ORF`s Agile SNGs
The project requirements
The broadcaster required a collection of vehicles that would enable the quick and efficient collection of news, as it happens, with the ability to transmit stories back to regional studios or ORF’s main studio in Vienna.
The project for a new type of SNG and CNG van was put out to tender in Europe, a collection of vehicles that would enable the quick and efficient collection of news, with a heavy emphasis on looking for a provider that could deliver a high-quality video encoding capability.
“We had a list of requirements that were important to us, and wanted to see just how the different providers proposed we fulfil them,” explained Christian Knoll, Planning & Design Broadcast Production Systems, at ORF. “As a result, we were quite open minded when it came to the video encoding element of the project.”
ORF had the requirement for those vans to stream high quality video and audio content, with as small delay as possible, from anywhere in Austria to any one of its nine studios located throughout the country and to its main studio based in Vienna. Multi-point distribution was key for the project, with each van capable of transmitting to all studios at the same time, if necessary.
In addition, due to the diverse geography in the country and weather conditions, ORF wanted the vans to be able to transmit via 3G/4G cellular technology as a failover should the KA-SAT be affected.
The tender was awarded to SATCOM, a German-based company with a 25-year reputation in television production and designing OB vehicles for newsgathering. Based on the requirements for the project, SATCOM brought its reseller partner Mobile Viewpoint onboard. Mobile Viewpoint designs, develops and implements a host of IP transmission solutions targeted at industries including broadcast.
Its range of products include mobile encoders and decoders, ideal for an SNG project such as the one for ORF. Working closely with SATCOM, Mobile Viewpoint put forward its WMT Agile LiveLink mobile encoding solution to fulfil the requirements of the project.
“After winning the tender SATCOM told us what they had in mind, specifically using technology that offered a highly innovative approach. They scoped out the benefits and functionality of the solutions and we agreed to test them,” said Knoll. “After seeing the WMT Agile LiveLink in action, within one of the vans, it is clear to see that this technology really is very well suited to what we wanted.”
ORF was particularly impressed with Mobile Viewpoint’s ability to bring IP over satellite and cellular bonded connections into the van. Importantly, the Mobile Viewpoint technology makes the transmission process more effective and efficient, not only by enabling satellite, mobile and normal cable-based technology all at the same time, but by providing an intelligent connection. The technology is able to decide which method to use based on the availability of bandwidth or signal, without any intervention from the operator.
Following the refining of the project’s requirements, Mobile Viewpoint demonstrated the solutions — mobile encoders and decoders, along with the WMT Agile LiveLink. The WMT Agile LiveLink can be mounted onto the camera or in a backpack for a more mobile solution. It is a ruggedised transmitter that encodes video at H.265/HEVC and bonds eight combined 3G/4G connections for high quality live streaming using Mobile Viewpoint’s award-winning bonding technology. H.265 live video transmission offers the same quality at lower bandwidth consumption, but also saves money at data cards. It is also possible to add Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections to maximize the upload capacity. Its aluminium design makes it extremely sturdy and will survive accidental drops of more than 2 metres. All this while still offering up to eight x 4G modems, HD-SDI, HDMI input, a LAN connection, satellite/KA-sat/BGAN support, an integrated antenna and 120GB of storage for recording video locally, ready for editing.
The vans were then designed and built by SATCOM, with Mobile Viewpoint working closely with its partner in integrating the hardware and software into the vehicles.
“One of the challenges for this project included changing the antennae array on the vehicle with relative ease,” said Michel Bais, CEO of Mobile Viewpoint. “ORF wanted the mobile encoder to be mounted in the SNG van, by default, but with the added capability of being removed quickly, if needed, and placed in a backpack.”
Mobile Viewpoint designed a customised antenna mount for the project, which could be used on the roof of the SNG van. This included finding a mechanical solution to ensure that all the connections to the device could be decoupled in one step, as well as designing an antenna to be used with the WMT Agile LiveLink that can then be placed into a backpack and taken a distance away from the van.
The company also, in accordance with ORF’s requirements, made significant changes and adjustments to the user interface for the encoders and associated software inside the van. The broadcaster wanted crews in the vans to be more autonomous and able to capture the footage and determine its destination, instead of relying on staff in the master control room (MCR) in Vienna to do so. Mobile Viewpoint was able to customise the user interface to ensure that operators within each SNG van are able to select which decoder to use, effectively transmitting the content to a regional studio of their choice, instead of first sending it to the MCR.
This functionality saved both time and money as no additional staff are needed to man the MCR, existing staff within the control room are not under pressure to perform this task, and newsgathering staff in the field can be more nimble.
Almost a year after the project was awarded, the vans were delivered to ORF. Mobile Viewpoint was instrumental in the testing phase of the project. Support teams collaborated with ORF operators in getting the SNG vehicles up and running, implementing the software, providing updates and fixing any bugs.
“The intention of the project was to have SNG vans that are able to get to the location of breaking news quickly and effectively, being the first on location and bringing back the stories to regional offices or our main studio. This is effectively what Mobile Viewpoint has helped deliver and we are really pleased with the results and performance so far. These vans are part of our long-term plan and will continue to add value well into the future,” concluded Knoll.