Stage set and audience at the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna
The Eurovision Song Contest has always been as much a showcase for broadcast technology as one for song writing and singing talent - or not. This year’s competition, due to take place in Sweden during May, will be the first to feature the new Eurovision FLEX IP-based digital transmission system, which will be used by 28 of the European broadcasters taking part in and covering the event.
Developed by the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) using technology from wireless transmission specialist Mobile Viewpoint, Eurovision FLEX is a self-managed device intended as a lower cost means of transmitting live video. It is aimed at both broadcasters and online media operators looking for more efficient and financially expedient ways of distributing footage using the internet. FLEX can also be used in conjunction with Eurovision's FiNE (Fibre Network of Eurovision) infrastructure, which uses DTM (Dynamic synchronous Transfer Mode) technology over layer 2 Ethernet circuits and/or SDH (synchronous digital hierarchy) connections.
The main idea behind FLEX is to allow users to set up live video links from any location, using 3G or 4G mobile networks. This does away with the need for satellite uplinks, which are costly and involve getting a specially equipped truck in place, something that is not always possible. FLEX can also accommodate high volume data using high-speed FTP (file transfer protocol) connections.
Camcorder fitted with Eurovision FLEX transmitter equipment
The EBU says that offering FLEX at the Eurovision Song Contest gives participating member broadcasters "another network layer" for the voting section of the show, on top of the core system. The aim, the Union explains, is to provide "maximum protection" by having two independent distribution feeds. "The Eurovision Song Contest is the EBU's flagship event and the longest running annual TV music competition in the world," says Graham Warren, director of Eurovision Network. "Last year the three live shows reached an audience of 197 million viewers, We have decided to complement our satellite and fibre connectivity by deploying the FLEX IP hybrid technology to ensure full security and smooth delivery of the voting results."
The FLEX system comprises a number of hardware components to handle live video transmission in both mobile and fixed applications. It also offers a web portal to manage and monitor the connections; assign hotspot connections for the specific event; and the ability to combine and share material internationally. Among the appliances in the FLEX range are backpack systems including Eurovision WMT Expert, offering up to eight mobile network channels on LTE, HSPA+, HSUPA, HSDPA or UMTS, with the additional ability to connect using WiFi and Ethernet; and the FLEX Agile 2.0 R, a small unit containing eight 4G modems and a LAN connection that can be slotted in between the main body of a camera and its battery pack.
Other units in the FLEX chain include the FLEX WIO rack-mount encoder, FLEX IO encoder-decoder, FLEX O receiving decoder and the FLEX STRM HLS live streaming encoder. The central FLEX online web portal gives the ability to control, manage and administer wireless edge transmission terminals and establish connections using receiving terminals.
Eurovision FLEX is being offered to broadcasters for covering major news events. It has already been used for reports on the US presidential election campaign, notably the New Hampshire and Iowa primaries. The Eurovision Song Contest starts with semi-finals on 10 May, building up to the grand final on 14 May.
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