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Dorna Looks Back On First IP-Based MotoGP TV Season

The 2016 FIM MotoGP World Championship season came to a close on 13 November. The last race in this year’s calendar was won by Jorge Lorenzo, with second place taken by Marc Márquez, who had already been crowned champion with three races to go.

Better known as MotoGP, the premier class motorcycle championship pulls in big television audiences internationally but particularly in Europe. The technical presentation for 2016 was notable for its IP infrastructure, with production facilities provider Dorna working alongside technology developer Lawo.

Dorna Sports has held the exclusive commercial and television rights to MotoGP, which is governed by the FIM (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme/International Motorcycling Federation), since 1992. Founded in 1988, Dorna describes itself as "an international sports management, marketing and media company". Headquartered in Madrid, it also has branches and subsidiaries in Barcelona, Rome and Tokyo.

While Dorna does have other interests and activities, including the Ad-Time rotating LED advertising board system used in volleyball, baseball, basketball and football, its primary focus is the production and distribution of MotoGP TV coverage. Dorna produces this for broadcasters including Eurosport France, Germany and Benelux, ServusTV in Austria and Mediaset Spain.

Paddock enclosure at the MotoGP, which includes the TV production areas.

Paddock enclosure at the MotoGP, which includes the TV production areas.

Previous productions were based on standard SDI technologies but for this year, and the future, Dorna wanted to build a centralised master control room (MCR) to manage the distribution circuits used by some broadcasters. "We have already used a simpler version of this kind of MCR for the three Eurosport channels on a SDI basis, only using IP in the AoIP [audio over IP] communications to the broadcasters' facilities," explains Marc Jove, technical coordinator of Dorna's TV production department.

The next step was moving to an IP infrastructure that covered all aspects of the production, not only audio and video but also communications, intercom and KVM (keyboard video mouse) functions. Jove explains that basing this on Lawo V__link4 units offered significant advantages: "The technical needs for each broadcaster in terms of circuits were similar: audio, video and communications for managing the commentary positions, edit suites, intercom and radio frequency services, including cameras, reporter systems and intercoms."

Jove says the plan was to create a centralised MCR connected to individual control rooms by optical fibre to minimise the set-up time, the size and weight of equipment and the number of personnel to manage it. "It was possible to achieve this using an IP infrastructure based on V__link4," comments Jove. "It was also a good opportunity to make a first step into the IP world with SMPTE standards."

Dorna's technological collaboration with Lawo began in 2014 when it installed a Nova73 HD router and mc² 56 digital console combination controlled by VSM network software to manage the sound between facilities and the International Sound mix. "We later started using the V__pro8 for video/audio processing," Jove says. "Both Lawo and Dorna are interested in new concepts, implementations and workflow. We already knew Lawo's IP approach to broadcast production, and the possibilities and limitations of an IP based approach at this point, but with the needs that we have for this project it is a perfect match."

Rack of Lawo V_Link4 video-over-IP stage boxes in Dorna's Broadcasters Technical Control (BTC) area.

Rack of Lawo V_Link4 video-over-IP stage boxes in Dorna's Broadcasters Technical Control (BTC) area.

The 2016 MotoGP season is the first to feature an IP production chain that covers most technical aspects. The core of the set-up is Lawo's V__link4 integrated video-over-IP stage box. This provides signal transport, coding, processing and monitoring of both audio and video. Best known as a manufacturer of sound mixing desks, Lawo made the move into video in 2012 with a range of products developed at Lawo by former Grass Valley engineers.

The V__line range includes the V_pro8 video processor as well as the V_link4, which was launched in 2013 alongside the Nova73 compact routing system and mixing console core and the Lawo Commentary System (LCU). While very much in the audio world, the Commentary System was something of a departure for Lawo but one it felt it could make through the implementation of IP. Speaking at the 2014 IBC Andreas Hilmer, the company's director of marketing and communications, said the future for live broadcast infrastructures was carrying audio, video and other feeds, including commentary and intercom, over IP networks.

Dorna has embraced this concept in its production for MotoGP, although Jove acknowledges there are still some areas where older technologies are being used out of practical necessity: "We can do every thing in the IP domain except the multi-viewer, where we convert to SDI. With other requirements, such as replay systems and graphics, it would have been more difficult to prepare a set-up in the IP domain when the project was developed - but things are getting there."

At the heart of Dorna's set-up is an outside broadcast truck provided by The Alliance, the facilities collective formed last year by Italian OB operators SBP, Global Production and One-tv. Known as the Track Feed unit this takes the feeds of effects microphones and between 20 to 25 cameras positioned round the racetrack, depending on which race is being covered. (It was 24 in the case of the UK GP at Silverstone, where The Broadcast Bridge was given a tour of the production set-up.)

International Programme Feed truck.

International Programme Feed truck.

Video is mixed in the Track Feed truck and sent to a neighbouring unit supplied by Dorna, where the main output feed, or international programme feed (IPF) is produced. The basic video signal is augmented with feeds from RF (radio frequency) wireless cameras - including those used by reporters working in the racing compound and pit lane areas as well as those mounted on helicopters and the bikes themselves - plus graphics and video replays.

With these additions, which include racer names, statistics and placings, the IPF is made available to rights holding broadcasters, among them BT Sport in the UK, Eurosport, Movistar Spain and Sky Italia. It is also shown in the media centre where print and online journalists and photographers work while covering a race.

The IPF truck at Silverstone housed the director, vision mixer, replay team and journalists in its main production gallery. The international vision feed for all MotoGPs is produced in HD but for the British GP Dorna worked with BT Sport and its facilities provider Timeline Television on a 4k version. "It's something we're looking at for the future on all our coverage," Jove commented.

Dorna also provides the technical facilities for the rights holders, including control rooms, galleries, edit suites, RF audio and video and technical personnel. In any broadcast production the size of MotoGP relies on the different technical areas and the equipment used in them being in synch with each other. IP environments are no different from analogue and other digital infrastructures in this respect and for the crucial element of synchronisation Dorna uses the Precision Time Protocol (PTP).

The master PTP signal is generated in the IPF truck, from where it is sent to all other areas on the network. "This means all systems have the same clock," explains Jove. "Using PTP also does away with the need for a special connection through the whole network. It gives us a great benefit in the flexibility it brings."

In addition to the two OB vehicles the TV compound also houses a number of temporary cabins containing various technical areas. These and the trucks are connected over a double fibre network; Lawo DALLIS (Digital Audio Line Level Interface System) stage boxes are used for interfacing the sound, while video is brought in through V_link4 units.

Audio Control Room with Lawo mc² 56 console.

Audio Control Room with Lawo mc² 56 console.

Sound signals are mainly distributed round the site as RAVENNA AoIP feeds, although MADI (Multichannel Audio Digital Interface) can also be used, depending on the source microphones. Inputs from the Track Feed arrive in the Audio Control Room (ACR) through the relevant stage boxes. The ACR is equipped with a Lawo Nova73 router featuring DSP (digital signal processing) cards; this predominantly handles all distribution of audio within the TV compound, which can total 1000 signals.

Sound supervisor Josep Mendoza explains that all other facilities are connected through the ACR using the DALLIS boxes. The facility is based round a Lawo mc² 56 digital mixing console, which is used to mix the effects mics from trackside into 5.1 feeds. The audio mix for the IPF signal is done in the ACR and also includes effect mics from the track cameras.

Mendoza points out that the audio mix is controlled using Lawo's VSM IP-based control system. "This allows us to run on an audio-follow-video basis, with the microphones activated according to the camera shot selected through the two video switchers," he says. "Using this technique the sound mixer can adjust everything going on, which can be up to 250 audio signals."

Silverstone race track covers large sections of the English counties of Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire. On race days the paddock areas are full of trailers, marquees and assorted vehicles, buzzing with people. The TV area alone gives the impression of a large village. Getting all necessary signals - both broadcast and production communication - from the track to the different technical areas is a major logistical task. The distances between them all makes RF wireless connections, often in conjunction with fibre circuits, the only sensible way to carry the signals.

"It's a big area of coverage," agrees Jove. "To cover the paddock and the pit lane, providing facilities for the roving reporters, we rely on RF." RF video is managed in the High Frequency Control/On Board Unit (HFC/OBU), while RF audio is dealt with in the Radio Frequency Audio (RFA). Dorna works with Vislink in the HFC/OBU. The RF systems supplier provides wireless connectivity, with equipment including Gigawave radio cameras and control of all frequencies and devices.

HFC/OBU supervisor Emanuele Carlini explains that at Silverstone 17 HF (high frequency) links were used for each of the rights holding broadcasters on site. Another six RF links were dedicated to the on-board cameras, which give different and dramatic views of the race. Up to four miniature wireless cameras can be fitted to a bike; audio and video from these are embedded and brought back over diversity RF connections into the base band infrastructure. A telemetry function is built into this system, allowing operators to choose which cameras on which bike are selected. "We can have six at a time," Carlini comments. He adds that all feeds are taken into a multiplexer and displayed for monitoring purposes on a Miranda Kaleido-X multiviewer.

A major element in any live location broadcast is communications and on a large-scale production such as MotoGP it plays a crucial role. The majority of intercom control and distribution is handled in the RFA. IP is now an increasingly important part in TV intercom, providing the basis of many connections not only locally but also beyond.

Dorna uses the Clear-Com FreeSpeak II system, which is able to work with party line, IP, digital matrix and wireless connections. The radio component of the FreeSpeak intercom was running in the 1.8GHz band, connecting belt packs and walkie-talkie handsets not just on the ground but also for the helicopter providing aerial shots of the action. The overall system provided 1500 remote points and 2000 channels of processing and routing, handled through its internal Clear-Com ICON mixer and interfaces. There was also connectivity with the base band installation through Lawo routers using the AES67 AoIP interoperability standard. A further AoIP connection allowed Dorna personnel in Barcelona to communicate with staff at Silverstone using a Clear-Com IP panel.

Commentary booth with control desk (centre) and mini-camera (top-right corner).

Commentary booth with control desk (centre) and mini-camera (top-right corner).

In any sports production the part of the proceedings viewed with the most ambivalence by its audience is commentary. But as annoying or distracting as some commentators and the 'experts' who sit alongside them can be, they are still a necessary part of the coverage. Without commentary to provide explanations and descriptions, something like MotoGP would be less easy to understand.

Three years ago Lawo launched a Commentary Unit (LCU) developed in conjunction with Host Broadcast Services (HBS), provider of TV facilities and production services for major sports events, notably the World Cup. LCU is based on RAVENNA AoIP technology for networking and interconnectivity, which Lawo says saves considerably on cabling costs. Systems operate under the Lawo Commentary Control Software, which manages all LCUs on a network.

The Dorna commentary set-up is connected through RAVENNA to the ACR and the master control area, known as Broadcasters Technical Control (BTC). At Silverstone a series of self-contained cabins was positioned on a gantry overlooking a section of the track. Each cabin was assigned to a participating broadcaster and contained a LCU console, which can accommodate up to three commentators, two monitors for program feed and results, and a SDI-injected sync video mini-camera for any in-vision coverage or contributions. Video signals from the commentary booths are injected into the relevant rights holding broadcasters' feed using the same V__link4 IP network without any additional cabling.

Commentary system supervisor Samuel Maseda explained that the commentators were responsible for operating the system and opening their own mics but had the option of calling for help if there was a problem. "There is a button they can press and an engineer is able to assist them remotely or come into the booth if required," he said. "Headphone volume and the microphones can also be controlled remotely, if, for example, a mic is left open when it is not needed. This means parameters can be over-ridden from the commentary control room without the commentator noticing. It is also possible for a producer to speak to individual commentators through their headphones from the control room." The commentary technicians in the control room at the end of the row of cabins oversee the systems using a touch screen.

IP technical control hub in the Broadcasters Technical Control area.

IP technical control hub in the Broadcasters Technical Control area.

The audio outputs of the LCUs are sent to the BTC over RAVENNA, where they are managed in the distribution system there. The BTC also receives feeds and streams from the other technical areas, including the IPF truck and the ACR. It is based on two Arista switches rather than routers, with the dual configuration providing redundancy. Jove observes that this part of the production operates fully in IP.

Any signal from the IPF, including SMPTE 2022-7 video streams and RAVENNA audio channels, is monitored in the BTC and can be controlled using the VSM system. It is also possible to embed or de-embed any signal in a stream. "We can put SDI feeds into one stream of IP and route anything anywhere," said Jove. "Audio can be handled separately over RAVENNA by de-embedding it and creating its own stream." A Gefen DVI KVM-over-IP unit is used so operators have a familiar interface with the equipment.

BTC technician Maria Neira comments that the IP way of working had been complex and difficult to understand initially. "It took about six to seven Grand Prix to get used to the changes," she says. But once operators became familiar with the new technology, its benefits did become apparent. "Set-up time is reduced," observes Jove, "which helps with our schedules. Cabling is reduced and simplified because we are working on Ethernet. There is also the capability to solve problems remotely. All of which gives us a good quality of service."

There are plans to extend the amount of IP interconnectivity for next year's MotoGP. This provisionally includes the use of Lawo's software-defined networking (SDN) feature, which Dorna hopes will improve and expand its operations. "Looking to the future and evolving in technology has been something in Dorna's philosophy," Jove concludes.

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