The bonded cellular technology at the heart of today’s IP newsgathering systems has achieved such a level of maturity that many vendors have begun addressing the finer points, such as how to more closely integrate the workflow of reporters in the field with the newsroom and maintaining network speeds even when working within the confines of a VPN. At the same time, frenemy and outright competitors have arisen and are looking to make headway with stations by offering systems they say will reduce or eliminate ever-rising wireless data bills. Photo: LiveU. Click here to access TVNewsCheck’s NAB 2017 Resource Guide listing of ENG/IP Newsgathering vendors and products or here to download it as a PDF.
IP Tech Tackles Workflow, Wireless Costs
The shape of ENG has changed a lot over the past decade with the introduction and broad acceptance of bonded cellular systems for TV newsgathering. At the 2017 NAB Show next month, sources say this category of technology will enter a maturing phase where emphasis will be placed on finer points, like maximizing efficiency, integrating more deeply with newsroom workflow and minding operating costs, while competitors look to leave their mark.
“The crack cocaine of the news director is the bonded cellular system that we have all enjoyed so much over the last several years,” says Jim Ocon, VP, business development at Persistent Systems, a wireless networking system provider offering IP transceivers that can complement or replace bonded cellular systems.
The yearly data charge for one ENG backpack equipped with two to three cellular modems and contributing 100 hours of news per month can range between $5,000 and $7,000, he says. “This is a huge pain point for our industry and it has everything to do with ever-rising data costs.”
At the NAB Show (April 22-27 in Las Vegas), Persistent Systems will show its MPU5 transceivers, which automatically find each other in an instant to form an IP Mesh Data Network using the company’s Mobile Ad hoc Networking (MANET) system.
While the Persistent System offering can be used to get a signal from inside a building out to a bonded cellular backpack or ENG truck for signal contribution to the station or in lieu of IP backpacks, Accelerated Media Technologies (AMT) offers an outright replacement for backpacks and satellite contribution with its ENGenesis wireless system that brings LTE technology to 2 GHz BAS channels.
“The idea is you build an infrastructure; you build the network” says Steve DeFala, AMT director of sales. “So, you are in network, and you are not paying per bit like the guys do with bonded cellular and satellite.”
AMT officially introduced ENGenesis at last year’s NAB Show. Since then it has completed the installation of the system at WJXT, the Graham Media Group-owned independent in Jacksonville, Fla.
At this year’s show, the company will unveil “very user-friendly interfaces” for use in the studio and the news vehicle to make ENGenesis contribution a “one-button-push” operation, he says. “We are trying to make it so you don’t have to use all of your master control time dialing in a shot. It’s as automated as it could be.”
JVCKenwood will tackles the operational costs of cellular network data plans for bonded systems a little differently. At the NAB Show New York in November 2016, it introduced the ProHD Bridge, a wireless base station that can receive 5 GHZ Wi-Fi transmissions from multiple, untethered JVC cameras up to 2,000 feet away and turn those incoming IP camera streams for contribution to the station via bonded cellular connections.
However, the difference with the ProHD Bridge is that it can achieve robust connectivity to the station with two active bonded modems and two in reserve, says Dave Walton, JVCKenwood assistant VP.
“We don’t need to have eight modems [with eight data plans] in the unit,” he says. “It’s not necessary … because much better antenna arrays are positioned on the vehicle as part of the system.”
In April, the company will offer additional new products making use of this concept, says Walton, who declined to give additional details about the introductions.
Many major ENG camera vendors, including Sony, Panasonic and Canon, are building wireless and wired LAN connectivity into some of their models. For example, the compact Canon XF-205, which will be featured at the company’s NAB Show booth, is equipped with support for streaming via 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi connections or a LAN cable.
Relying on Wi-Fi connectivity rather than wireless modems allows broadcasters to sidestep the data charges associated with cellular plans, says Larry Thorpe, Canon senior fellow. “Some companies are putting more and more into the powerful engines in their smaller cameras, essentially giving them a central interface to Wi-Fi networks,” he says.
Suppliers of bonded cellular backpacks and camera backs are fully aware of the data charges their customers face, and at the NAB Show there will be a special emphasis on efficiency, says Paul Shen, founder and CEO of TVUNetworks.
“We’ve seen usage [of IP newsgathering contribution] increase. Daily live news [at some stations] has grown from six or seven hours to nine-and-a-half hours,” he says.
Not surprisingly, growing dependency on mobile ENG equipment has accompanied this expansion, Shen says.
“As stations increase their usage, they want to be able to continue managing costs. In fact, they don’t want to see a significant increase in cost,” he says.
(Note: Click here to access TVNewsCheck’s NAB 2017 Resource Guide listing of ENG/IP newsgathering vendors and products.)
TVUNetworks will show several new steps it is taking to increase efficiency and manage costs at the NAB Show, including the use of H.265 High Efficiency Video Coding, which will dramatically reduce the number of bits needed to contribute video at today’s quality level.
Another step will be integration with AP’s ENPS newsroom computer and “some major camera manufacturers” aimed at achieving operational efficiencies and streamlining workflows, he says.
Vendors on the contribution side of the ENG equation have long been looking for ways to tie operations in the field more closely into the newsroom. Even as far back as during the 2 GHz BAS relocation project, some COFDM microwave specialists were showing products at the NAB Show to enable ftp file transfers over microwave links. But those early products only hinted at what would be possible in an IP world.
“Whether you ask a photog, an editor or an MMJ [multimedia journalist], they all are doing more,” says Bogdan Frusina, founder and CTO of Dejero. “Their tasks have increased, and they have to have access to their network at the office with the ability to transfer files back and forth.”
What is needed is a fast, secure and reliable connection from the field to the newsroom to enable a seamless remote working experience with access to all of the tools and content available at the station, he says.
At the NAB Show, Dejero will respond with the Dejero Gateway, a package of equipment for the news vehicle, software, cellular connectivity services, cloud management and support that enables connectivity of more than 100 Mbps, even with a VPN, he says.
Avid is looking to enable tight collaboration between the newsroom and the field with its new Avid MediaCentral UX, says Pam Gill, the company’s senior broadcast segment marketing manager.
With MediaCentral UX, journalists in the field can make video accessible to everyone in the station with a Dropbox-like app as well as stay in contact with what is going on inside the newsroom, getting new assignments and accessing all the other functions of the Avid iNews newsroom computer.
“It’s like being in the newsroom without being there,” she says.
The Fiber Connection
There will be more to ENG at the NAB Show than wireless connectivity. Fiber optic transport via systems from companies like MultiDyne and Grass Valley’s Telecast Fiber continue to play a role in news, although the primary broadcast users of these types of systems continue to be involved in multicamera productions of live sporting events.
For instance, a live shot from a docked cruise ship for a national morning newscast recently ran into trouble when the wireless mic system failed to operate during setup, says Frank Jachetta, president of MultiDyne. In effect, the steel hull of the ship acted like one big Faraday cage for the wireless system.
“What we did was take the antenna off the receiver in the truck and bring it into the stateroom on the ship,” explains Jachetta. “Then we took that antenna’s RF output modulated on fiber and brought it back to the [ENG] truck, outputted the RF to the microphone system’s traditional receiver, and it never know the difference.”
Jachetta describes fiber connectivity in ENG as “a pretty stable brick-and-mortar element,” and one that won’t see dramatic technology enhancements till stations face some of the hurdles sports producers encounter today, like 12G transport. “There’s not a lot of 4K in news,” he says.
Sebastian Mucha, director of research and development at Grass Valley, echoes Jachetta’s sentiments. “I haven’t seen too many change in news. Sports is very demanding with 4K, uncompressed pushing the envelope.”
Remember The Future
Today, bonded cellular systems have an established track record of reliable contribution of news and sports from the field, says Avi Cohen, co-founder and COO of LiveU, which will feature several recently introduced products at the NAB Show, including the LU600 transmission unit with H.265 HEVC encoding.
However, even with that success a constant question LiveU has faced over the years is whether the steady progress wireless carriers have made with their network speeds will obviate the need to bond multiple cellular modems together.
“Ten or 11 years ago, they told us, ‘You know 3G is coming. When it does there won’t be a need for bonding,’ ” says Cohen. “Then eight years ago, they said, ‘LTE is coming, do you still think there will be bonding?’
“Yes, as time has passed the bandwidth has increased, but on the other hand the demand has increased,” he says.
Not only has LiveU seen the number of bonded cellular backpacks double over the past couple of years, but there has also been steady demand for higher and higher image quality — SD to 720p and 1080i and now to 4K — that keeps the bonded-vs.-network-speed race neck and neck, he says.
The addition of new social media users streaming video for distribution via avenues like Facebook Live has only served to boost demand for bandwidth further, he adds.
Wireless network advancements continue to fuel the success of IP newsgathering, says Chris Crump, director of sales at Comrex, which will be showcasing the latest developments in its LiveShot two-way IP newsgathering system at NAB.
“We depend on the cellular networks for our bread and butter,” Crump says. “So just the improvement in data networks has been an advantage for us.”
In fact, the networks and bonded technology may have gotten so good that they are driving what could prove to be a new genre of TV, and Live PD, a Big Fish Entertainment production airing Friday night on A&E since October 2016, may be one of the first examples, says Jim Jachetta, EVP and CTO at VidOvation.
“I think VidOvation and our partner AviWest have been involved in what we see as a new television category. I’m calling it live reality TV,” he says.
(VidOvation, the master distributor of AviWest bonded cellular systems in the U.S., will show several new products at the NAB Show, including the VidOwave 10GigE 60 GHz broadband and wireless data connectivity solution.)
The show follows police officers from different cities on Friday nights as they respond to calls and assist the public. The hook is this is live TV, or at least nearly live, says Jachetta.
“Big Fish promised A&E they could do this live reality cop show without having a satellite truck following each police car,” he says.
While bonded cellular offered the mobility needed, the producers were concerned that syncing multiple bonded units to avoid noticeable skips in time when switching between cameras as well as lip sync errors might be impossible. However, AviWest had a track record of successfully switching between units in a similar sort of application for a show in France, says Jachetta.
“Live PD is a great way to showcase the [bonded cellular] technology, and it demonstrates these systems are reaching the reliability level of satellite,” he says.
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