With Ronen Artman, LiveU
Cellular uplinking continues to change the way that video is gathered in the field, bringing new levels of flexibility and cost-effectiveness. The technology allows broadcasters to alter the way that they approach events, be that news, sports, community activities or anything in between. It has also delivered high quality live video to the online community, bringing events closer to users, providing previously unimaginable levels of engagement, and helping to provide a 360 degree experience - look at the US election coverage and the associated tweeting to see what a major role cellular-based uplink technology played.
London 2012 was a clear tipping point for the technology based on LiveU’s deployment figures: over 3,000 transmission hours; around 1.5 TB used; and over 100 units in use to cover the Games - about 20 broadcasting at any given time during the day. That represents a sea change from the early use of the technology by NBC at the Beijing Games four years earlier.
From a market leading supplier’s point of view, this means a move to a more rounded, solutions-based market approach to offer customers a complete end-to-end transmission solution, adding laptop and mobile apps alongside flagship models as well as further developing the family of handheld products.
Not all bonded modem technologies are created – or developed – equally. There are considerable real-world differences in usability and, crucially, reliability in terms of signal delivery. There are also considerable variations in overall service provision. Here’s a clear, concise 10-point guide to the key points that customers should explore before choosing their unit. So what does Ronen Artman, VP of Marketing with LiveU think?
Q: What are the challenges for cellular transmission technology and how can they be overcome?
Ronen: While high-quality video experience relies on smooth and uninterrupted video delivery, cellular links are inherently unstable and fluctuate continuously. Transmitting video over such a link may result in black screens, video breaks, pixelisation, jitters, audio problems, lost lip-sync etc., even over 4G networks and from stationary locations. This requires both highly advanced bonded modem and RF technology to provide extra-strong resiliency even in areas with poor cellular coverage e.g. on the move or in crowded locations. From bustling urban environments to underground tunnels, high-rise office buildings and crowded public events, the market-leading technology overcomes cellular multipath fading and poor cellular coverage, taking "anywhere" to a whole new level.
This also greatly enhances mobility with the latest external antenna technology able to be vehicle-mounted (or remotely located), opening another world of possibilities. This creates a revolutionary mobile newsgathering (MNG) vehicle with satellite-like reliability, faster set-up time and lower overheads than traditional SNG trucks.
Q: How do customers – be they online or broadcast – handle the complexity of data plans/payment models?
Ronen: Customers shouldn’t have to worry about complex data plans. Supplying all the SIMs and data plans necessary to provide high-quality video streaming from the field with only one monthly invoice releases the customer from the hassles of SIM card management and payment. By using a leased-based model, users can also stay current with the latest hardware, software, and fastest data connections through upgrades to the latest available version. This is essential in such a fast-paced environment. Of course 24/7/365 customer support, comprehensive warranty, hardware, software, installation and training is a given.
Q: How is roaming handled?
Ronen: While it may not be essential for all customers, roaming support is clearly vital for some. There’s two ways to do this: an automatic roaming unit, ready for operation across multiple countries, right out of the box. For example, across Europe, users can operate the same unit in different countries without running into any local telecom service-related hassles or additional roaming charges. This enables users to respond quickly to regional events, with no delays.
A second option is to provide the ability for customers to use their own units when roaming, by simply obtaining their own local SIM cards at the international destination and easily adding them. A good manufacturer or local partner can also recommend the optimal cellular resources to be used in each destination.
Q: What is the relationship between signal delay on signal quality?
Ronen: There’s always some trade-off between ultimate quality and signal delay but for broadcast interview use, customers should expect a unit to be able to achieve sub-second latency – but not all can. It’s essential that customers ask this question when exploring the market if they want to have access to that level of flexibility.
Q: So what about back-end connectivity?
Ronen: Of course for broadcast use this requires SDI-out but that’s not the case for streaming. A multi-client video receiver should use off-the-shelf hardware with the server software supporting multiple field units simultaneously with SDI outputs, FME, WME, and H.264 streaming. In the case of SDI, the card in the server then connects to the studio switcher for routing the video in the studio.
Being able to easily integrate with the growing range of CDNs/OVPs is vital. The cellular uplinking technology should support any platform that can receive an encoded RTMP feed, using Flash Media, or H.264. Alternatively, a physical SDI output should be able to be used to push video from the server to any kind of hardware-based web encoders.
Q: How complex are these units to operate – how much manpower do they require?
Ronen: Flagship broadcast units need to provide flexible control. A unit should easily be able to be fully controlled by a single operator in the field using an intuitive touch-screen interface and/or an external touch-screen. Additionally, remote control should be an option from any computer or using a variety of mobile devices such as iPhone, iTouch, Android, and iPad. In order to achieve the best results quickly, the best engineered technology can help users by analysing conditions in the field and automatically recommending the most suitable video settings.
Q: How can signals from a variety of sources be handled in a production environment?
Ronen: As mentioned above, the cellular uplinking landscape is now changing with the story dictating what level of connectivity is required, from market-leading units that provide a satellite-like level of service all the way to smart phones that can now take advantage of the technology. This means that broadcasters can let the story define what technology is required, rather than vice versa – or indeed missing the story completely as sometimes previously happened because of the lack of deployment speed and mobility afforded by SNG units. But to take full advantage of this a broadcast facility requires a feed-handling platform that those in a master control room can use to either take the incoming content from multiple locations and devices straight to air or record to server. This is now possible from a single control ecosystem.
Q: What are the power requirements?
Ronen: In terms of powering units, again flexibility is key and in no way should power issues limit the use of the technology in the field. Anton Bauer, IDX and Sony V-Mount batteries are the most popular options that users should look for, with single or dual hot-swappable batteries as an integral, cable-free, part of the backpack. The cellular uplink unit should of course also be able to operate with a direct DC power supply, come equipped with a built-in ion-lithium battery, and support additional hot-swappable battery types. This will provide the level of portability and power options that users need.
Q: What can customers expect when it comes to transmission options from the field?
Rone: While live transmission is of course one option, store and forward in flagship units – and likely increasingly handheld units too – is also vital. Fast File Transfer (FTP with multiple modes) for fast upload of pre-recorded material from anywhere into the workflow is also highly desirable; IFB (return audio channel from studio) and local recording on the transmitting unit or on externally attached storage device are also possible. A live feed is not always required. Input support from a variety of field editing and switching devices, and therefore support multi-camera productions and real-time field editing, is also possible so users should enquire about that too.
Q: So what’s possible with this technology now?
Ronen: As previously mentioned – and as is clear from these ten answers – almost anything is now possible with this technology, from a full HD, satellite-like experience to handheld, point-and-shoot on-the-spot to capture the completely unexpected. Not all stories are equal, so the level of technology required varies. From Tier-1 broadcasters downwards, there are so many ways of providing live video –users can precisely select the technology they require for the job at hand wherever the story is taking them. Ask for a test drive, see what works for you and dive in to the new world of live video transmission.