New streaming encoders in cameras are delivering HD picture quality good enough to go directly to air. That gives stations new options for IP contribution besides the common bonded cellular workflow. Above, KOAA Colorado Springs uses a JVCKenwood ProHD portable bridge in the field. Click here to access TVNewsCheck’s NAB 2018 Resource Guide listing of field operations vendors and products or here to download it as a PDF.
Many broadcasters have already embraced IP technology in their newsgathering operations by using bonded cellular systems to send feeds from the field back to the station. Now they are looking to use new encoding and radio technology to create an IP path directly from the camcorder to the studio, which could give them improved editing workflows as well as more transmission options.
Driving this new functionality are the H.264 streaming encoders built into most of today’s news camcorders, which can generate a low-bit-rate HD feed suitable for IP transport over Ethernet, Wi-Fi or cellular networks.
These streaming codecs are designed to complement the primary MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 encoders the camcorders use to compress video for high-quality recording on solid-state or SD memory cards, by creating proxy video for editing, and supporting Web applications like feeding live to Facebook or YouTube.
But some broadcasters are finding that the HD picture quality these streaming encoders deliver is good enough to go directly to air. That gives them new options for IP contribution besides the common bonded cellular workflow, where a station feeds a baseband HD/SDI signal into a TVU, LiveU or Dejero backpack unit and relies on that system’s encoder to compress the video for transmission.
“Some customers are purely using the [XDCAM] cameras with the built-in encoder and a Sony receiver,” says Martin Lindsay, product manager for Sony wireless and workflow solutions. “It’s a low-cost solution where every camera operator has the ability to send back video.”
XDCAM customers can buy a USB dongle with a single LTE modem directly from a wireless carrier and use that to stream live directly from the camera, a technique being employed by Scripps-owned WXYZ Detroit. They can plug an RG-45 Ethernet cable directly into an IP-enabled device — such as a broadband modem or mesh network radio — to transmit from the field; CNN is doing that today with Silvus Technologies’ mesh network radios in Washington, D.C. Or they can use a Wi-Fi adapter to wirelessly connect their streaming camcorder with their smartphone and use it as a hotspot, which Lindsay says is the most popular option.
Using a single LTE connection obviously isn’t as robust as a bonded system, with multiple modems and multiple antennas delivering higher throughput and better connectivity, particularly in interference-prone urban environments.
Bonded cellular vendors say that camcorders’ internal H.264 encoders have much greater latency than their systems (a point disputed by some camera vendors) and that they don’t dynamically adjust the bit rate depending on varying network conditions as they do.
They also note that streaming camcorders don’t have next-generation HEVC compression like the latest bonded systems, which can deliver equivalent HD quality in half the bit rate as H.264.
“A camera can’t compete,” says TVU Networks CEO Paul Shen, who has seen strong sales of the HEVC unit TVU launched last year.
TVU loads its bonded cellular hardware with extra processing power to enable future encoder software upgrades, Shen says, and doesn’t have to worry about power consumption issues like a camcorder manufacturer. He thinks the industry should be taking the opposite tack, with the camera serving more as a high-quality sensor and the processing happening downstream in devices like the TVU One, which has 0.5-second latency and can use a variety of IP connections including LTE, Ka- and Ku-band satellite and mesh networks.
“You really need a closed loop,” adds Jim Jachetta, EVP of engineering and CTO for Vidovation, which markets Aviwest’s bonded cellular products in North America. “The transmission mechanism needs to be tied into the decoder and encoder. The decoder drives the bus and tells the encoder to slow down when it’s dropping packets.”
Having an accurate picture of network conditions and adjusting the encoder dynamically to respond is definitely part of the secret sauce behind IP contribution systems, says Kevin Fernandes, VP of sales at Dejero. To that point, Dejero’s latest product, CellSat, is designed to blend bonded cellular and Ku-band satellite capacity and seamlessly switch the bulk of the data load from one path to the other depending on network performance.
But Fernandes thinks that Dejero could eventually achieve some of the same functionality with a high-performance camera-based encoder — if it was able to accurately control it.
“We definitely need an encoder to do what we need to do from a high-quality, low-latency perspective,” Fernandes says. “The evolution is to be able to utilize other people’s encoder, and getting the same quality of latency and image quality. The challenge is, how do we become interoperable and figure it out? The tricks of bonded cell are understanding the network and how to control the encoder. That’s how the magic happens.”
JVCKenwood’s approach has been to build both pieces of the puzzle. The company was one of the first camera manufacturers to offer a built-in streaming encoder in a news camcorder with its ProHD line. In the past two years it has extended the camcorder’s functionality with its ProHD Wireless Bridge line of bonded cellular transmission gear, which can bond up to four modems from carriers like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint and connect directly to the cameras via Ethernet cable or wirelessly through Wi-Fi camera adapters.
JVCKenwood offers a $3,499 compact ProHD dockable unit (SFM-CAM2), weighing about one pound, which mounts directly on the ProHD camcorder between the camera body and battery and runs off the battery. There is also a $5,500 backpack unit (PB-CELL200) with more powerful antennas, which weighs about four pounds, which can receive multiple camera streams via 5-gigahertz Wi-Fi; and a $6,000 rooftop model (WB-CELL200) designed for news vehicles which includes four small cellular antennas as well as a larger one for Wi-Fi networking.
Feeds are received back at the station by JVC’s Wireless Bridge VPN router (BPL-380), which can aggregate up to 20 cellular uplinks. The company has also developed a software-based monitoring system, Command Center, which provides a real-time map of ProHD systems in the field as well as live video feeds and performance information on signal strength and error correction.
“It gives you an encrypted VPN tunnel to the station, just like devices connected over a LAN [local area network],” says Joe D’Amico, JVCKenwood’s VP of broadcast sales. “And it’s a two-way path, so you can send return video or prompter to the people in the field.”
JVC sell two different wireless adapters for the ProHD cameras, a $78 “prosumer” Hawking unit and a $750 professional model (WB-MCA100A). The latter has a 2,000-foot range when used with the rooftop bridge system. With the rooftop unit, a vehicle can also act as a Wi-Fi hotspot out in the field to support a range of functions outside of contribution feeds, D’Amico says.
Stations using the ProHD Wireless Bridge include Waterman Broadcasting’s KOAA Colorado Springs, Colo., and WBBH Fort Myers, Fla.; Raycom’s WTVM Columbus, Ga.; Cordillera Communications’ KRIS Corpus Christi, Texas, and KSBY San Luis Obispo, Calif.; Nexstar’s KSEE Fresno, Calif.; and Televisa in Mexico, which has purchased 25 systems.
JVC’s cameras use a host of open protocols for H.264 streaming, including SMPTE 2022, UDP, RTSP, RTMP and Zixi. While the cameras can stream at up to 12 Mbps, broadcasters typically stream at about 5 Mbps for 1080i/60 HD, 3 Mbps for 720p/30 HD and 1.5 to 2 Mbps for standard-definition.
“That’s good enough for on-air using the least amount of data,” D’Amico says.
For recorded packages, D’Amico is seeing a mix of workflows among ProHD customers with some stations FTPing high-res MPEG-2 files (25-35 Mbps) right from the camera, others editing on a laptop and sending a finished package back via ProHD Bridge, and some just streaming H.264 and recording it back at the station.
“It’s allowing the people at the station to have access to video quicker and to take more control if needed, so people out in the field can concentrate on getting good pictures,” says D’Amico. “It takes some of the load out of the people in the field.”
Streamlining The Edit Workflow
Sony and Panasonic have built cloud-based subscription services, XDCAM air and P2 Cast, respectively, to facilitate the distribution of proxy video from their camcorders in the field back to the station. The goal is to provide editors easy initial access to the content sitting on the camcorder so they can deliver a high-resolution, finished product more quickly.
Camcorders outfitted with 4G LTE dongle-type modems automatically push the proxies to the cloud. Editors can access the proxies, use them to create an edit decision list (EDL) and then direct the transfer of hi-res footage from the camcorder to their local server.
Panasonic sees its P2 Cast cloud-based system as a “near-live” solution for feeding proxies for news editing and promo creation, says Delix Alex, Panasonic product manager for professional PTZ cameras and IP networking systems. He says some P2 customers have experimented with streaming via “MiFi” type LTE devices, but that bonded backpack systems like TVU and LiveU are still the main solution for live shots.
Panasonic has done integrations with both systems to plug an Ethernet connection into them, in order to provide IP-based functions like remote camera control and monitoring the link status in the viewfinder.
Alex places more emphasis on the integrations Panasonic has made with the Adobe Premiere and Avid Media Composer editing systems, to be able to push an EDL directly to P2 cameras in the field and have high-res video automatically sent back to fill the editing timeline.
“Coming from last NAB into this NAB, a big part of our push is now connecting the newsroom workflow, the NLEs, the newsroom [computer] system, the MAM to the camera via P2 Cast,” he says.
Grass Valley has been developing such a workflow between its Edius nonlinear editing software and GV Stratus content management system and Panasonic’s P2 Cast.
The concept is that when a camera operator starts to record with a Panasonic P2 camcorder, a proxy file is immediately sent to the P2 Cast cloud and then back down to the Stratus server at the station, where an editor can look at the proxies in a dedicated “camera record” folder and start stitching them together.
Grass Valley has also developed the ability for an Edius editor in the field to access proxies stored on the local server at the station.
“We’ve created a very cohesive workflow to allow somebody out in the field to be very tightly integrated into the newsroom without actually stepping foot inside it,” says Drew Martin, Grass Valley product manager for GV Stratus.
Sony and Panasonic concede their streaming encoders aren’t purpose-built for live IP contribution like bonded cellular units. But they say they deliver latency in the 1.5 to 2-second range, similar to earlier bonded systems, and that their QoS (quality of service) streaming can deliver good HD picture quality in 5-6 Mbps, which is the most a single LTE connection can handle anyway.
They also say that roughly 25% of a station’s camcorders might be attached to a bonded cell backpack unit, particularly at smaller stations with tighter budgets. So, the combination of a streaming encoder and an LTE dongle at least gives the remaining photographers the opportunity to go live.
“If they’re buying a camera, they kind of have a backpack built into it,” says Lindsay. “So they don’t have to worry about buying a separate backpack encoder. They’ve got an encoder built into it, so they say, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’ That’s really a key advantage.”
What is also built into some camcorders — or easily added with an adapter — is Wi-Fi networking capability. As JVC, Sony and Panasonic can all attest, 2- and 5-GHz Wi-Fi is becoming increasingly important as a short-range, two-way connection between camcorders and an IP uplink, whether that’s a smartphone or bonded cell system. Wi-Fi works particularly well in less populated markets where there isn’t a lot of interference.
IMT Vislink, which has created a bi-directional IP contribution system for the 2 GHz BAS microwave spectrum called Newsnet, has built a high-powered Wi-Fi radio into its Newsnet truck module to provide Wi-Fi umbrella coverage around the truck.
“We have done some work on integrating the JVC [ProHD] Wi-Fi cameras into Newsnet, with a link into their encoder, so we can manage the encoding bit rates of the camera as the link characteristics change,” says John Payne, president of the Americas for IMT Vislink.
Payne notes that in working with streaming cameras like ProHD, one is faced with encoders that aren’t optimized for variable bit rate encoding. More important, a Wi-Fi link has challenges in urban environments, where its range might only be 100 feet.
So as it looks to build out all the pieces of the newsnet system, IMT Vislink has created a new low-latency, COFDM camera-back wireless transmitter, the Microlite 2, that will serve a one-way link to the truck and then be plugged into Newsnet.
Eventually IMT Vislink plans to develop a small backpack system that will serve as a direct pipe into Newsnet, but that is probably a year away, says Payne, as the company has focused first on truck and helicopter systems. He says that Newsnet testing has shown a throughput of 20 Mbps at a range of up to 30 miles.
Accelerated Media Technologies is competing with IMT Vislink in bringing bi-directional IP workflows to the BAS spectrum with its ENGenesis “private LTE” system. The company plans to unveil at NAB a camera module, StreetNode Lite, that will work with streaming camcorders like the JVC Pro HD GY-HM660 to transmit through the ENGenesis system.
AMT is also developing a backpack version, called StreetNode, that will be similar in form factor to bonded units and work in similar fashion — once the ENGenesis network is rolled out in a market. AMT Director of Sales Steve DeFala says the StreetNode products are aimed squarely at stations that are moving away from large live trucks.
“It’s all about ROI, and all about saving stations money,” DeFala says. “If you have coverage in New York City, the backpack is going to work fine. It’s not going to connect if you take the same backpack to New Haven, Conn. — unless you have [an ENGenesis] site in New Haven County.”
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