BT's new flexible OB van

Elsie Crampton
October 26th 2016 at 12:49PM : By

BT Media & Broadcast hits the road with first OB vehicle in the UK able to transmit multiple HD and UHD visions via simultaneous fibre and satellite

The outside broadcast arm of BT Media & Broadcast, is parking its brand new hybrid fibre and satellite UHD links truck at major Premiership football and Rugby Union venues across the country.

The outside broadcast vehicle in question, named TES52, is the first OB truck in the UK with the ability to transmit multiple HD and UHD/4K visions via fibre and satellite simultaneously.

“The fact that this vehicle can do three UHD visions on fibre and one UHD vision on satellite at the same time is such a unique feature,” explained Mark Wilson-Dunn, VP at BT Media and Broadcast. “We have other trucks that can do two, soon to be three UHD visions on fibre, but having the UHD on fibre and satellite simultaneously makes this truck really special!”

Systems integrator Megahertz’s design team worked closely with BT TVOB engineers to provide this flexible UHD vehicle capable of transmitting pictures both through its roof-mounted, Ku-band, satellite antenna and via BT’s own fibre network, which connects over 150 major sports venues and news outlets across the UK.

BT OB van by Megahertz


Big events

The new truck is primarily used for the big, high profile events, according to Wilson-Dunn, who explains that the idea of this mobile unit was born when one of BT Media & Broadcast’s customers, who executes UHD fibre delivery for Premiership football, wanted to access a clean vision, two ‘dirty’ visions, plus a satellite backup vision, from a single mobile unit with just one man on site.

“For them it’s about being economically smart but also it’s also about resilience,” said Wilson-Dunn. “They can now offer video feeds to third party takers without compromising the ‘one plus one’ service for their own UK broadcasts. Also, satellite delivery allows any user to provide UHD from non-fibred venues.”

BT Media & Broadcast provides a delivery service from all the major sporting and event locations in the UK, via fibre and satellite, to broadcasters and production company headquarters. The TES52 sits alongside the outside broadcast production vehicle, accepting multiple feeds which are then compressed, multiplexed and fed to the broadcaster via the BT Tower in London. At each point, including the input and outputs of the link truck, careful quality monitoring takes place to ensure that the signal arrives in excellent condition.

For live event coverage, failure is not acceptable


Construction challenges

The main challenge during construction of the TES52 was fitting everything inside the allocated space, according to Wilson-Dunn, who also noted that chassis weight limits impact not only the construction of the truck, but driver hours when the truck is in use.

“The other challenge was that UHD technology has only just started hitting phase two,” he said. “During phase one, it was not mature at all. Now the technology is a little established but there’s still some future growth or development that needs to happen particularly when it comes to compressing encoders into a smaller form factor.”

The TES52 is a step up from TES51 UHD truck that Megahertz also built in 2014, and offers greater encoding capability. It is also fitted with two 750W amplifiers and built on a 7T Iveco Daily chassis. The TES52 monitors multiple signals via a 4K Miranda multi-viewer on to a Sony 4K screen, with two 4K/HD Marshall monitors for additional qualitative signal monitoring and an HD Phabrix for test signal generation and checking. The truck supports up to sixteen fibre links in HD mode, or three 4K/UHD and four HD links, using the intelligent video networking platform (IVNP) and BT's core MPLS (multi-protocol label switching) network. Its on-board, 192-port Snell router is capable of handling a mixture of 4K, 3Gb/s and HD baseband signals, and ASI transport streams.

Wilson-Dunn pinpoints the encoders as one of the key technologies on board, particularly the Ericsson MPEG4 system, which allows the truck to provide either three UHD visions or twelve HD visions out. “It’s the volume of video services that you can get out of the truck which is incredible.”

Premiere in Hull

The TES52 was put to work the very first day it was delivered by Megahertz, covering a football match in Hull. “It delivered 12 MPEG-encoded HD visions on its first outing. That’s quite remarkable - no other truck in the UK can do that.”

It also stopped off at the IBC show in Amsterdam, where it demonstrated how live UHD/4K content passes through the vehicle by providing visitors with a live view of two rugby matches in three different manners, one of which involved the use of the new Ericsson HEVC encoder and one of which saw the truck run HEVC over satellite. “We had three visions going into that particular truck in two days, all in UHD, which we believe was a world first.”

Wilson-Dunn is unreserved in stating that BT Media & Broadcast lives and dies by the capabilities of its live production vehicles on site. “For live event coverage, failure is not acceptable,” he said. “We have to be totally confident in the service that we deliver and having a reliable truck is absolutely essential and that’s why we worked with Megahertz as a systems integrator.”

Since Amsterdam, it has covered an average of one event a week in UHD, the highlights of which include a Welsh Rugby Union event in Llanelli, a Premiership football match in Leicester and the October 20 Manchester United Europa cup match.

“At the moment, the rights for most UHD services are a bit nebulous in terms of third party takers, but we were convinced that in time there would be a requirement for a UHD third party feed to become available and that is indeed happening,” concluded Wilson-Dunn. “We have requests for third party feeds for other sports now too. So having three encoders or a truck capable of doing three encoders in UHD is fundamental to the future of our business.”