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Everybody could be a contributor

By October 27th, 2011 Uncategorized No Comments

What you see is what you get - a Mobile Broadcast video-still at 2 Mbit/s

TV pundits and contributors are not an American invention – in fact, interviewing individuals with extensive knowledge on a subject is as old as TV itself. But the US media apparatus sure managed to inflate the use of ‘opinion’ journalism in TV broadcasting. Experts on politics, economics, industry, science, social & cultural studies, sports… Everybody seems to have something to contribute and ‘joining us now’ might already be the most used phrase in all TV history (especially since a 24h news cycle came to be the standard operating procedure). People are joining ‘via satellite’, ‘via radio relay systems’, ‘via telephone’ and increasingly also ‘live via broadband’. Broadband internet seems to be the long awaited low-cost substitute to telephone uplinks. After all it is a good thing to hear – but naturally it’s a whole different thing if you can also see what’s going on.

But this new low-end option does not come without a downside. TV producers are put into a dichotomy. For a quick bootleg they can either go with reliable but often dull telephone feeds (visualized with more or less appropriate still photos and archive footage), or they can use a magnified low-res video feed that is often unstable and generally not pretty to view in full-screen. Needless to say, this modest impression is further exacerbated by the lack of proper lighting and camera gear on the contributor’s side.

Tinkering time

But after all, there obviously seem to be plenty of opportunities where an additional outside voice would be helpful, but in many cases SNG uplinks are either not available at short notice or just not within the production’s budget. So in order to get the first images from location to the studio, tinkering is often the only way to go. Sometimes video-phone feeds (e.g. Skype) are grabbed off the receiving computer’s screen and relayed at reduced quality and heightened latency. At the IBC 2011 a Norwegian TV producer mentioned one of their recent pieces, where the camera operator used duct tape to mount an Iphone 4g to a full-size DVCAM in order to preserve his way of handling the gear and add some stability to the otherwise too wiggly image coming from the camera-phone. He then made use of an iphone app that streamed the feed over the location’s wifi network into the studio. “The pictures were rather bad, but it gave us time until the SNG was set up”, she summarized.

So the question we have been pondering is: If producers are ready to go to such lengths in order to have an alternative to the existing SNG infrastructure, why don’t they look for a well-rounded solution? We hope it is simply a matter of awareness. After all there is at least one practical way to quickly get decent quality images into the studio over the internet.

SDI support

By October 12th, 2011 Uncategorized No Comments

One of the most requested features for the MobileBroadcast Client is support for SDI devices. For now, the software only supports capturing via FireWire.

Good news: SDI support is coming along! A new version of the client software will be released within the next weeks, which also supports capturing using the Blackmagic SDK, and thus all devices supported by this SDK. For notebooks, the UltraStudio SDI would be of special interest. If you are using a desktop PC for transmitting, the whole Decklink series will work.

But there are also some drawbacks using SDI: The client software consequently adheres to the concept of caching unprocessed data. If the computer’s CPU is to slow to encode video in real-time, the stream coming from the camera is cached on the hard-drive and encoded with a delay.

Instead of transcoding the stream directly, the incoming DV/HDV data are written to the hard drive, and at the same time read from the hard drive and encoded to H.264. The encoding thus went completely independent from capturing, and even slow CPUs wouldn’t cause a single frame drop. This was easy to achieve with DV or HDV captured via FireWire, because they have a data rate of only about 25MBit/s, which is not a problem for modern hard-drives, not even when writing and reading concurrently.

The situation is quite different with SDI: It delivers uncompressed video, which has already 270Mbit/s for SD and usually around 1.5Gbit/s for HD. Even for modern hard-drives, this is far too much for reading and writing concurrently, and thus captured data cannot be cached anymore. It has to be encoded directly to H.264, and the encoded data have to be cached afterwards.

The result is that you will have unrecoverable frame drops if your CPU is too slow to encode in real-time. When using SDI, an automatic “store-and-forward” delivery is only possible with very recent and fast laptop computers.

So as a conclusion, SDI will work well, but make sure to use one of the latest Core i7-2 processors with at least four cores! Slower computers will definitely cause frame drops.

On-camera mount

By October 5th, 2011 Uncategorized No Comments

There are many hardware vendors that offer video-over-cellular backpack solutions. Some of them even announced small and lightweight devices for on-camera mount, which is definitely a real advantage over these huge and heavy backpacks. MobileBroadcast in contrast is a software-solution and runs on normal notebook computers.

So, time to mount MobileBroadcast directly on the camera. Impossible, or at least impractical? Well, read on!

Indeed it was not an easy task to find a suitable notebook that is booth fast enough to perform the required video encoding, and small enough for being mounted on a camera. Also, the laptop should be applicable for outdoor usage, and at best even work in harsh environments or bad weather.

In fact, we found a computer that met all these requirements: The Panasonic Toughbook CF-19.

The latest Panasonic Toughbook is an awesome piece of hardware: While only having a size of 10,1″ and therefore being as small as a netbook, it delivers the full power of a Core i5-2520M, the newest generation Intel CPU with Sandy-Bridge architecture. This is more than enough processing power to do SD encoding in real-time, and even HD should work under most circumstances. No further external components are required for transmitting, since a Firewire connection and a 3G modem are already built into the notebook. Being fully ruggedized, it’s perfectly well suited for on-the-field usage.

For a first try, I sticked the laptop to the camera using some Velcro tape. While for a real-field application some additional brackets are highly recommended, it worked well for testing and could easily carry the 2.3 kg device.

The whole assembly has a weight of 10.5 kg, which is not what you would call lightweight, but acceptable for a camera operator. Especially for getting some breaking news on air, this is certainly a decent solution.

Concerning the price, the Toughbook is more expensive than what we call “standard” hardware, but still much cheaper than specialized devices from other vendors. And it really looks promising not only for running the MobileBroadcast Client on it, but for video applications on the field in general.

Thanks to FF COMPANY OFFICE SOLUTIONS for providing the Toughbook!