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NAB Perspectives: BSI Execs Unveil ‘Real Freedom’ Product, Talk Spectrum Squeeze

April 23rd, 2015 Posted in Headlines By Jason Dachman

After decades of being known solely as a rental provider of wireless RF broadcast solutions, Broadcast Sports Inc. (BSI) is officially shipping its first for-sale product: the Real Freedom integrated wireless-camera link system. Several years in the making, the all-in-one Real Freedom RF kit began shipping in time for NAB 2015. The easy-to-use system features a simplified user interface and setup, 1080p/60 and 10-bit, 4:2:2 sampling, H.264 encoding, and DVB-T2 modulation.

Meanwhile, in terms of its traditional, service-based business, BSI has continued to boost its ground-based approach for CBS Sports’ golf coverage and is set to play a key role in the Rugby World Cup in the UK this summer. BSI also continues to work with the live-production community and the FCC in its battle to retain the spectrum that is its lifeblood.

SVG sat down with BSI GM Peter Larsson and Managing Director Lee Norton to get an overview of Real Freedom, the company’s upcoming role at the Rugby World Cup, and how it is continuing to fight the good fight in the so-called spectrum squeeze.

Front of the Real Freedom integrated wireless-camera link system

Front of the Real Freedom integrated wireless-camera link system

Can you provide an overview of the Real Freedom system and how it has developed over the past few years?
Peter Larsson:
We have been building gear for ourselves for 30 years. But, when you start building gear for an outside market, there is an 80/20 rule: the last 20% takes 80% of the time. All of our stuff works great 99% of the time, but our guys know how to work around it for that 1% or 2% of the time when it doesn’t. When you sell something in the outside world, it has to be 100%. There were a couple of early adopters, and we’ve tried everything we can to keep them happy, but we didn’t want to start pushing until we knew that the product was 100% there. We’re to that point now that we feel comfortable, so you’re going to see the sales group expand out now. We didn’t want to expand out too early.

Back of the Real Freedom

Back of the Real Freedom

The whole concept is a very simple RF system for a stadium. These little [receiver] boxes are the only things you need to put up in the stadium, and then everything else will be down in the production truck. When we were dealing with the [events that required] systems for six, 10, 12, 14 cameras, it was a ton of gear you have to ship around. The problem was, it didn’t scale down: for a one-camera shoot, we were still shipping 300 lb. of gear. The whole concept of Real Freedom is that one case now will do the entire stadium.

We are taking orders and gearing the manufacturing process up now. Our first run was 55 systems. A lot of the first construction was for our engineering, for our rentals, for our use, which is great because it’s almost like a proof-of-concept. I see the ad now: “We tested our gear in the world’s worst environments so you don’t have to.”

Lee Norton: It gives us more access to one-offs now that we can send a case of this size with equipment that is very simple, plug-and-play, but also it gives us the ability to have another revenue stream in terms of sales and products as well.

What about on the more traditional BSI services side? Any exciting events coming up?
We are contracted for the Rugby World Cup in the UK, and we are providing specialist cameras for that event through the summer. That means everything from our … [PTZ cameras] to post cameras, which are on the touch lines and bring a whole different angle to the show.

PL: We just finished the Masters, which was incredible as always, and we have about 12 cameras there. CBS has really embraced RF, and that has led to our ground-based approach to CBS golf. We do not use cranes anymore, it’s all camera-mounted transmitters on the cameramen. So they don’t need a pointer running with them; it’s just the cameraman by himself. We also have changed our talent system because, now that you have no cranes and a lot more low-receive systems, you don’t have the same distance. So you can use a different-style, lower-power talent system.

I always look at it like we have to provide tools for production to do their job, so we want to make the lightest, best-possible tools so production don’t have to worry about the [equipment]. We give them the tools so they can do their stuff and produce a really good show.

Can you provide an update on the latest regarding the FCC’s spectrum reallocation and your potential loss of the UHF band?
I do have to give the SVG and the DTV Audio Group, which we are a part of, a big pat on the back. We have a weekly phone call, and we’ve been working with all the manufacturers and all the users to come up with a solution. I would love to see UHF stay because it fits all uses, but, unfortunately, I think there are bigger wallets than we have who will eventually end up controlling the UHF band.

Instead, we are going to end up with many tools in the toolbox as opposed to the one magic wrench that did everything. We are working with our partners and [DTV Audio Group] to come up with a really good solution for the live sporting environments. Whether it will be our Blue Steel approach, a 7-gig system, or something else, we just have to work our way through that to come up with something that’s good for our customers and good for the industry.