SVG Europe Sit-Down: Simon Hawkings at Ross Video reveals key challenges ahead and considers the HDR scene

Ross Video delivers a range of products and services comprising virtual studios, real-time motion graphics, cameras, robotic camera systems, production switchers, video servers, infrastructure and routers, social media management, newsroom systems and mobile live events.

Our chat with Simon Hawkings, Technical Solutions Manager at Ross Video EMEA, starts with thoughts about IP.

What are your latest developments when it comes to the use of IP technology for sports broadcasting?

Ross is committed to offering our customers the best possible choices to help them make great productions. This means we are now deeply involved in the development of Video over IP technologies.

Simon Hawkings, Technical Solutions Manager at Ross Video EMEA

The industry is currently in a transition period where sports broadcasters are looking at ways to implement an IP infrastructure for their video and audio where relevant. Today, in most cases, that means dealing with both IP — ST2110 — and traditional video workflows and for that we require gateways. In order to allow best use of existing technologies and to continue working within the parameters that our customers have come to rely on, we are offering our Raptor-Edge gateway card which fits in our openGear chassis and allows 6 channels bi-directional gateway between 3G HD-SDI and ST2110 and vice versa.

We also have a point of use device, the Newt, that offers ST2110 to HDMI amongst other IO options. As technology moves on and the cost of vital IP components comes down we will see more and more source and destination devices supporting IP directly, and for this reason our gateway devices are software defined products.

That means once the Raptor has served its purpose as a gateway, a software license could be purchased to modify the firmware on the card to make it into a processor or some other function, yet to be defined.

Moving further forward, the real fun will start to happen when we can virtualise more and more of the processes that in the past required proprietary hardware, then IP infrastructure will come into its own and we will be talking much more about software defined production and all the benefits that come with it.

Your website states that ‘Ross Video is Smart Production’. What do you mean by that phrase?

Smart Production is really all about enablement. It’s based on the idea that content creators all over the world face different creative, business and technical challenges. Our job is to enable them meet those challenges regardless of their workflow, production model or platform.

There are certain themes that have emerged in the broadcast industry over the last few years — audience fragmentation, vendor consolidation, flat or declining production budgets, new production technologies, new content platforms and providers. It’s a tough time for many content creators, but I think our message is a very positive one: we’ve got a powerful range of solutions that can help you work faster and more efficiently and hence save you time, money and labour. That’s the essence of Smart Production.

Where will we be with regards to HDR by the end of this year?

Many broadcasters are seeing HDR/WCG as a way to provide a subjective improvement to the visual quality of the content they provide to their customers. The very nature of HDR makes this easier to deliver through an existing facility than, for example, moving from HD to UHD.

So, we will see facilities adopting the necessary devices and processes to create HDR/WCG pictures, but at the same time balancing the need to be backwards compatible. The other consideration will be maintaining colour correctness across multiple colour space systems; this is especially important when you are broadcasting a sports team in their chosen colour and showing advertisers content in theirs. It will certainly be a challenge to make sure these things are all done correctly.

What is your latest solution when it comes to trackless studios?

Ross introduced a trackless studio product a couple of years ago and it’s a very useful solution for smaller studios where space is at a premium. You really only need a single static camera, mounted on its side, and a modest amount of green screen — as little as 8 feet by 4 feet — in order to get going.

The beauty of the system is that the camera remains fixed in one place and all of the camera moves are programmed and happen virtually inside the graphics engine. That means you can create some very dynamic moves and shots without needing the same physical space.

You can also create large and impressive virtual set designs that are can be easily and quickly changed, allowing you to use your studio space for different shows and programme formats. It’s an extremely cost-effective and flexible solution, and definitely makes a lot of creative and commercial sense.

What challenges confront you over the next twelve months?

We are seeing some interesting movements in the sports broadcasting world and some of these are on the commercial side where recent entrants and content providers like Netflix and Amazon are getting into the business of buying rights for major sports leagues.

This could have a huge impact on an industry that has done things a certain way for many years. However, I’m sure this shift will help drive innovation and Ross will be at the forefront of that. From a technical point of view, we will see a wider adoption of UHD and HDR/WCG workflows within OBs and studio facilities.

“Recent entrants and content providers like Netflix and Amazon are getting into the business of buying rights for major sports leagues”

The next step will be providers finding ways to get that content to customers’ eyes in the best quality possible, and this is where the modern providers will have an easier time than some of the more traditional cable and satellite companies. Talking of OBs, we are also seeing a movement away from heavily stocked trucks to smaller OB systems and more remote production.

As the costs of moving content from place to place comes down, the need to roll expensive trucks is reducing, too. For marquee productions, of course, we will still see large trucks in the field and maybe even larger ones this year as the drive to produce content in UHD continues to grow. These are certainly interesting times!

What can we expect from Ross at IBC?

IBC is one of the largest shows we participate in, and of course we will take as much of the solutions range as we can. We have one of the widest portfolios in the industry and I think sometimes prospective customers are not always aware of the breadth of what we do, so IBC is obviously a great showcase for our company.

In terms of this year’s show, I can’t talk about new products too much at this stage – we still have some decisions to make around what we’ll launch in Amsterdam – but I know there will be significant developments in the realm of production switchers, robotics, graphics and infrastructure.

I thought NAB was a rather disappointing show generally from the perspective of new product announcements and Ross rather bucked the trend with over a dozen new products or significant updates. I understand that recent vendor consolidation has perhaps had an impact on this, but I’d hope to see more in the way of new products and innovation this year. That’s good for the industry, and customers are always looking for choice and options. We’ll certainly have a lot to talk about, for sure.

Do you have an innovative sports related case study you can tell us about?

In terms of customer case studies, we’ve had many successes this year in the US, including installations at the Mercedes Benz stadium in Atlanta, LA FC and the San Antonio Alamodome in Texas. Elsewhere in the world, a notable highlight was the work we did at the Adelaide Oval stadium in Australia, helping KOJO – the content producers – to run their ribbon boards and all digital signage with our XPression Tessera product.

We also did a lot of work this year with FC Basel in Switzerland helping them to revamp their match-day content and refurb their control room. One of the trends we’ve seen recently has been the development of ever more unusual displays — in terms of shape and size — inside stadiums and it’s been a real technical challenge for the match-day production teams to get their graphics content to render on these displays without looking strange.

“We did a lot of work this year with FC Basel in Switzerland helping them to revamp their match-day content and refurb their control room”

We actually developed a product to deal with this issue, which began life when we were approached by the developers of the Mercedes Benz stadium with their vision for the huge ‘halo’ screen running all the way around the retractable roof. It’s proving to be very popular and that demonstrates how sports teams and stadia are trying to be ever more creative and engaging with their match-day content.

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