VITEC’s MGW ACE Encoders and MGW ACE Decoders have formed the backbone of a remote production system created by fixed-rig specialist Minicams. The bespoke system – named the Cloud-rig – has been specifically developed to enable a highly portable remote production solution for fixed-rig filming, including documentaries. The system records local high resolution edit ready files, whilst streaming high quality ultra-low latency pictures and audio back to production staff, allowing pan/tilt cameras to be operated remotely from across the globe. Minicams has two fully developed portable Cloud-rig systems available to ship out and use, which both use the VITEC equipment.
“As a company, we have seen a lot of interest in small portable fixed rig systems, where we can be in a room and operate and set up somewhere else within the same building,” says Nick McLachlan, Managing Director, Minicams. “When the pandemic happened, we needed to find a way of doing that remotely. Fortunately for us we had worked on a remote production system back in 2014, but due to the available technology at the time and slow domestic broadband speeds, we encountered delay with both streaming the video and the camera control. The missing piece of the jigsaw was being able to ensure low latency, reliable, high quality pictures being streamed back to us at our control room, where the robotic cameras are being operated from. That’s where the VITEC ACE encoder came in. Using the HEVC and SRT streaming, it was faultless, and incredible compared to what we had previously; it was almost like we were operating next door. This was critical as any excessive latency on the video can really confuse the hot head operator when controlling the cameras remotely. We’ve used it in the UK and in the US, and thanks to the low latency we could be precise with the camera operation and create a programme that visually looked the same as if we were all set up in a gallery on location.”
Minicams’ Cloud-rig is a six-camera system, with a built-in encoder and decoder. The system is unobtrusive and portable and can be shipped out to the client in a small number of PELI cases. The client plugs in the system and is guided through the process by remote staff, who connect remotely to check that the cameras are operating and audio are optimal – a process which Nick describes as akin to a “guided dry hire” or a “hybrid” process. MGW ACE Encoder is a compact HEVC (H.265) hardware encoder delivering ultra-low latency HEVC streaming down to 16ms glass-to-glass. The MGW ACE Decoder provides 4:2:2 10-bit HEVC and H.264 decoding from IP or DVB-ASI as well as genlock support, and is 4K ready with its 12G-SDI and HDMI outputs.
“We’re able to control and view everything very reliably over domestic broadband connections,” adds Nick. “A lot of what we do is observational documentaries in remote locations, so we don’t have the luxury of being able to go into a studio with dedicated connectivity. Because we film for long periods of time – sometimes 12-14 hours a day, for multiple days in a row – we are not able to use 4G or 5G connections because the price would be prohibitive. As we specialise in multi-channel edit ready recording, this solution was a real gamechanger for us. The colour reproduction is also excellent. We looked at other manufacturers, but I liked the build quality I saw with VITEC, and I was able to get support very easily. It was cost effective and delivered everything we needed, and it’s a brand I respect.”
Nick sees the remote production shift seen during the pandemic continue to be a strong option for productions in the documentary sector: “Traditionally, the client and the production team like to be as close to contributors and cameras as possible, even if we can’t go in and have direct interaction, we like the feeling of being close. But now, being able to get everything back reliably with low latency has changed things. There’s a new confidence where the production team can be removed from where the action is happening. It has also become more acceptable as a way of working for everyone. I can see this as being the way of the future, with perhaps fewer people on location and others dispersed geographically. It opens up possibilities and has shown our clients a different way of being able to work reliably.”
“Minicams has created an elegant solution that makes innovative use of our low latency technology,” says Mark Rushton, Business Development Manager, VITEC. “We’re delighted that the team – and its clients – have been impressed by the performance of the encoder and decoder pairing, which have enabled this innovative remote production solution.”
Equipment supplied by UK partner Lorna Garrett of Garland, now MD of Zest Technologies who continues to be VITEC’s Broadcast partner.