FutureSport 2016: Achieving groundbreaking remote IP production via hardware virtualisation at UEFA EURO 2016
The momentum behind remote production continues to grow with every passing month – as do the apparent opportunities for streamlined production and cost reduction that it enables. Several of these strands came together during a fascinating insight into a Proof of Concept at the UEFA EURO 2016 championships, delivered as part of SVG Europe’s FutureSport summit on 2016.
Joining moderator and SVG editorial director Ken Kerschbaumer for the session were: Nicolas Déal, UEFA, TV Transmission Manager – TV Production; Jurgen Jahn, VIDI, Managing Director; Joop Janssen, Aperi, Chief Executive Officer; and Martin Paskin, Gearhouse Broadcast, Systems Integration Manager.
Centred upon the UEFA EURO 2016 International Broadcasting Centre at Porte de Versailles, the trial saw Aperi, Barco Silex and VIDI demonstrate industry-first native IP live remote production for a UEFA EURO 2016 quarter-final match that took place in Bordeaux – representing a distance of more than 600km. Barco Silex provided the VC-2 HQ codec IP core, whilst Aperi’s native IP platform performed all functions in real-time software with extremely low roundtrip latency. The ongoing PoC was also presented at IBC 2016 in conjunction with systems integration partners Gearhouse Broadcast and VIDI. Among several key objectives, the project was evolved to enable multiple production teams having remote access to all the cameras and ‘clean’ switching simultaneously.
Recalling the initiation of the project, Déal noted that the basic idea was, from Paris, to obtain “direct access to the 4K cameras in the Bordeaux studio over a dual redundant 10GB line in such a way that you were bringing the preview and the full-game back to the IBC – as well as a multiview of all the cameras – to Paris in real-time.”
This needed to be achieved with very low latency (32ms for the round-trip of the whole system). All processing was achieved back at the IBC in the IP native domain, with a hand-off to an HDMI output to a monitor. “Everything was done in-software – there were no hardware processors at all. The VC-2 was selected for its ability to serve as a “visually lossless codec with very low latencies, compressing it 4:1 to 3Gbit/s. A single VIDI controller was used to manage the entire workflow.”
Highlighting too the use of the Aperi computer-based switch platform, Déal added that the entire workflow made it possible to “reconfigure on the fly” with a minimum of difficulty. “The ability to do everything in software and achieve such low latency [is a great achievement], and we were proud to work with our partners on this project,” he said. “We said it would all go live on 2 July – and it did. Everything worked flawlessly.”
For VIDI, Jurgen recalls initial conversations at NAB, after which the plans progressed and VIDI set to work on a “new software tool able to do the switching on the IP network. But at the end everything was [completed] in a six-week period, and the [end-result was entirely sufficient].”
For Gearhouse, Paskin observed that “anything which helps production is of interest to us,” so the company keeps a keen eye on PoCs and is often involved in its own forward-looking projects. In this case, he had already been talking to Janssen and the rest of the Aperi team, having concluded that Aperi “was very interesting in terms of the visualisation platform as well as the transport side. It was a very innovative project that gave us a chance to work with [the Aperi technology]”.
Paskin highlighted the fact that in addition to the superlative performance during the actual tournament, the PoC was replicated on the Gearhouse and Aperi stands at IBC, and “ran throughout the show with no hitches at all”.
Janssen took a few moments to unpick the concept of virtualisation for FutureSport delegates. “The aim is to do everything in software via an IP domain management system,” he said. “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.”
There was a general feeling that virtualised processing along these lines is likely to be – in the words of Paskin – “a big gamechanger”. Nonetheless, the actual usage patterns and future outlook for remote production are yet to assume total clarity. The use of a virtualised platform for individual broadcast commitments means that it would be possible to “bring in licenses and download firmware” on an event-by-event basis, thereby paving the way to significant cost-savings. But…
“What I am hearing at the moment is a very mixed message about how much remote production you want – is it about using the equipment more, or reducing expenses related to travel and hotels?” he asked. “We do see [an increasing number] of prodution assistants being taken out on the road. Meanwhile, we sometimes see the BBC using remote production equipment in a suitcase to do low-end productions that they would ever have had out on the mainstream [outlets]; the aim being to supplement their production and the content.”
Déal noted that in “a perfect world there would be lots of connected stadiums” right now, but that this demo does provide some vital clues as to how remote production can be made fast, flexible and cost-efficient. “We did not want to replicate an existing solution; we wanted to do something completely different using all the possibilities of IP, and for me that’s really the most interesting thing about the project,” he said.