Save Satellite, Fiber & Telecom Costs:
Unique Transport Protocol Cuts Contribution/Distribution Costs in Multisource, Live-Action Productions Making the Impossible Possible
by Jim Jachetta, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, VidOvation
Broadcast engineers and operators are always looking for ways to cut the cost of contributing and distributing video between the network
and affiliates or between the field and master control — especially when it is not practical to have a production truck on site. The traditional approach is to use a telecom connection or satellite circuit, but the problem with that approach is that it is quite expensive.
At NAB this year, broadcasters will be looking for better, more efficient ways to contribute and distribute video. This is especially true for sports broadcasters and those who produce live television, who regularly deal with backhauling live, high-action, multicamera, multisource audio and video. A far less costly alternative to telecom or satellite is to send video through the public internet or unmanaged networks, which are practically free. This technology exists today and is already helping major networks save money.
A Unique Transport Protocol
What makes this approach possible is a patented transport protocol developed by AVIWEST called SafeStreams. It provides reliable, broadcast-quality video transmission over 3G/4G cellular, LAN, Wi-Fi, satellite, and the public internet with advanced forward error correction, dynamic automatic re-requests (ARQ), and up to 100 percent redundancy. Its two overarching applications are 1) contributing and distributing video through the public internet, and 2) using the bonded cellular method to backhaul live video to master control from multiple cameras in the field synchronously with perfect gen-lock and audio lip-sync during remote-integration (aka REMI) productions.
Using the SafeStreams protocol — which incorporates IP bonding techniques, precision timing over bonded cellular and the public internet, and adaptive bit rate encoding — broadcasters see almost no dropped packets during transmission because of multiple layers of redundancy. First, the protocol automatically recovers dropped packets through forward error correction. Then, if the errors are too long or too deep, or there are too many of them in a given group of frames, then ARQ kicks in to request the missing packets. Finally, the protocol also has a built-in level of redundancy. Together, those elements make for the ultimate in reliability across all possible IP-based networks, including the public internet.
Besides providing high reliability in any environment, this one-of-a-kind transport protocol lets users record, store, and forward HD contents at low bit rates. Furthermore, it provides the biggest pipe to transport video content by bonded up to 11 IP connections including 8 cellular, 2 LAN, and 1 WiFi. The LAN connections can be a telecom circuit, public internet, satellite and more. All 11 IP connections are bonded together to provide a bigger transport pipe for the user’s television transmission. These benefits translate to greater speed and agility for broadcasters.
Many customers have requested a full bandwidth return video and audio transmission path to help facilitate interviews, and send a program or teleprompter feed from master control to the field. SafeStreams will soon transport video and up to 8 channels of audio bi-directionally.
There are plenty of bonded cellular solutions out there, but one of the things that makes this solution special is its patented high-gain, long-range antenna technology, which eliminates cross-coupling and interference compared to consumer USB modems. Just like with traditional wireless, not all radios and antennas are created equal, and any good wireless link requires the best possible RF radio combined with the highest-gain antenna. In bonded cellular, having a high-gain antenna means the signal is more likely to get picked up by a cellular tower.
In the Real World
This technology is already in use with resounding success. The best example of the protocol’s magic: A&E’s highly popular “Live PD,” a groundbreaking docuseries that capture and streams live video of police officers on patrol in six jurisdictions around the country.
“Live PD” is a REMI production that, on a typical weekend night, runs as many as 36 live cameras feeds back to a New York-based
control room at A&E headquarters with perfect gen-lock and lip-sync. The major challenge was how to produce this live cop show cost-effectively and home-run all those cameras from multiple police vehicles simultaneously — sometimes from a police car in a high-speed chase going 130 miles per hour. With so many feeds, traditional satellite or microwave links are not only cost-prohibitive, but they do not provide the necessary mobility and flexibility for such a production.
The “Live PD” crew relies on bonded cellular with this one-of-a-kind protocol to achieve what no other system could: simultaneous transmission of as many as 36 live video streams at a time up to 3,000 miles away, with perfect multicamera gen-lock synchronization and perfect lip sync across all cameras. It’s a major feat of broadcast engineering because, in a live TV broadcast, there’s no time to correct synchronization and lip sync issues on so many cameras.
The protocol operates on a system provided by VidOvation in partnership with AVIWEST. The “Live PD” crew uses 36 PRO180-RA bonded cellular
transmitters, including one for each of two HD cameras in every patrol car, two additional camera operators, and in early episodes an overhead drone that covers the action outside the vehicles. Additionally, there are four QUAD high gain, external antenna units installed on each patrol car so the bonded cellular transmitters in the trunk can receive a strong and resilient signal. Throughout the three-hour show two nights a week, the transmitters feed up to four video channels and eight audio channels of live, high-quality video back to the control room in New York from every patrol car in all six cities. In the control room, the AVIWEST StreamHub receiver, decoder, and distribution platform receives the live video feeds and dumps them into an instant replay system to receive analysis and metadata. From there the system delivers the video to air for the live broadcast. Genlock input on the transceivers — the only ones in the industry with multicamera genlock capability — are instrumental in maintaining synchronous cameras and perfect lip sync.
The Bottom Line
Sports broadcasters or others looking to increase reliability while cutting transport costs would do well to consider the protocol discussed in this article. If the technology can work for an unprecedented, challenge-ridden REMI production like “Live PD,” imagine what it can do for live sports and events. News agencies and networks now have the option of producing a live remote production using multiple cameras and maintain gen-lock and lip-sync. In the past, news crews were not able to do multi-camera news shoots due to lip-sync and video synchronization issues.