OBS Takes UHD/HDR, Cloud, AI and 5G to New Heights at Tokyo Games
The pandemic may have caused the OBS (Olympic Broadcasting Services) team to pause its efforts but it didn’t pause a focus on innovation as the Tokyo Olympics will long be remembered as the launching point of some major technological efforts. Top industry trends like UHD, HDR, spatial audio, cloud services, AI, and 5G will all drive a new level of content creation, distribution, and viewer experiences.
For example, UHD and HDR have been a part of the past two Olympics via tests at Rio 2016 and PyeongChang 2018. But OBS is adopting a new production standard across the board that will see all outputs in UHD, combined with HDR and immersive audio (5.1.4 channels) from the 42 Olympic competition venues (only the production for the seven outside Tennis courts will remain in HD).
OBS says setting up a broadcast environment of this scale and complexity is a significant undertaking. Delivering UHD HDR content requires customized production units and workflows. Overall, OBS will utilize a total of 31 Outside Broadcast (OB) vans and 22 fly-away systems that have been specifically designed and fitted-out to meet the new production and distribution requirements.
OBS has created a single HDR/SDR production workflow model that will allow the trucks to generate an HD 1080i SDR output via high-quality conversion from the primary UHD HDR signal.
Isidoro Moreno, OBS, head of engineering, says OBS has been focused on a single HDR/SDR workflow.
“That has been done together with adding IP capability to our OB fleet, always making sure that we don’t sacrifice any quality in the delivery of the SDR signal,” he says. “That’s quite a challenging and complex task for an event of the scale of the Olympic Games.”
The full IP infrastructure has been built to support the transport of the UHD HDR signals for the contribution network. OBS Venue Technical Operations (VTO) team has developed a set of look-up tables (LUT) in-house to maximise the quality between all cross-conversions (from/to UHD-HD and HDR-SDR).
As for technical specs, all RHBs will receive the international signal in HD, based on the host city’s HD standards. For Tokyo, the SMPTE 292 standard is used to allow for bit rates of 1.485 Gbps for the production of the 1080i/59.94 HD-SDI signal (OBS will follow the 59.94 Hz specification). UHD takers will receive the international signal in UHD HDR, with 5.1.4 audio configuration. The UHD production will adhere to the SMPTE 2036-1 standard and follow the 59.94 Hz specification. The HDR standard will be Hybrid-Log Gamma (HLG).
OBS says that by having natively captured the content in UHD HDR or up-converted to UHD HDR, then down-converted again, the final HD 1080i signal delivered to the RHBs will offer higher quality across all platforms than if produced in a standard HD production.
Almost all of the content captured will be produced natively in UHD HDR; however, OBS will also rely on several specialty cameras that at this time can only operate in HD 1080p SDR. The video source of these cameras will need to be up-converted to UHD HDR to be seamlessly integrated into the main production.
OBS will deliver the UHD HDR feeds to the RHBs participating in the project, while simultaneously ensuring the content delivery also in HD 1080i SDR to all broadcasters.
OBS will also capture the sounds of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics through an immersive 5.1.4 audio configuration that enables viewers to have a more realistic audio experience, with sound appearing to come from every direction – even from above. OBS will expand upon 5.1 surround sound by adding an overhead, and thus third dimension with the addition of four hanging ceiling microphones with heights that will be adjustable. Two new microphones were specifically designed for this immersive sound production. In total, OBS will use 3,600 microphones (28 different models). Three immersive audio quality control rooms will support the venue production and guarantee quality consistency across all sports.
Clear Skies for Cloud-Based Future
In collaboration with Worldwide TOP Partner Alibaba Group, OBS has created a suite of cloud services, specifically designed for data-heavy broadcast workflows. This can allow broadcasters to carry out a virtualization of a great part of their broadcast systems and network platforms in their own private cloud installation, integrated with Alibaba Cloud technology.
With the increasing demand for more content in more formats, cloud-enabled services are becoming a key partner for broadcast organisations as they can better address media management workflows from processing to editing to distribution operations. OBS says if most broadcast organizations were still in the early stages of deployment and integration of cloud-based systems beginning of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly accelerated the adoption of such solutions. Most organizations have been forced to carry out production and distribution workflows from home and, during the crisis, rely on cloud services to support their newly remote production. In that sense, workflows have dramatically changed over the course of the last months.
With the launch of OBS Cloud, OBS says it can accommodate tailored, fully fledged cloud-based front and back-end solutions for the RHBs to help them more easily set up all or part of their processes in the Cloud. For broadcasters, this is a dramatic inflection point in the cost structure of their on-site production as they reduce up-front investments. Also, they can significantly keep their set-up time to the minimum and have their equipment all prepared for their Olympic coverage before even setting foot in the host city.
Ilario Corna, the chief Information technology officer at International Olympic Committee, says Alibaba Cloud services will serve as a key driver of OBS efforts to drive the digital transformation of the Games.
“It creates a more efficient and enjoyable experience for all Olympic stakeholders and fans,” he says. “The innovation scope includes digitalization in areas, such as operation, planning, fan experience, and broadcasting.”
5G Moves Beyond Test Mode
Current 4G/LTE technology is simply unable to support the transmission of UHD broadcast-quality video. 5G, on the other hand, is designed to handle these demanding requirements.
5G will offer a wireless contribution solution with enough bandwidth to carry UHD signals, enabling IP video from broadcast cameras to be transported with ultra-low latency in a reliable way. For broadcasters, 5G connectivity will play a pivotal role by providing the large amount of bandwidth needed for contribution of high-resolution video sources with the ultra-low latency required. 5G will also offer alternatives to traditional wireless equipment and require less frequency coordination.
Mark Wallace, OBS, chief content officer, says the capability of 5G to deliver high-speed, low-latency communications will enable high-quality, real-time vide with less wires around the field of play.
“The first trials showed the potential for remote production teams to be located almost anywhere,” he says. “5G’s nearly real-time wireless connectivity also means that cameras can be untethered, allowing for more creative camera positions and angles, and reducing the set-up time and size of onsite operations.”
OBS conducted its first field tests of network performance and quality from the end-user perspective on a 5G network at PyeongChang 2018 and will carry out real-condition trials of 5G technology again in Tokyo. At the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, OBS will broadcast content from ENG cameras using a 5G network and send it back to the IBC where the speed will be measured and the overall network performance monitored.
OBS is set to adopt 5G’s wireless technology further for the broadcast of the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 where all the competition venues are expected to have 5G network coverage.
AI in the Spotlight
At a time when there is an increasing appetite for more content and faster delivery through multiple platforms in different formats, automation is proving its mettle as a key driver in helping broadcasters optimise the content production and delivery workflows and enhance efficiencies. And OBS says AI will be a big part of it as it will leverage AI-led solutions in some of its broadcast workflows, as a way of testing how it will evolve to be included in future operations.
“We are committed to implementing more efficient processes of creating, producing, delivering, and managing recorded video material,” says Guillermo Jimenéz, OBS, director of broadcast engineering. “Using AI capabilities can help us not only streamline labor and time-intensive processes, resulting in faster turnaround, but also deliver more personalized user experiences.”
OBS will run an Automatic Media Description (AMD) pilot project based on athlete recognition and this pilot will be conducted on a select number of specifically chosen sports. OBS will combine existing metadata such as the Broadcast Data Feed (BDF) and video logs with image recognition based on athlete bib.
“We could customize the automatic content offering based on user preferences, whether by national Olympic committee, athlete, or sport. It means that instead of RHBs searching for content, content will be automatically pushed to them,” says Jimenéz. “AI-driven technology is making the process of content discovery faster and more accurate, adding tremendous value across the content lifecycle.”
Additionally, OBS will use speech-to-text technology to complement and improve the tagging of media assets. Such applications will allow a faster and more efficient turnaround of workflows such as image selection, automatic searching and clipping.
By Beijing 2022, OBS is aiming to expand this process to as many sports as possible, make the most of AI-driven tools in its internal workflows and open the service to RHBs. Ultimately, OBS is trying to develop applications that can use this enriched data to create automatic summaries and create pattern detections.
Data generated through AI-based solutions can be used post- Games to analyse production to help improve the predicted content for each user. Combined with the IOC’s Sports Data Project, AI can provide insights into the expected performance of athletes and comparisons with previous Games and other major events.