Welcome to the OlymIPics
Philip Stevens looks into the broadcast technology for Rio 2016 and finds the race to IP is already under way
Rio 2016 - or, more properly, the Games of the XXXI Olympiad - kicked off in Brazil on 5 August. In excess of 10,000 athletes from more than 200 countries and territories competed at almost 40 venues across the country. And, like most Olympic Games, a mammoth broadcasting operation was mounted.
This year saw a notable increase in the amount of Internet Protocol (IP) technology being employed.
“Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) used extensive IP technology for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, increasing the capacity request for all services by 100 per cent compared to previous Games operation,” explains Isidoro Moreno, OBS Head of Engineering. “IP network technology brings greater flexibility for live sports broadcasting, in particular for live streaming possibilities from ENG cameras. It also offers higher capacity in terms of the number of programmes that can be transported. It really represents the key element for all our file-based workflows.”
Moreno explains that from the venues to the International Broadcast Centre (IBC), OBS will use both 10Gb and 40Gb standard trunking circuits. He goes on to state that the Olympic Video Player (OVP) transmissions will be fully based on IP technology. “The OVP provides Rights Holding Broadcasters with their own fully produced platform containing live video and on-demand players for the internet, tablets and mobiles. Launched for Sochi 2014, the OVP dramatically increased digital offerings for those Games. In fact, for the first time in Olympic history, the amount of digital coverage exceeded traditional television broadcasts.”
OBS will rely extensively on cloud services in order to make OVP available across the world. “As well as OVP, our Virtual Reality content will be uploaded to the Cloud from where it will be accessible to all the users.”
Moreno continues: “For the Rio Games, we didn't face any particular challenge as all IP networks will be carried over a reliable optical fibre infrastructure established by OBS in collaboration with our official telecommunications partner. Our technical operation is increasingly moving towards IP technology, and Rio is certainly an inflexion point in that sense. For the international broadcasters, it plays a crucial role in the implementation of their remote operations.”
One such broadcaster is Norway’s TV2 – who devoted its main and sports channel to providing 24/7 coverage of the Games. In addition, there was an event-based OTT offering that allowed viewers to search by sport, rather than channel.
“Our main studio in Rio was sited in Olympic Park,” explains Jens Knudsen, vice president productions, news and sports at TV2 Norway. “For the Sochi Winter Games we built a flat pack studio in Sweden. The 72 square metre studio and additional areas for make-up and a green room can be transported in three containers – and these were shipped to Brazil. Once there, they were positioned next to the tennis venue and within sight of the basketball hall. By using polarising filters on the windows and cameras and utilising low level LED lighting, we were always able to see the Olympic Park as a backdrop.”
Four Sony P1 cameras were used in the studio, with one mounted on an Electric Friends crane. All output from all four cameras was sent back to Bergen where the programme director, producer, EVS operator, graphics operator and audio engineer were based.
“There was a technical manager based in the Rio studio and the CCUs were operated from there to overcome any latency issues,” says Knudsen.
The crane camera, with seven axis movements and trajectory and position repeatability of 0.01 mm, was employed extensively for augmented reality (AR) shots using a Vizrt Virtual Studio graphic engine.
“The smooth tracking of the Electric Friends crane integrates exceptionally well with our AR system,” states Gerhard Lang, chief engineering officer at Vizrt. “Our graphics engine was located in the Rio studio, and so removed any latency problems that might otherwise occur. By combining the outputs in Rio, a complete signal could be sent back to Bergen for cutting into programmes.”
Lang says that the improved Viz Engine 3.8 provides far greater rendering capabilities than earlier releases. That, in turn, produces higher quality graphics with greater photo-realism.
TV2 also used a number of other Vizrt products for other graphic applications. In addition, the company’s media asset management (MAM) system provided vital logging operations for the broadcaster.
“Bigger broadcasters can create their own logging capabilities, but we have come up with a better solution to suit our purposes,” reveals Knudsen. “We use the logging data in the Broadcast Data Feed supplied by OBS along with the MDS to populate the Viz MAM system. This metadata gives our editorial and technical staff in Norway quick access to the material on all 12 MDS feeds. For a smaller broadcaster, it is a fantastic solution.”
IP network technology brings greater flexibility for live sports broadcasting, in particular for live streaming possibilities from ENG cameras
Listening for IP
IP technology was also deployed in Brazil for audio connectivity. Lawo provided VSM (Virtual Studio Manager) Broadcast Control and Monitoring solution for NBC Olympics. The broadcaster used the system at both its production compound within the International Broadcast Centre in Rio, and its studios in Stamford, Connecticut.
VSM was the overall control system for core routing and tally management, connecting to multiple third party devices on an IP backbone. It utilises approximately 80 LBP hardware panels and 80 GUI-based VSM Panels accessed from various monitors and tablets provided throughout NBC Olympics’ various production facilities.
Also deployed were a Lawo audio-over-IP Commentary System along with several Lawo V_pro8 video processors to manage the broadcaster’s coverage at Stamford.
The V_pro8s received video feeds from Rio, de-embedded the audio and then inserted into RAVENNA and MADI streams that ultimately fed the Lawo LCU commentary system for up to 20 announce positions covering various sports. In addition, several venues in Rio were connected to the NBC Olympics compound within the International Broadcast Centre with Lawo’s V_remote4 units to provide connectivity and processing for network audio and video signals delivered via IP-connections from the remote sites.
“In going through the collaborative design process with NBC Olympics, it was critical that we had the ability to customise the overall system to support the workflows they wanted, while also providing the flexibility to grow the system as technologies evolve in the future,” says Mark Whitman, Lawo’s vice president of sales.
One company that has seen a significant uptake in its technology in the last several years has been LiveU. Over the past eight years of deployment, it has supported hundreds of customers in their coverage of many sporting events, including six NFL Super Bowls, two FIFA World Cup tournaments and, of course, the Olympic Games – both summer and winter.
LiveU’s VP of marketing, Ronen Artman, says there have been multiple developments since the last Olympic Games in terms of improving picture quality, reducing latency and further strengthening signal robustness.
“There have also been two other main drivers. First, our desire to offer a solutions-based approach whereby customers can select technologies and services from across our range to create a bespoke package for themselves, and secondly the need to increase capabilities while continuing to decrease the size of hardware models.”
LiveU offers solutions ranging from the flagship LU500 and Xtender technology through the ultra-small LU200 to the LU-Smart smartphone app. There’s also the Mac-based software version LU-Lite, which provides fast and reliable file transfer and live video via a MacBook. “But the overall aim remains the same - to provide high-quality, live video via technology that allows users from the online and broadcast worlds to provide content that others can’t - and at price points that suit each market,” states Artman.
He goes on to say that Brazil invested in the cellular infrastructure to meet the demand posed by the Games. “We worked with all the Brazilian cellular operators to give the best service and also offered multiple, dedicated Wi-Fi hotspot locations and a special integrated Ka-band satellite solution that included a VSAT terminal, VSAT antenna with universal mount, Wi-Fi router, and all cables and connectors.”
Once at the location, a LiveU unit could be set up and ready to transmit in around one minute. “The operator simply turns on the unit, configures the delay and presses ‘Live’– a one touch operation. The unit can also be controlled remotely via our central management platform,” reveals Artman. “Most LiveU signals are sent straight to the home country. A very few of our customers may deploy local servers at the IBC to get the stream locally.”
The units can either be used as standalone operations or part of multi-camera set ups. But if they are intercut with other IP feeds, the delay is negligible – a few tens of milliseconds. The same IP connections for sending signals back to the broadcaster’s base were used in the reverse direction for cueing presenters via the IFB feature. Similarly, feeds for prompts were fed from the studio to the remote location.
We worked with all the Brazilian cellular operators to give the best service and also offered multiple, dedicated Wi-Fi hotspot locations and a special integrated Ka-band satellite solution
TVU Networks equipment has also been used at the London and Sochi Olympics. What lessons has the company learned on its Olympic journey?
“Our technology proved to be highly reliable and flexible for use in these major events, allowing broadcasters to change the way they delivered live video coverage to their viewers,” said Chris Bell, VP of customer support. “With TVU’s 4G/LTE mobile transmitters, there was no longer any need to rely solely on fixed location video coverage. Broadcasters were free to go anywhere in and around venues or other desirable backdrop locations to transmit live video.”
Bell goes on to say that TVU One transmitter equipment as used for mobile spot news live video coverage and also for fixed live position video coverage at the Rio Olympics.
“TVU One is our fifth generation cellular IP based mobile transmitter that delivers live video with transmission resiliency, HD picture quality and sub-second latency in an ultra-compact size and weight form factor. TVU One cold starts in about 20 seconds for live video transmission using cellular, satellite, microwave, BGAN, WiFi or Ethernet connections.”
In addition, TVU Grid was used to share the live video to multiple stations in their home countries. “This is a powerful, simple IP-video distribution, routing and switching system that gives broadcasters the ability to seamlessly switch live IP video content and share live video streams between multiple remote locations anywhere in the world,” says Bell.
OBS’s Moreno concludes “IP opens up opportunities for sports broadcasting while increasing performance and reducing costs. We believe IP will be adopted more and more across the entire broadcast workflow in the future.”