Europe primed for remote live and video ref production

Remote live event production is taking off in Europe in a big way this year with the installation of remote capability by at least two service providers for coverage of European soccer leagues for the start of the 2017-18 season. Furthermore, remote video referring for soccer is a step closer with IP systems being introduced in Germany, Italy and France.

Two major applications of remote production are being implemented to launch later this year. Whilst SVG Europe cannot reveal the broadcast service providers involved, we understand that soccer league stadiums in two countries are being connected by 10-50GigE fibre lines for a full IP-based sports production. Matches will be produced live from a central production hub.

Such a move has already happened to a degree in the UK where ITN Productions remote produces highlight clips of the Football League for Channel 5.

A number of all-IP tests have been conducted in the past couple of years, not least by UEFA during one of last summer’s EURO quarter-final matches. This trial carried signals in realtime over 600km from Bordeaux to Paris by Barco Silex and VIDI, with all the processing and switching done in Aperi Corporation software.

“The software element is important,” explains Joop Janssen, CEO at Aperi. “Since sports events are one night or one weekend, then a software base means you have the ability remote produce for that game reducing the cost of operating a link.”

Naturally, latency is a key concern, but Janssen claims round trips can be done in milliseconds with “visually lossless” codecs like VC-2 compressing 4K signals 4:1 to 3Gbit/s. Other codecs including 4k TICO and 4K JPEG 2000 also work with Aperi’s open platform which supports the AIMS video over IP standards approach.

Janssen quotes savings of 50 percent of would traditionally be done with hardware SDI-baseband equipment.

“The aim is to do everything in software via an IP domain management system. If you can do everything you need to do without data centre change behaviour or hardware and only pay for the software – then that’s virtualisation.”

Increased flexibility

Among the other editorial benefits are flexibility in adjusting the firepower thrown at an event. “The narrative of a football league unfolds week to week yet the so-called main games are decided and scheduled weeks in advance,” he says. “With an IP infrastructure editorial teams can decide to offer more 4K camera coverage or more slo-motion units, for example, at any game whose stadium is on their circuit. With IP you don’t need one cable per camera you can have multiple cameras on the same cable. You are able to configure and upgrade your remote production in stadia and studio on the fly.”

The OB trucks assigned to the game will be stripped down. With production and video processing all happening centrally all that needs to be made available at the venue are cameras. It means more space in the truck for presenters and presentation options.

“The transition will take time but what will happen for sure is that more of the video, audio and graphical processing – all the heavy equipment – will be located centrally.”

Not only do you create a lot more operational flexibility but the editorial quality goes up, he claims. “Maybe the production team is in a more luxurious OB van at the stadium to create a ‘wow’ factor for the game but they will operate only user interfaces and control surfaces connected to kit either at a production hub or even in a data centre.”

If you believe Janssen then an all-IP all-software remote production is just a matter of pressing go. Why, then, are so few broadcasters and OB suppliers prepared to commit to invest in an end-to-end IP chain?

Janssen pins the blame on vendors who have yet to integrate IP fully into their hardware – or company culture.

“Most production switchers have IP connectivity but the processing is still in the SDI domain. You need a step change. Bigger vendors lack virtualisation software typically because the technical knowledge to introduce this is thin on the ground. I’ve worked for a few (Thomson Grass Valley, EVS, Vitec) and I know there are tensions there, particularly to introduce this rapidly and inside a budget.”

He adds: “You do need a lot of expertise in the IP space and network knowledge to this which Aperi brings to the table.”

At the beginning of the year, Gearhouse Broadcast became the UK’s partner/distributor of Aperi’s live IP media function virtualization product.

“To get the best out of today’s live production environment, companies must be able to instantly spin up (and down) services, pay as they go, instantaneously accommodate changing formats and standards and leverage the benefits of data center operations/third-party hosting if needed. It’s really that simple,” said Janssen. “The IP solutions that most vendors offer are IP-bolstered SDI hardware which will only benefit customers temporarily. With Aperi’s platform, we’re enabling the industry to completely future-proof itself.”

Aperi, which is US-based, has built its platform on instant reprogrammable FPGA-acceleration technology, which it says is recognized as the best way to deliver software-based virtualization. It’s the same concept used by cloud provides like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure which have rolled out high computational services based on the same technology in their data centres.

Remote video refereeing

Since the International FA Board (IFAB) approved two years of live trials of video technology to aid referees last September, a number of European leagues have stepped forward to put it into action.  These are thought to be in France, Italy and Germany.

It will be a central video referral system again using IP feeds and isolated from the broadcast network. It will scale to accommodate eight matches concurrently, whereby the fifth or perhaps sixth official per game will sit at a central location reviewing multiple angles, including in slo-motion, of select incidents.

According to IFAB, the video officials will only be called on in four defined “game-changing” scenarios: when a goal has been scored, penalty decisions, sendings off, and possible cases of mistaken identity.

The match official will then be free either to take the advice of the video technician or analyse the incident himself via an iPad-type device on the halfway line.

It is likely that each county will go at its own pace rather than introduce video refs in one ‘big bang’.

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