FutureSport 2016: BT Sport and Arena TV discuss move to all-IP OB workflow

A case study presentation at the 2016 SVG Futuresport event looked at the hows and whys of the

BT's Andy Beale (centre) leads the IP OB discussion at FutureSport, November 30

BT’s Andy Beale (centre) leads the IP OB discussion at FutureSport, November 30

industry’s first all IP-based OB unit that was built by Arena Television and now plays a key role in BT Sport’s coverage of top sporting events. Jamie Hindhaugh, BT Sports, chief operating officer, said the need for an all-IP unit was to allow for a single production team to produce both the HD and UHD coverage, removing the need for two trucks, two sets of cameras and two crews.

“The challenge editorially was with two sets of commentators the premium digital [UHD] product was second tier so we set to task to work with our suppliers for a single-truck operation with the same commentators,” said Hindhaugh. “And eyebrows hit the ceiling when an all-IP OB unit was proposed.”

The result is Arena’s OBX truck, an all-IP truck built around Grass Valley, Dolby, and Lawo gear and providing not only a unified UHD production but also a next-generation Dolby Atmos experience for viewers.

Added Andy Beale, BT Sport, chief engineer: “This was long overdue and we had interesting conversations with Arena and we got the right partners on board to embark on the journey.”

Peter Love, Arena Television, director of operations, said he and his team started to see solutions at trade shows for an all-IP system and Grass Valley offered a glass-to-glass solution and by working with a single vendor it was much easier to solve problems.

“The whole on-air path is IP out of the base station and there is a lot of conversion to baseband but there is not a baseband router,” he says. That means that the truck currently has 186 IP-to-baseband converters but Love says that complexity will drain away.

“We couldn’t just turn up with a truck that had Ethernet converters,” he said. “It had to look like a normal truck with normal connectors. So, the transition has been painful but it is also great fun and exciting.”

Latency, TICO compression, power consumption and Cisco

Mark Davies, Grass Valley, sales engineering manager for EMEA, said that the challenge facing the industry going forward is that traditional SDI routers have a massive footprint and adding more and more bays of equipment requires finding a better way. A couple of years back Grass Valley then set out on a mission of finding out how viable an IP workflow would be by visiting 21 top customers around Europe.

“We said that IP could be a solution as 10 GB was becoming financially viable and IP can also provide a format-agnostic signal transport that is not locked into a standard,” he said. “It was very attractive and not too many laughed at us which gave us the confidence to achieve an all IP workflow.”

The engineering trick was finding a way to embrace IP without negatively impacting signal latency.

“Looking at compression options there was no shortage of choice but we needed low latency between 4,800 devices and with low power consumption,” he explained. “Taking all of that into account TICO was the answer.” TICO is visually lossless at up to 4:1 compression and latency is only a few microseconds.

Grass Valley also partnered with Cisco to provide the IP switching at the centre of the Grass Valley IP router in the truck while Lawo provided the VSM system that handles all the routing routines.

“All three of our companies worked closely together,” said Davies.

A good crowd shotJohannes Kuhfuss, Lawo, CTO, said that ideally the operators notice nothing when making the move from baseband to IP. And ideally the engineering understands the IP layer and has the right tools to fix any issues.

“VSM is an abstraction layer to the user and not much has changed for the operator as they can still take X and plug it into Y so they won’t even notice the change in technology,” said Kuhfuss.

Love said that a major factor now is training engineers that have grown up working in baseband to understand IP.

Stadium 3D sound space into the home

The next-generation audio experience, via Dolby Atmos, is also an important step forward. “Sound is important and if it is immersive the viewer will feel like they are at the stadium,” said Hindhaugh. “Plus the visual experience is improved 60% when the sounds is improved. So, every EPL and FA Cup game will be produced live in 4K and with Dolby Atmos. It has transformed our offering.” Rob France, Dolby, senior product marketing manager, said that Atmos delivers the 3D sound space inside of a stadium to the living room so that the viewer can feel like they are walking into the stadium or coming through the tunnel with the athletes.

“This allows us to get Atmos out there and help grow the market so we have the best audio with the best video,” he said.

The truck did require some fundamental design changes as there are speakers in the ceiling that shoot audio down from above (viewers at home will have a more virtualised experience whereby speakers fire up and bounce the audio off the ceiling).

“Ultimately there were not a huge number of changes and the microphones are still largely the same,” he said. “Atmos is just another audio layer.”

The challenge for the entire industry is figuring when to follow the lead of Arena Television and embrace IP. Much of that relies not only on the technology but the education of an industry that has been built on baseband signal transport.

“Broadcast engineers are creative and there is a barrier between IT departments and creative techies that needs to come down and that starts with the manufacturers,” said Love, who pointed out the Cisco training is a great place to start. “Not everyone needs to be an IT genius but that is the challenge facing the industry as you can have 50 IT-based trucks but you need people to operate them and that change will happen organically.”

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