EMG, a leading provider of broadcast services and media solutions for live content – sports, entertainment and events. Bevan Gibson, its CTO, talks about the rollout of the Olympic Games in 4K HDR UHD.
“Our group brings together unique knowledge and experience that allows it to manage the entire value chain, from image creation to distribution. Covering major sporting events is an important part of what we do,” explains Bevan Gibson, CTO of EMG, who develops his perspective here.
Sports programs have always been the driving force behind the development of new technological solutions: indeed, viewers are constantly asking for more cameras, more angles, more slow motion, more graphics and better resolution (like 4K or HDR UHD). To stay one step ahead, we are constantly developing solutions that add value and save money and labor. One way to do this is to use IP networks to centralize management and facilitate remote access.
Here’s how we created a new all-IP package called diPloy. This fully modular production system consists of shelving in different sizes in standard 12m containers, allowing us to prepare special features to suit each event. The modules fit into a case and can therefore be placed where they are needed: some close to the scene and others at a decent distance.
One of the first major applications of the diPloy system was coverage of a major sports event in Japan in the summer of 2021. For this event, the channel that was going to broadcast the images entrusted us with the responsibility of the main part of the necessary technical infrastructure.
The stadium, which hosted most athletics events, also hosted the opening and closing ceremonies. In order to meet the needs of the network and ensure full system redundancy during the opening ceremony, we have created eight control galleries located in technical rooms five hundred meters from the stadium.
The first of these needs was to transmit the signal from the stadium’s cameras and microphones to the control rooms. For this, a diPloy rack was installed inside the stadium to centralize the captured signals. The uncompressed IP data was then sent over a fiber optic link to the technical rooms, where the images were then made available for production.
The main cameras were in 4K HDR UHD, and some field cameras shot in other resolutions. The channels used the IP protocol, but the diPloy racks also accepted the SDI format. In the control room, much of the work was also done at IP; however, we were using existing playback servers that were in SDI and therefore needed to be converted to SMPTE ST 2110 IP.
diPloy, reliable system
An integral part of diPloy is SNP (Selenio Network Processor) developed by Imagine Communications. Powerful and compact, the SNP is a device that uses software tools to provide a wide range of functions. Each SNP occupies 1U and is equipped with four independent processors, each with eight 3G processing paths with their own software personality, ready for any purpose.
This can be, for example, SDI-IP conversion, resolution, format or color space change, video or audio processing, multiviewer support and much more. SNP provides an interface for high-speed IP connections between different devices, up to 400 Gbps over fiber in the current version.
As the industry shifts to higher and higher resolutions, European channels are looking for ways to expand 4K and HDR adoption, while US channels are focusing more on 1080p HD in HDR. SNP can perform appropriate transformations, which allows us to offer different images for different destinations easily and transparently. It only takes one click to change the operations of each processing path in SNP. This combination of power and flexibility is perfect for us and we consider this tool to be the true heart of diPloy.
This summer in Tokyo, SNPs converted and multiplexed input signals before sending them to the control room, where other SNPs separated them for production. The process is completely transparent, with almost zero delay. From the point of view of the technicians, the SDI cameras were connected directly to their workstations. It would be very inefficient to build eight galleries in a stadium that hosted only selected events of this major multi-sport event; so we used other diPloy stands – again equipped with SNP – to cover events held elsewhere, with centralized production close to the stadium.
For example, for road cycling, the images had to travel over a hundred kilometers to the technical room of the stadium, where they were edited and mixed. The SNPs installed in the diPloy racks then multiplexed all the signals to form a single high speed IP link.
Cameras aboard motorcycles, helicopters and even airplanes were also used to cover the cycling race: so wireless receivers were installed in suitable places, and, if necessary, other SNPs were used to communicate with the control room. The delay caused by conversion, multiplexing, and signal transmission to the switcher was so small that the director did not even notice it.
The future of diploya
This event allowed us to publicly demonstrate the effectiveness of the diPloy solution in terms of separating the source of images and production resources. There is great potential here for sports coverage, even outside the four-year cycle of major international events. We have already installed diPloy in a new control room set up at our facilities in the Netherlands and are working on similar projects in several major European cities. The overall goal is to centralize manufacturing operations, which will reduce both costs and environmental impact.
In one week, a traditional OB van can cover three football matches a week in a limited area; on the other hand, diPloy’s control room could support three matches in one day by simply centralizing the images sent by the on-site filming equipment.
The location of matches is no longer a limiting factor. One production team and one director could film, for example, two League 1 matches in one working day: one match in the afternoon in Manchester and then one in the evening in Prague. The director could even work with the mixer in a Czech studio, while the editing and playback team would be in Amsterdam and the sound engineer in London.
This is where diPloy provides the answer to the challenges of remote sports production. For example, on a winter Saturday at 3:00 pm, multiple football and rugby matches can be played at the same time, putting significant pressure on the limited number of available vans. By distributing the load among several centralized productions, it is possible not only to provide all the needs for football and rugby coverage, but even to add hockey and handball.
Without diPloy, the equipment would spend most of its time offline, stored in a trailer truck, cruising the motorways of Europe, constantly moving from one stadium to another. With diPloy, you can set up high-performance production studios at a low cost, allowing channels to offer more specialized sports programming.
We can also create production studios that are more conveniently located in the OB van, where there is enough space for the crew to rest between meetings. By devoting more time to the creative side of their work and traveling less, team members are also more satisfied. It can also be emphasized that since fewer people and materials now have to be moved, the system results in less carbon emissions.
In terms of SNP, we have a great working relationship with Imagine Communications. It is a pleasure to work with a supplier who is attentive to our business and our needs and considers them. We are looking forward to implementing JPEG XS in SNP as it will allow us to send even more signals over fiber with minimal latency. SNP is an integral part of our diPloy architecture: it is, if you will, the swiss army knife of manufacturing, offering different “personalities” in a 1U chassis. And we believe diPloy is the future of live sports programming.
The article was first published in MediaQuest No. 45, p. 98-100