Broadcast RF and new Vislink transmission system cover the London Marathon

TV sports coverage has long relied on wireless technology to get the best shots of the action that both show exactly what is happening and add to the excitement of the event. Radio cameras and their associated links are now standard issue on the big sporting OBs and leading UK supplier Broadcast RF will be proving a range of technology for many of this year’s big competitions, including the World Cup in Brazil, Wimbledon and, on the golfing front, the British Open and the Ryder Cup.

Recently the Kent-based specialist was involved in the BBC’s coverage of the London Marathon, the first year without the broadcaster’s former OB provider SIS LIVE handling the facilities and links. The Marathon is that relatively rare thing in broadcast terms – an event where most coverage comes from cameras mounted on motorcycles tracking the runners and helicopters following them from above. This puts even more pressure on the wireless links side of the technical production at a time when frequency spectrum capacity for TV production is tighter than it has ever been.

Broadcast RF was sub-contracted by OB facilities company CTV to supply the wireless camera infrastructure and co-ordinate getting pictures from cameras on the five bikes, supplied by Williams Moto, and Cineflex V14 systems mounted on the two helicopters from Arena Aviation that followed the runners from the start in Blackheath, southeast London, to the finish at Canada Gate near Buckingham Palace. These signals were combined into what Nick Fuller, Broadcast RF’s technical project manager for the London Marathon, describes as “two large multiples” that were uplinked to a fixed wing aircraft provided by WorldLinX Alliance and then relayed to the main OB site.

Fuller worked at one time for BBC OBs, which was later sold and became part of SIS LIVE, and gained experience of the London Marathon, which he says gave some continuity for the new team covering the event in knowing what to expect. “About 95 percent of the race is shot by cameras on the chase bikes and helicopters,” he says, “so everything has to be engineered to be the best solution to link those to the fixed wing aircraft and produce the best coverage.”

RF links were based on the recently launched Vislink Link L1700 system, which Fuller says has “very good picture coverage” and the benefit of interleaving technology, which can cope with breaks in the transmission caused by obstacles such as bridges, tunnels and tall buildings. Fuller explains that Broadcast RF had in the past used the Link L1500 but this only has the interleaving feature as an option, not as standard. “We upgraded all the bike transmitters to use the L1700 because we knew the interleaving worked from our experience of the previous model,” he says.

Since the auctioning of spectrum for 4G mobile phone use, Fuller says contractors such as Broadcast RF have lost half the capacity they had previously for wireless camera operations. “Generally frequencies are under pressure and unfortunately broadcasters tend to be on the losing end of things,” he says. “It makes things very difficult for us on these larger events; in this case I used all the available spectrum just for the radio cameras.”

Fuller observes that while big, less frequent events such as the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics have additional frequencies made available to them to deal with the high demand for RF equipment, more day to day, and even annual, usage has to work within the current allocations.

At the Commonwealth Games Broadcast RF will provide all venue radio cameras plus some beauty positions for host broadcaster SVGTV. At the 2014 World Cup it will be supplying HBS with eight helicopter systems for all 12 venues and four ground radio cameras each for six of the stadia. Other big sporting events this year using the company’s systems are The Open and the Ryder Cup, with course coverage systems, and Wimbledon, including equipment for the BBC host broadcast and ESPN coverage on all courts and round the whole venue.

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