to provide a high-quality, low-latency video signal.

Streaming protocols can be used to compress baseband video for remote monitoring by any number of appropriate viewers, in most cases with the ability to record the stream locally by the viewer if required. To manage the stream, whether remotely via Ethernet and a web-based GUI served from a device like HELO, or by local push-buttons, simple configuration and control, including presets, can help simplify the process. Streaming technology also extends the distances for remote viewing to other cities and even other countries with ease, and security protocols can also be added to make remote viewing both secure and safe.

A significant number of devices and technologies are available today that can help keep sports productions safe, on track, and engaging to viewers. By introducing fiber converters and using Ethernet networks alongside streaming, there’s no compromise to the quality or scope of the production at hand, and production teams can streamline operations while keeping a safe distance from one another on-set. In addition, infrastructure can continue to be scalable as production demands shift.

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