Mobile TV Group now offers as-needed control rooms that are available for a variety of production workflows.
Recognizing that a 53-foot expanding mobile unit is often out of reach financially for many tier 2 sporting events - e.g., women’s college volleyball or professional pickleball - production companies that offer such high-end resources are expanding their horizons with lower cost, highly portable and as-needed options that fit the bill.
Veteran live production company Mobile TV Group (MTVG), in Englewood, Colo. - with a growing fleet of large mobile units - is one such company offering a new live production system that relies on cost-effective technologies like edge computing on COTS hardware. This enables any budget-conscious live events to record on site with only cameras and their in-house built Edge computer that includes switching, graphics, replay, and other software elements which can be controlled on-site or remotely.
TV Production On The Edge
Calling the new service its MTVG Edge division, Nick Garvin, COO of Mobile TV Group, said that the concept of a lower cost live production solution has been gaining traction because it provides a totally integrated, software-defined production suite of tools that one person or a small team can operate. MTVG Edge also provides the benefits of a distributed cloud computing architecture designed to maximize speed, reliability, and efficiency.
Garvin said that just as edge computing and software-defined technologies are enabling media organizations around the world with the ability to transform workflows, now live production teams can take advantage as well.
“We looked at the various remote production models being deployed in the field and said, ‘there's only one unique thing that live productions must have on site, which is the cameras,” said Garvin. “You can't reasonably move the cameras to the cloud. So live production is not like every other technology sector that has moved to the cloud.”
Big Features In A Small Package
MTVG Edge consists of a single custom-built COTS server that is sent on site and can be operated withone to four operators fulfilling the roles of technical director, replay, graphics, mixer and shader. The only items needed on-site are cameras and the MTVG Edge 25” rack computer which form the heart of a small scale fly pack that can be shipped anywhere.
The MTVG Edge series is a COTS-based server that is highly portable and leverages the benefits an edge computing distributed cloud processing architecture to maximize speed, reliability and efficiency.
“Laptops and COTS hardware have become more powerful than ever,” he continued, explaining that combining cloud and edge computing puts the necessary equipment on-site for instant data recovery needs, versus sending them all the way to the cloud. “And of course they'll continue to improve. So we looked at that and said, ‘you can actually run software solutions on COTS hardware.’ We don't need to send the footage to the cloud or to a private data center. It can actually just move with the cameras and this really small fly pack will provide you with all the compute power you need on site.”
The internal software suite is paired with an Elgato Stream Deck that lets you automate basic tasks like video switching and going live, and a NVidia graphics card. The processing power can run in a private data center or in a public cloud, but Garvin said it does not need to. Having compute power at the edge or on site is extremely valuable for redundancy purposes and for some smaller events to reduce the cost involved.
Because it’s mostly software tools under a single interface, they can train operators to use the system in a day, and different projects can have different software capabilities and dedicated control buttons, if required.
“We’ve written a lot of custom scripts to make this thing run,” said Garvin. “There's a lot of different controllers and keys that you can add as necessary. It’s plug and play.”
For replays, the Edge system includes a dedicated button and an internal cache that goes back five seconds to the last camera that captured the play. The operator hits the button and that “hard cut” replay is instantly created. Garvin said that while the results may not be as custom as what a human operator can create with a more expensive replay system, it all happens much faster. In this way operators can also create more replays to tell the story of the game better.
MTVG Edge supports up to eight cameras and gets to inaccessible places where a large production unit would not be practical. With the Edge system, one operator can be the technical director, the replay operator, the graphics operator, and manage the score bug and audio feeds. That can equal huge savings for small and mid-tier productions.
“For major projects, we have a 200 gigabyte connection from our headquarters here to almost all pro venues,” said Garvin. “But when we're talking about pickleball at a smaller venue, the last thing on their mind when building it out is fiber connectivity. So Edge solves that problem.”
Indeed, MTVG Edge is now being used for the professional APP Pickleball League and at the NBA Finals, among other sports, entertainment and corporate projects. Users can literally set up anywhere there’s decent internet or mobile signal, like inside a stadium or outside in the field and everywhere in between.
The systems came in handy for the NBA Finals, where the venue was full of trailers and mobile units parked outside (including one of MTVG’s Flex Series units, supplying the international feed), but they didn't have space - or the need - for another mobile unit. They simply popped in an Edge server and were able to produce and distribute a high quality live broadcast of the event via regular TV channels as well as the Internet and social media.
To keep costs down, signal distribution is handled over a fiber network, but it could also go to the cloud or even over the public internet if secured. Some clients send out the live stream directly from the venue. Others might send pieces of the event back to their home base for editing.
Remote Production Where The Compute Power Stays On Site
“One of the advantages of the Edge suite is having the compute power on site,” said Garvin. “One of the other ways to do a remote production is to send all of the camera feeds back to some production facility, because that's where your compute power is, right? However, using this model, if you lose a connection, you’ve got nothing.”
“With our system, it will keep recording on site,” he said. “And instead of sending all of your camera feeds to a main location, we’re mixing the show onsite. Therefore you're sending one feed, the final program that's going to air. So there's less bandwidth requirements. We’ve also built in various levels of redundancy. It also depends on the event. Some clients are extremely risk adverse; some are a little less risk adverse.”
For most Edge projects, Garvin said clients will use a private Internet connection and also a cellular backup path. MTVG typically offers a private fiber line, so the signal is not going out over the public Internet. There is some delay introduced, but it’s manageable and not distracting to viewers.
MTVG has established temporary “Cloud Control” rooms at 25 locations around the country to support multiple clients simultaneously.
“Most of it is very low latency,” he said. “You can add more of a buffer if you need to by simply adjusting the bit rate levels.”
Cloud Control As Needed
Since 2020, MTVG has also been offering its clients a series of “Cloud Control” rooms, installed at 25 locations (mainly office space Garvin calls “lightweight” rooms) around the country. These allow clients to produce live shows on an as-needed basis using tactile workflows. Garvin said that the Cloud Control room concept was a COVID-accelerated development project and that the company is now building its own private cloud at its main location in Englewood to offer its clients options for how they want to deliver their video productions.
These remote Cloud Control rooms have limitless capability (1080p HD or 4K), Garvin said, because they can be set up in any way the clients require. The space typically includes a small cubical with a companion multiviewer wall, video switcher panel and other familiar production tools. For many projects this is where productions are pulled together and created, but at a lower cost. MTVG is providing unlimited use of the rooms for a few thousand dollars per month.
Portable Cloud Container
MTVG now also offers a portable cloud flyaway kit called Cloud Control (“Cloud C1”), which operates under extremely low latency. Clients pick the latency that is acceptable to them for each project. In 2022 the company built its first Cloud Control Container for Bally Sports Ohio, to facilitate live broadcasts of the regions’ leading sports teams, including the Cincinnati Reds and Columbus Blue Jackets.
Where Should The Processing Go?
All of this new production capability relies heavily on where the processing is taking place and Garvin said that’s where the latest innovations in technology, like edge computing, can be used to their clients’ advantage. As a remote production company, in the truest sense of the term (that is, sending mobile units to a venue), MTVG understands how to produce a live TV event. It’s precisely where to locate the processing that is still a bit fuzzy.
“There was one thing that’s clear for us,” said Garvin, “which is that the future of compute power is unclear and where that might live and where it's best suited to live is, for us, up in the air [no cloud pun intended]. And it's our job to figure that out, of course. Could it be a hybrid with certain servers and servers living here at our headquarters, which has a lot of capability? We think, yes, it's some combination, but what I can't tell you is the exact combination because we're still figuring it out.”
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