NBC Sports at the Summer Olympics in Rio. Photo by Heidi Gutman.
The Olympic Games may look the same this summer. But the technology behind the scenes is the latest available.
The basic structure of the Olympic Games on television doesn’t change much over time. The Games are a meticulously produced combination of grand spectacle, diverse sporting events and stories about interesting athletes to add personal drama to the competitive mix.
What changes for each Olympics broadcast is the technology used behind the scenes to bring the televised events into homes and to viewing devices throughout the world. Every two years, the Games reflects the latest in gee-whiz video and audio technology on many levels. It also reflects the growing use of computer networking, which allows production to take place anywhere in the world.
One interesting technological feat is the storage, editing and processing of footage from the ten venue sites throughout Rio de Janeiro for this Summer’s Games. NBC’s production capabilities has to straddle both broadcast television and live video streaming with as many as 40 live streams of programming simultaneously. Never before has video streaming been more important to a television network.
NBC’s eleven networks from the Summer Games in Rio will carry more than 2,000 hours of television coverage with 260 hours on the NBC broadcast network. More than 4,500 hours will air online through August 21 — the most ever produced. Though the NBC acquisition occurs locally in Brazil, its NBC’s operations center in Stamford, Connecticut where much of the action occurs.
Since 2008, NBC has worked closely with Harmonic to provide servers that give a host of editors and producers instant access to footage from any venue. This summer, NBC has Harmonic Spectrum MediaDeck and MediaGrid systems storing 960 terabytes of centralized data from 60 channels at NBC’s production compound within the International Broadcast Center in Rio. As that content is recorded live to MediaGrid storage in Brazil, it is simultaneously recorded in Samford via two 10 gigabyte fiber optic links.
The Harmonic technology records two video streams — one high resolution on XDCAM-HD at 50 Mbps and a H.264 low-resolution proxy. “We are counting on Harmonic’s integrated systems as part of our high and low resolution workflows,” said Darryl Jefferson, vice president of post production operations for NBC’s Sports Group. “From ingest through media storage across 10 locations, MediaGrid and Spectrum systems are the backbone of our content acquisition and production workflows.”
What’s new in Rio is Harmonic’s MediaGrid ContentStore 5840 high-density storage nodes, which pack bandwidth and capacity into a nearly 70 percent smaller footprint than previous generations of equipment. It is used to centralize all the data into one server system.
“NBC is combining two MediGrid ContentStore 5840 units. The big deal is they put an awful lot of storage in a very small space. Each is a five-rack unit storage enclosure fitted with 84 drives,” said Andy Warman, director of production and playout at Harmonic. “They combine to create a petabyte of video storage. NBC will probably be able to record everything on that single storage system and not have to worry about moving off older material to make room for new content.”
The Spectrum 7000 MediaDeck is being used as a recorder to store content on the MediaGrid drives. A new Spectrum capability, said Warman, is its ability to record directly without having to use media management tools. “In the earlier days, we had to use a MAM system with a watch folder to trigger workflows,” said Warman. “Now Spectrum is simply pointed to a target directory on MediaGrid and it works automatically.”
The NBC staff in both the U.S. and Brazil have direct access to content stored on either MediaGrid system through a media asset management system, even if the sporting event is still in progress and the files are still being received. Once recordings begin, dozens of loggers, producers and editors in Stamford can access the material, extract what they need and make highlight files.
Using extensive live logs and stats, scoring and timing information embedded as metadata, editors can make shot lists that are automatically conformed in proxy resolution for streaming along with live multiscreen services, or conformed in high resolution for use in NBC Olympics’ traditional broadcast edit suites in Stamford and other U.S. facilities.
The MediaGrid system is integrated into NBC’s EVS server workflows, with EVS IPDirector devices directly mounted on the MediaGrid. From any IPDirector seat, NBC Olympics personnel have immediate access to footage from any venue on any day of competition. An LTO-6 tape library in Stamford also allows access to content from previous Olympic Games.
Harmonic has an on-site staff in Brazil working with NBC’s staff. “Our staff and NBC’s staff have worked together so long now that they just help each other out,” said Warman. “We are at the IBC and do what needs to be done. This is a collaborative effort.”
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