Using a camera-mounted IP transmitter and bonding algorithms, news crews are now transmitting consistent video with sub-second latency.
While the debate surrounding the need for a complete migration from handling video (and audio) as a baseband SDI signal to IP continues, manufacturers of bonded cellular video transmitters say they got the transition started with their camera-mounted systems and are committed to helping their customers move past acquisition and on to the studio infrastructure.
Indeed, with bonded cellular encoders now used in the field by more than 60 percent of TV stations that produce news content, companies like Comrex, Dejero, LiveU, Teradek, TVU Networks and Vislink are all transitioning their technology to include WiFi and microwave processing in a rack-based format to allow stations to mount the technology onboard news vans and inside broadcast facility equipment rooms, where it can be accessed by more people involved in the content creation chain.
“When we formed TVU Networks in October 2005, we were not a bonded cellular company,” said Paul Shen, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer at TVU Networks. “We always had a vision to help TV stations move from baseband digital to IP. But to do that, we had to wet broadcasters’ appetites for IP, so mounting an IP transmitter on the back of a camera made the most sense.”
Paul Shen, co-founder and CEO of TVU Networks.
Many we spoke to say with consumer consumption of video at an all time high, TV stations using traditional technology are no longer able to serve all of the different distribution platforms now in play. They have to move to IP in order to meet this demand. Shen said that while less people are watching any one single program, many more people are searching for individual titles that fewer people are watching. Yet content has to be available to both users.
“The hunger for content is only increasing,” said Bogdan Frusina, Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Dejero. “Mobile phones and bonded cellular systems are evolving from being one of many tools to being the main tool in the toolbox, so there’s a lot more growth to be expected [in bonded cellular systems].
“However, we also have to recognize that bonded cellular technology is still not the go-to technology in a crowded environment for an urgent story as it can run a high risk when it comes to poor picture quality,” Frusina said. “With new solutions like Ku IP, working in tandem with bonded cellular, a lot of these issues will be addressed. This will allow us to grow this industry significantly and enable the provision of 100 percent guaranteed picture quality no matter what environment the user is in. This, in turn will only expand the penetration of bonded cellular gear.”
With data carriers in the U.S. now moving to 4G LTE, LTE Advanced and 5G (when it comes out) wireless technologies, it will only make things better, faster and easier to access, all of which underpin bonded cellular systems.
However, these technologies are mainly being deployed in urban areas and by the time they reach rural areas they usually slow down. From a data carrier’s perspective, there is no financial return on investment to deploying LTE in some of those places.
“Broadcasters tend to deliver the majority of their news from urban areas, however a minority portion happens in rural areas and that’s where the challenges arise,” Frusina said. “Other types of technology, such as Ku IP can step in to allow coverage from those areas.”
Bogdan Frusina, Founder and CTO of Dejero.
All of the mobile transmission vendors in this category have optimized their respective technologies for these (slowly) emerging faster data transfer speeds.
“More LTE coverage and faster backbones will help with reliability,” said Chris Crump, Senior Director of Sales and Marketing at Comrex Corporation. “In many areas, LTE upload is good enough to deliver video on a single modem. And networks themselves can now aggregate channels to provide more bandwidth. But just like a new highway, usage will quickly rise to fill this new capacity. Video delivery systems still need to probe existing networks and make really smart choices on the fly about how best to leverage them at any particular moment.”
These IP tech companies have been hard at work to reduce the latency times among their systems, and most are now around 10-15 Mbps for good quality and reliable HD images. This has been accomplished with new software algorithms that use H.264 and HEVC compression.
“Our latency has been super low from the start, as low as a fraction of a second,” said Crump. “We were pioneers in providing low enough delay to allow for interaction over the link. And with return video to the field, that interaction is even easier.”
Using its TVU Pack portable IP transmitter, TVU Networks’ Shen said they can also deliver sub-second (.5 second) latency over a cellular network, but can also deliver video from a moving vehicle (at 80 miles per hour) with as little as one second without any glitches.
Chris Crump, Senior Director of Sales and Marketing at Comrex Corp.
“From H.264 to HEVC we get the same quality using about 50 percent less bandwidth,” Shen said. “But it demands a lot of processing power. What the TVU Pack with GPU acceleration allows us to do is 30 percent better than any off the shelf encoder.”
“Low latency is a very important consideration,” Dejero’s Frusina said. “It’s not just about high throughput because a combination of high throughput and high latency mean that a voice call will not work. A combination of both is what’s needed.”
To this end, Dejero has introduced its LIVE+ Gateway mobile connectivity solution, which offers fast, reliable, and secure access to the public Internet and private networks while operating in remote locations. It bonds multiple IP paths including cellular, Wi-Fi, and satellite to create a virtual network with the necessary bandwidth and reliability to enable bi-directional data transfers from newsroom and production systems.
The LIVE+ Gateway solution includes in-vehicle equipment, cellular and satellite connectivity services, and Dejero’s LIVE+ Control cloud management system. It enables field crews to research stories online, access media assets back at the broadcast facility, and quickly transfer files – simplifying production workflows and increasing productivity.
“We believe our LIVE+ Gateway is revolutionary in how it solves the problem of mobile connectivity and with speeds that have never been seen before in the field,” Frusina said. “Providing a reliable connectivity is the most challenging task, but once it’s fully established, a lot of other technologies can run on top and the possibilities are endless.”
TVU offers what it calls “Smart VBR” in its mobile IP products, which features the ability to dynamically react to the environment very quickly. The system can change from 10 Mbps to 100 kilobits per second without any image breakups. It allows the user to perform dynamic changes in resolutions and bandwidth on the fly.
“Smart VBR will not show any artifacts, even at 80 mile per hour,” Shen said. “Our customers use it all the time. One customer is driving around the world in 80 days and sending back live video every day. They have been broadcasting every day and have not seen any problems.”
Manufactures of bonded cellular systems have developed entire IP workflows for newsgathering and content production. This one uses Teradek’s Bond multiplexing technology, which supports up to six simultaneous network connections via USB.
Dejero recently made some modifications to its LIVE+ EnGo mobile transmitter and have adapted it for the professional encoder market, enabling multichannel audio to be encoded and transmitted in real time. To enable clients to work on their laptop at the same time as they are transmitting video, Dejero also supports the creation of a hotspot so there is no need to carry additional portable hotspot or pocket router devices. It also means that a journalist can access Avid iNews, AP ENPS or other newsroom computer systems they use while the cameraman is setting up a shot.
Other functionality includes the ability to connect a phone through the EnGo transmitter, which creates full connectivity into the station directly from the phone. Things like scripts and return video are now enabled on the phone if adequate bandwidth isn’t available.
Among its wide product portfolio, Comrex offers its CrossLock network reliability layer that includes the ability to not only balance video data correctly between networks, but to quarantine bad ones and bring them back into use when they behave.
The good news is that all of these companies are thinking past bonded cellular systems and incorporating all of the traditional and non-traditional ways to move video wirelessly. The latest generation of IP transmission devices has been optimized to work on a variety of IP networks to provide customers with greater flexibility. Technologies like BAS band Private LTE networks, MESH networks as well as licensed and unlicensed ISM band radios are now providing viable alternatives to oversaturated cell networks.
Of course, the real next step for bonded cellular systems is to reduce the cost, simplify the workflow and enhance the video performance of IP transmission systems so that they can operate reliably in any environment. Using the cloud has also become popular, allowing the field reporter to act as if they are in the newsroom.
“The next real frontier is the use of metadata,” said TVU Networks’ Shen. “Every IP encoded file carries metadata. Once that metadata is created upstream, we can leverage that information across all other platforms within a station and allow them to make many of the manual processes automatic.”
For example, he said, when footage comes in from the field, it can be directed to the appropriate person (maybe the editor), who can then begin working immediately. The News business is all about how fast you can get a story to air. Leveraging a software-defined IP process, rather than a hardware-centric infrastructure, allows stations to implement assembly line-like operations in order to meet the increased demand for video content.
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NDI (Network Device Interface) is a free protocol for Video over IP, developed by NewTek. The key word is “free.”