Quadcopter Mastery Part 3: Mini-microwave systems

Miniature microwave systems define the power of UAV camera platforms.

If there was ever a NAB side-show, the 2015 drone exhibits and sessions were it. Learning about drones and visiting drone-related exhibits demanded all the time the exhibits allowed and $1000 for weekend field sessions, which were reportedly “fantastic.”

Most UAV exhibits were oriented toward group demos and group basic training, and were as crowded as a NAB hit would be. A couple of months before NAB, drone interest intensified when the FAA announced proposed rules for commercial drone operation. After about two years of public review and comment, legal commercial drones may launch in early 2017. Everyone wants a piece of the action.

One of the most popular drones, the DJI Phantom sells for about $500 without a camera, which makes it an expensive toy. The same Phantom with an on-board camera is a serious professional airborne camera platform. More on-board and on-the-ground electronics make video feeds more valuable and controllable with extended range, higher quality and new features.

It began with a selfie

You may have recently seen that Nicholas Woodman, Founder and CEO of GoPro , is about to become the highest paid executive in America. While most industry manufacturers, stations and viewers were busy spending millions on the DTV transition in the early 2000s, Woodman was a surfer who wanted to get professional-quality action photos of himself. He turned his idea into the first wrist-cam, with which took the first “selfie.” Woodman raised some of the money to start his wrist-cam company by selling beads and shell belts out of his VW van. Today’s GoPro video quality and images rival the best from nearly any source. The camera’s performance, design, weight and low cost make it virtually ubiquitous on drones and quadcopters.

Many drones and quadcopters come equipped or can be ordered with a GoPro mount. What makes a quadcopter or drone a broadcast tool is the ability to feed live pictures. Don’t confuse live pictures with First Person Video (FPV). FPV feeds may contain flight data superimposed over the video. Nearly all broadcast-quality video is transported by a separate microwave path from the drone to ground receivers outputting HDMI or SDI for retransmission to the station.

Mini-microwaves at NAB

A quadcopter/drone/UAV marketplace for broadcasters barely exists. Commercial operation isn’t legal. Liability and insurance are issues. Today’s market is military and government surveillance, defense, public safety and security. The market demands quality and range and can pay for it. As long as the market can afford high prices, the best gear will remain expensive. The good news is that as the technology gets smaller and lighter, the US market is on the brink of legalizing commercial flights. That scale will drive some prices down. When commercial drones become legal in the USA and other parts of the world, the market for live broadcast-quality drone video will hit the proverbial Las Vegas jackpot. Like planes in the glide path to McCarran Airport, the players in miniature microwave and smaller RF video transport systems began to align at NAB 2015.

Cellular network stability can be a problem in large areas with large crowds, such as sports venues. Some private systems emerged ready to tackle that problem.

AB-Multizone can be deployed in multiple topologies for ease of<br />installation: daisy chain, star or any combination of the two, enabling<br />flexible topologies based on venue requirements.

AB-Multizone can be deployed in multiple topologies for ease of
installation: daisy chain, star or any combination of the two, enabling
flexible topologies based on venue requirements.

ABonAir launched AB-MultiZone for flexible and seamless roaming coverage in areas such as large sports venues. It uses a single receiver connected to as few as two or as many as 250 Multi-In Multi-Out (MIMO) antennas and supports CCU control of Grass Valley, Sony and Panasonic cameras.

JVC and Silvus introduced a private MESH streaming IP video network.

JVC and Silvus introduced a Private MESH Video Network to circumvent the cell system. It combines the best of both companies and is a 4 transmit, 4 receive channel MIMO system that uses an encoded IP stream directly from some newer JVC cameras. Its two-way communication also allows remote CCU control.

Amimon introduced its CONNEX zero-latency HD wireless video link.

Amimon introduced its CONNEX zero-latency HD wireless video link.

Amimon introduced CONNEX, a zero-latency HD wireless video link for UAVs. It operates in the 5GHz band and uses 2x5 MIMO and automatic channel selection. It transmits up to 1000 meters. The ground unit sends control commands to the camera gimbal via S-Bus protocol and has an OSD for telemetry data.

AVIWEST announced a new collaboration with Hughes Network Systems to compensate for poor 3G/4G connections. AVIWEST demonstrated a fully integrated solution featuring the company’s DMNG PRO video uplink system and the Hughes 9211-HDR high data rate BGAN satellite terminal.

Operating on Inmarsat’s BGAN HDR service network, the Hughes 9211-HDR transmits information in real-time over an adaptive channel, allowing the available satellite bit rate to increase above the minimum committed information rate level.

The Boxx TV Atom transmission system operates in the 5GHz band.

The Boxx TV Atom transmission system operates in the 5GHz band.

Boxx TV launched the Atom, a new zero delay video transmission system. It operates in the 5GHz band and has SDI, HD-SDI and HDMI inputs. The transmission method is Pixel Prioritisation Protocol. Range is said to be up to 5km point-to-point. The system transmits an up to 200mW, 40MHz wide OFDM signal to a receiver with dual SDI outputs. It supports all formats up to 1080 60p 3G.

BMS introduced its Carry-Viewer 4 for monitoring, recording and replays.

Broadcast Microwave Services (BMS) introduced its Carry-Viewer 4 (CV4). The CV4 is a lightweight, hand-held, auto-sensing, 2-way diversity COFDM microwave receiver with built-in HD screen that displays live H.264 or MPEG2 video. It records and plays back, controlled by the touchscreen. It also provides HDMI out or IP streaming.

Cobham's NanoVue displays, records and plays.

Cobham featured its NanoVue HD receiver and Solo 8 transmitter.  The NanoVue incorporates a high resolution, daylight-viewable touch screen with receiver, antennae and clip-on batteries. It is handheld with a high visibility day/night screen. It features on-board recording and faster IP connectivity that gives off-site users access to configuration or for calling forward stored video. The Solo 8 miniature transmitter has dual HD-SDI inputs, a 30% improvement in picture quality and ultra-low power consumption.

The Vislink UltraCoder is a H.265 hardware encoder.

The Vislink UltraCoder is a H.265 hardware encoder.

Vislink launched the industry’s first H.265 hardware encoder, the UltraCoder. Designed for 4K, it can also deliver up to four live HD channels in H.265 plus an additional HD channel in H.264. The FocalPoint reverse-CCU was upgraded for multiple camera and operator control panel combinations and works with several Sony models and Hitachi’s RU1500.

This outdoor pod is an integrated 6-way diversity receiver with antennas.

This outdoor pod is an integrated 6-way diversity receiver with antennas.

Integrated Microwave Tehnologies (IMT) launched the Nucomm VT8 H.264 encoding HD/SD ENG Van transmitter with IP connectivity. Single-band operation is available in 2-, 7- or 13-GHz bands. A second encoder is optional.

Also unveiled was the Nucomm Triple Play Receiver. It is a dual-diversity COFDM receiver that uses two-way maximum ratio combining technology to enable the support of Line-of-Sight (LOS) as well as Non-Line-of-Sight (NLOS) applications. While an excellent companion to IMT’s Nucomm microLite transmitter, it is compatible with any MPEG-2/MPEG-4 transmitter. The chassis houses up to three receivers in 1RU.

IMT also rolled out the Nucomm Compact Portable Central Receiver (CPCRx6) with multi-channel options. CPCRx6 is a ruggedized COFDM (DVB-T compliant) six-way diversity receiver that provides exceptional RF performance and IP66-rated environmental durability for external use. It also debuted the Nucomm Central Integrated Radome System x6 (CIRAS-x6), a six-way diversity receiver integrated into a six-segment antenna pod.

The Paralinx Arrow-X is a real-time transmission system.

The Paralinx Arrow-X is a real-time transmission system.

Paralinx showed its Arrow-X HDMI system. The realtime HD video transmission system has a range of approximately 700 feet with >1ms “glass-to-glass” latency. The Arrow-X transmitter features HDMI input at the transmitter and HD-SDI outputs at the receiver. A 3G-SDI transmitter is also available. It has a lightweight minimalist design for handheld, Steadicam, gimbal, and UAV payloads, and operates on the 5GHz band. Arrow-X transmits full-HD 1080p/60 with a range of up to 700 feet (215m) with default antennas. Longer range possible with optional antennas.

The Soliton Zow features H.265 hardware encoding.

The Soliton Zow features H.265 hardware encoding.

Soliton Systems K.K.  introduced its Zao hardware encoder, designed for the mobile broadcasting and First Responder markets. Zao includes the H.265/HEVC video compression standard. It enables Smart-telecaster Zao to dramatically reduce power consumption, shrink the chassis footprint and maintain higher on-the-spot usability, raising the bar for state-of-the-art transmission.

Soliton’s proprietary RASCOW (Real-time Auto Speed Control based-on Waterway model) transmission control technology dynamically adjusts video compression ratios and frame rates to ensure smooth, low-latency video/audio transmission, even in the most challenging locations with limited cellular bandwidth. Combining this technology with built-in encryption and connection authentication features makes Smart-telecaster Zao an attractive alternative to expensive satellite transmission.

Teradek's Live:Air app adds graphics and titling to the video stream.

Teradek introduced the VidiU Pro and VidiU Mini. Both offer higher bitrates and enhanced WiFi, and make live streaming to CDNs practical and affordable.

The company also introduced Live:Air, an iPad Production Suite that allows users to switch between pre-recorded material and live wireless video and add graphicss feeds from iOS devices and compatible Teradek encoders like VidiU Mini, VidiU, Clip, and Cube. One of the best features of Live:Air is that users can add graphics, titling and effects to the stream, even when only a single video source.

Turkonet–Signal ENG showed its ST-2000HD point-to-point H.264 video encoder and decoder. It features high-profile MPEG-AVC H.264 Level 4.1 encoding from 128 Kbps to 19 Mbps, with HD-SDI in and out. The company also introduced its multi-RX-7000, that takes 2x SD/HD/2K/4K and 2D/3D switchable inputs and supports 3 Gb/s and 6 Gb/s single link 4:2:2/ 4:4:4 and dual link 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 outputs.

The VidOlink Reacher has no compression or latency.

The VidOlink Reacher has no compression or latency.

VidOvation announced its new VidOlink Reacher and VidOlink Ranger as the answer to the demand for reliable high quality wireless video transmission. The VidOlink Ranger Long Distance COFDM Wireless Video Transmitter. The The VidOlink Reacher is its newest broadcast-grade HDMI/HDSDI wireless video transmission link, capable of reaching 2000 feet line of sight in the 5GHz band with zero latency and no compression.

The transmitter is compact and lightweight ensuring exceptional maneuverability. This makes the unit ideal for video assist and on-set monitoring, news and sports broadcasts, UAV, military, corporate and other applications in which typical wireless systems either fall short on distance or are too pricey. VidOvation was also appointed by AVIWEST as its U.S. distributor.

If there were an award for the most pre-NAB publicity, Videovation deserves it. The company trumped all competitors with more press releases and social media activity than any other in the miniature microwave category, perhaps even combined. The hyperbole brags ”We are passionate problem solvers making the ‘impossible’ and ‘never been done before’ a cost effective solution,“ which would be true for virtually everyone in this product category.

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