Field Report: Making Live Esports IP Broadcasting Awesome

LTN Global Communications helped Boombox successfully stream the 2019 FIA Gran Turismo World Championship Tour with live, broadcast-quality TV streams in 7 languages.

Montreal-based TV sports producer Boombox specializes in both live TV broadcasts and esports. The company recently completed production and transmission of the 2019 FIA Gran Turismo World Championship Tour, one of the world’s most popular esports events. The series of annual championships are held at indoor facilities located near famous motorsport racing venues around the world.

Boombox has learned that streaming live, remote, world-championship indoor esports events from around the world becomes far more reliable when you can control the internet. To achieve that end, Boombox set up its internet connections for 2019 FIA Gran Turismo World Championship Tour in partnership with LTN Global Communications.

Bruce Wilkinson with LTN Broadcast Streaming Services explains why. “LTN isn’t satellite or fiber. LTN controls its own network of datacenters and manages Tier 1 ISP overlays with the ability to push ingested transport streams from source to destination, while avoiding network congestion, providing ultra-low latency, 99.999% SLA-backed transport reliability, and 1080p60 high-quality video streams. Content from the LTN Network is currently trusted by hundreds of major broadcasters and TV stations around the globe.”

The Production

Gran Turismo Sport (GT Sport) is a popular and realistic racing video game, developed and released worldwide in 2017 by Polyphony Digital, and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment for PlayStation 4.

GT Sport is known worldwide for competitive online racing and supported by FIA, the international governing body of motorsport. FIA support assures the unique realism and authenticity of each race car and course in GT Sport. Some say success in the FIA Gran Turismo World Championships is a pathway for future international motor racing superstars.

Video sources for the show are PlayStation 4s for live action with built-in graphics, studio cameras and live graphics. Boombox Director William Robitaille explained “When Boombox produced the FIA Gran Turismo World Championships in 2018, the company used OB vans at different locations and a LTN Flypack with a technician to setup and locally monitor the IP transport connection for distribution.”

For the 2019 world tour, LTN provided Boombox with a custom LTN Flypack with integrated redundancy, and with all settings and firewall restrictions pre-programmed specifically for Boombox. The Flypack includes live, private, network performance feedback data gathered from LTN’s monitoring system for the on-site tech to monitor network performance. LTN logistics operations helped Boombox by staging and managing shipments of Flypack to venues around the world.

On-site sound booths were the sources of  live comments in multiple languages. Getty Images Photo.

On-site sound booths were the sources of live comments in multiple languages. Getty Images Photo.

The international show is produced in English, and there were six additional sound booths with commentators on-site for language-specific streams. The non-English commentators listen to the international sound and translate when they feel it’s necessary. Boombox designed an audio system that automatically dips the international sound on language-specific streams when a non-English commentator speaks.

Boombox feeds the separate languages to LTN via the Flypack-encoded live stream as independent audio channels. LTN transported the Flypack stream with multiple languages to LTN processing data centers where LTN created individual single language-specific streams for the appropriate markets.

Content Distribution

Connection to the LTN backbone network happens over the local ISP, who provides the famous, so-called first- and last-mile network service, over which LTN proprietary protocols provide high-quality error correction and jitter control. LTN has the real-time ability to reroute streams over the last-miles ISPs as well as the LTN backbone. 

If LTN detects an issue, in a matter of milliseconds, it reroutes the stream before it impacts Quality of Service (QoS) or Quality of Experience (QoE). Primary deciding factors include bandwidth stability and error rates. The company guarantees broadcast-quality video transport in real time, and LTN continually monitors the end-to-end signal path for choke points and its 24/7 NOC will call the customer and/or network provider for immediate remedial action when issues are sensed.

The racing production provided all the intensity of a race on the outside streets, with more flexibility for driver closeups. Getty Images Photo.

The racing production provided all the intensity of a race on the outside streets, with more flexibility for driver closeups. Getty Images Photo.

Test, Test, Test

Most network demarc connections are stable, but don’t count on it until you inspect and test it yourself. The good news is that it’s one of the few crucial on-site needs that can be identified, fixed and verified ahead of time.

“The key” to live streaming success according to Boombox director Robitaille, is “test, test, test.” He continued, “The FIA Gran Turismo World Tour scheduled two test windows the day before the broadcast, a third test window the morning of the event and the stream was on-line an hour before the broadcast started.”

“Not everything is covered by SMPTE standards” Robitaille reminded, and he suggested the only true end-to-end compatibility test is to verify everything is working reliably in the real-world. “Boombox typically sets up dummy accounts across websites streaming the FIA Gran Turismo World Championships, such as Facebook and YouTube, to verify and monitor the QoS and QoE of the individual live streams,” he said.

Screenshot from the Championship World Final captures a serious competitor and his view.

Screenshot from the Championship World Final captures a serious competitor and his view.

With LTN monitoring, even an on-site wireless camera signal interrupted by a nearby leaky microwave oven would, for instance, trigger an interaction demand and the on-site tech would be notified. Monitoring and alerts are automatic, some problems are resolved automatically, and all is supervised by humans. More eyeballs are always better.

LTN’s Bruce Wilkinson notes “LTN provides services that cannot be duplicated by a laptop. Thousands of users including major TV networks are on the LTN network and can access the feeds for activities, such as gathering TV sports highlights.”

Wilkinson wants to “help producers and directors focus on their key job, which is producing the best event. LTN monitors the long haul and takes control when an errant backhoe accidently cuts a buried backbone fiber in the network circuit, or if LTN finds a more efficient path for the stream. LTN’s live video management capabilities provide guaranteed broadcast-quality service across the public internet.”

Risk Tolerance

The new era of relatively inexpensive video technology and near-universal availability of high-speed internet connections has lowered the cost of entry to stream live HDTV from about anywhere. It’s cheap and easy. Risk tolerance is the difference between you or me streaming a live holiday dinner video to our families, and us working together streaming a live major TV event on the public internet and making money at it.

Aviation, banking, financial services and major television networks have zero risk tolerance. Everything is backed up and a Plan B, C and D is ready. The risk factor can be life or death, or as in the case of live TV, do or die. Bits are bits and data are data, but TV data is magic.

The LTN Flypack encodes and sends the master content stream over the public internet directly to LTN for portal distribution.

The LTN Flypack encodes and sends the master content stream over the public internet directly to LTN for portal distribution.

Big TV events with big money on the line often lower risk by self-insuring with multiple live satellites and uplink trucks, alternate terrestrial signal paths and hot backup gear. Family holiday dinner streams have a high risk tolerance no budget, but do have voice and text for Plan B. Most professional and broadcast video streaming projects fall somewhere in between.

Popular content with consistent, awesome QoS and QoE is how people make money streaming live video on the internet, and by extension it becomes your reputation. When both are at stake is not the time to cheap-out on content transport and distribution plans.

A single ISP may be adequate for watching Netflix movies, but what if it fails? Live TV engineers eliminate risk. They need control of the transport path if problems arise, and to have Plan Bs ready for every imaginable negative scenario or failure. TV is showbiz, “The Show Must Go On,” and live TV engineers ensure it airs as planned.

Content is Cash

Live TV engineering experience teaches that electronics and connections tend to fail at the worst possible moments. Call it what you like, it comes with the territory. The price a live show or project is willing to pay for sufficient management, monitoring, backup and Plan Bs, vs a potentially legendary live TV meltdown defines its risk tolerance.

Adequate works until it suddenly isn’t, which is what TV engineers and technicians strive to avoid and business managers love to debate. Sometimes a TV engineer has to say “No, don’t bet on that. We need better.” Will saying that rain on someone’s parade, or will it extinguish a fire before it gets out of control? It all depends on your risk tolerance.

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