Germany’s RTL Pioneers Live Remote TV Sports Production With Lawo Technology

Auto racing is perhaps the most challenging sporting event to cover, as production companies must plan for the logistics of many camera positions and other equipment that is strategically placed around the track (and inside the cars) in order to capture all of the action.

In Europe, Formula One (F1) racing—with its many diverse track layouts and different locations—is the most manpower intensive and takes the most care to get right. Prior to each Sunday race, two days are devoted to free practice, followed by a day of qualifying. The outcome of three qualifying sessions determines the starting grid positions for the race on day three. F1 fans want to see all of the practice action and the qualifying, as well as gain insight from behind the scenes.

To give fans the best viewing experience, all aspects of a race are broadcast live—including full coverage of night races in Singapore and Bahrain. However, instead of an onsite production truck (OB van) at each track, broadcasters like Germany’s RTL, are setting up remote production sites that can be used to cover a wide range of events from a central location.

The new production operation went live-to-air from the first race of the season at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit (the 2016 Australian Grand Prix, held on March 20th). Having since visited the Middle East, China, Russia, Europe, and North America—all part of RTL’s live coverage of the Formula One World Championship—the remote setup has proved itself both capable and highly reliable throughout.

Looking to reduce costs while improving its production quality, RTL is using a production control located inside the broadcast center operated by CBC (Cologne Broadcast Center) in Cologne. So the multitude of cameras covering a race in Singapore, for example, are controlled and switched into the live broadcast from some 10,364 km away. The latest video compression (H.264) is used to transport live signals over available bandwidth in the most efficient way.

The remote production used a low-latency IFB mixer setup, running on a Lawo Nova17 router and operated with two of Lawo’s VisTool panels.

The remote production used a low-latency IFB mixer setup, running on a Lawo Nova17 router and operated with two of Lawo’s VisTool panels.

“The idea of remote production is not really new to us,” said Fritz Behringer, Production Engineer at the CBC. “Due to the immense logistic efforts involved with F1 there have always been efforts to keep the on-location equipment as small as possible.”

For example, he said that live real-time graphics have always been added during the broadcast emanating from Cologne by the control room at the race location.

“Recently, however, the infrastructure requirements have been established for implementing further elements of remote production,” Behringer said. “By using directional lines, the locations can now be redundantly, and economically, connected to the CBC.

With an MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) network linking the race venue to the CBC facility, all live video and audio signals are delivered and made available in the control room in Cologne. This is achieved by using a Lawo Nova17 router and DSP engine plus an IFB mixer (all remotely controlled from Cologne), along with a Riedel intercom system.

File gathering and network control run in parallel using the same MPLS transfer. Production of the live races and accompanying coverage is managed using a touchscreen remote control for the IFB mixer, as well as a Lawo mc² audio mixing console in the CBC production control room. “On-location” production support comes from a video server with replay functionality.

RTL used a Multiprotocol Label Switching network linking the race venue to the CBC facility, allowing all onsite live video and audio signals to be delivered and made available in the control room in Cologne.

RTL used a Multiprotocol Label Switching network linking the race venue to the CBC facility, allowing all onsite live video and audio signals to be delivered and made available in the control room in Cologne.

“The main task was to find connectivity that could bring all relevant live signals and ENG-footage to Cologne,” Behringer said. “The second big issue was the handling of signal delay, originating from distances and codec latencies.”

In order to ensure a reliable remote connection, RTL performed a test broadcast under real-world conditions. All the signals were sent around the globe once and the staff involved ran through all workflows to ensure that, despite the considerable distances, the interaction between control room and cameras and among the broadcast team did not suffer from delay issues.

With two months to go before the first race, the equipment was set up at Cologne-based production company _wige Broadcast’s headquarters (the “on-site” production partner of RTL and CBC). This general rehearsal included testing the fiber connection to the control rooms at CBC.

“Besides the pure signal transport, the main focus was on the functionality of equipment and mainly on workflows,” said Behringer, “so that everybody in the team became aware of the different handling of the production, especially the communication between venue and the Cologne production center.”

Key to the remote production was the low-latency IFB mixer setup, running on a Nova17 router and operated with two of Lawo’s VisTool panels—one on-site for setup and testing and the second for the Sound Supervisor in Cologne to manage the EQ, dynamics, dimming, and other processing. In case of a failure of the MPLS network, Lawo’s VisTool provides fader access to provide a simple emergency mix.

Lawo's Remote Production Kit includes the V__remote4 product, a bi-directional Video/Audio-to-IP interface designed to provide a one-box solution for all the requirements of video and audio signal transportation and processing in WAN-based remote productions.

Lawo's Remote Production Kit includes the V__remote4 product, a bi-directional Video/Audio-to-IP interface designed to provide a one-box solution for all the requirements of video and audio signal transportation and processing in WAN-based remote productions.

Typically, the Nova17 is remotely controlled from a Lawo mc²90 audio console at the audio control room in Cologne, with virtual GPIs sent over the network to the racetrack. This setup provides a perfect low-latency audio mix for presenter, reporter and two interviewees in the pit lane or paddock, and two race commentators. A VSM (Virtual Studio Manager) system on-site controls all routings in the local SDI router, the Nova17 and Lawo V__pro8 processor, which is used for video and audio.

Felix Krückels, Lawo’s Director of Business Development, said that the Formula One implementation demonstrates how all of Lawo’s products are able to easily exchange signals via IP using common control and offering the customer an integrated solution. In front of the cameras, the reporters were unaware of any changes to their work as a consequence of using remote production.

“All talkback and TB mixes were as good as those from a conventional production with OB van or container control room,” Krückels said.

Many agree that remote production is the future of live broadcasting, enabling broadcasters to send fewer crew and have tighter control of the live event. RTL in German is proving that the value of a flexible, IP infrastructure cannot be ignored.

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