Lawo technology assists remote production innovation at F1 events
Taking on broadcast production for Germany for the 25th year, German station RTL aims to simultaneously reduce costs while advancing production quality. Key to its plans this year is locating the production control at the broadcast centre operated by CBC (Cologne Broadcast Center) in Cologne rather than setting up a mobile facility at each track. Additionally, H.264 video compression is being used for signal transport to exploit the available bandwidth for transmission most efficiently.
“The idea of remote production is not really new to us and – due to the immense logistic efforts involved with F1 – there have always been efforts to keep the on-location equipment as small as possible. For example, live-GFX [graphics] have always been added during broadcasting from Cologne – at short notice by the control room at the race location,” says CBC’s production engineer, Fritz Behringer. “Recently, however, the infrastructure requirements have been established for implementing further elements of remote production. By using directional lines, the locations can now be redundantly – and economically – connected to the CMC.”
With an MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) network linking the race venue to the CBC facility, all live video and audio signals are delivered and made available in the control room in Cologne. This is achieved by using a Lawo Nova17 router and DSP engine plus an IFB mixer (all remotely controlled from Cologne), along with a Riedel intercom system.
File gathering and network control run in parallel using the same MPLS transfer. Production of the live races and accompanying coverage is managed using a touchscreen remote control for the IFB mixer, as well as a Lawo mc² audio mixing console in the CBC production control room. On-location production support comes from a video server with replay functionality.
“The main task was to find connectivity that could bring all relevant live signals and ENG-footage to Cologne – it was important to keep the performance and quality at least on the same level as before,” Fritz Behringer explains. “The second big issue was the handling of signal delay, originating from distances and codec latencies.” For checking the viability of the remote production concept, RTL hosted a test broadcast under real-world conditions. All the signals were sent around the globe once and the staff involved ran through all workflows to ensure that despite the considerable distances the interaction between control room and cameras and among the broadcast team did not suffer from delay issues.
With two months to go before the first race, the equipment was set up at _wige’s headquarters, the on-site production partner of RTL and CBC. This general rehearsal included testing the fiber connection to the control rooms at CBC.
Essential to the remote production was the low-latency IFB mixer setup, running on a Nova17 router and operated with two VisTool panels – one on-site for setup and testing and the second for the Sound Supervisor in Cologne to manage the EQ, dynamics, dimming, and other processing. In case of a failure of the MPLS network, VisTool provides fader access to provide a simple emergency mix.
Usually the Nova17 is remotely controlled from the Lawo mc²90 audio console at the audio control room in Cologne, with virtual GPIs flying over the network to the racetrack. This setup provides a perfect low-latency audio mix for presenter, reporter, and two interviewees in the pit lane or paddock, and two race commentators. A VSM (Virtual Studio Manager) system on-site controls all routings in the local SDI router, the Nova17 and Lawo V__pro8 processor, which is used for video and audio.
The new production operation went live-to-air from the first race of the season at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit. Having visited the Middle East, China, Russia, Europe, and North America, the remote setup has proved itself both capable and reliable throughout.
“Besides the pure signal transport, the main focus was on the functionality of equipment and mainly on workflows so that everybody in the team became aware of the different handling of the production, especially the communication between venue and the Cologne production center,” adds Behringer.
“The Formula One implementation is a very strong demonstration of how all Lawo products are able to exchange signals via IP using common control and offering the customer an integrated solution. In front of the cameras, the reporters were unaware of any changes to their work as a consequence of using remote production. All talkback and TB mixes were as good as those from a conventional production with OB van or container control room,” concludes Felix Krückels, Lawo’s director of business development.