Conn Dunning, Broadcast Market Specialist, Adder Technology
The outside broadcast (OB) truck is a microcosm of a studio control room. Placed in any number of settings, from theater productions and sporting events, to one-off concerts and festivals, OB trucks play a crucial role in delivering up to the minute, high quality content.
In simple terms, an OB truck, in the right configuration, has the power to take dozens of camera feeds from a live event, edit the content, tweak audio, add graphics and transmit a packaged product.
As the expense of these mobile studios and efficiency drives increase, broadcasters are looking for trucks that are efficient, flexible, scalable, reliable and quickly re-configurable to move from one location and event to the next with minimal delay.
Inside the truck
These large vehicles are essentially broadcasting facilities on wheels and typically comprise a range of cameras, operators, a director, vision mixer, graphics department and audio technicians so as to be able to perform each function of the broadcast chain.
As a result of the number of functions that are fulfilled within the OB truck, a number of servers and computer resources need to be housed within it – usually rack-mounted, in a shock-proof, air conditioned section away from the operators. This is more secure, as it cannot be accessed by anyone other than staff and ensures that users have a more ergonomic working environment by minimizing equipment space requirements. The heat and noise generated by the machines is managed through relocation ensuring the operators remain focused on what is often a high pressure task.
The OB truck is a small, fast-paced and pressurized environment that sees a number of staff, including directors, technical directors, editors, operators, producers and audio engineers, performing any number of tasks. These include monitoring video feeds, previewing shots, ensuring the quality of shots, guaranteeing the playback capabilities and transmitting the feed back to the studio or main truck that is controlling the broadcast.
IP networks and outside broadcast
The use of IP KVM (keyboard, video and mouse) technology is providing a valuable proof point for the complete move to IP in OB workflow. Already used to great benefit in the broadcast sector – from the gallery control room, to post production studios – high performance KVM is adding flexibility, cost-effectiveness, reliability and scalability to OB operations. Pixel perfect performance is delivered to users using a ubiquitous network inside and external to the OB environment.
KVM solutions facilitate flexible resource allocation and allow multiple users to access a single resource, or one operator to access multiple resources. The KVM extender or matrix function in such a way that the operator is not aware of it – it runs efficiently in the background providing the user with real-time extension, pixel perfect graphics, a lag free USB experience and near instant switching speeds, all over a standard IP network.
In addition, these trucks feature a number of servers that are not used all the time, but are needed to run in the background and manage content as it is coming in to the make-shift control room. As a result, these servers do not require a dedicated keyboard and mouse, freeing up valuable and scarce desktop space on the truck. So, the KVM solution ensures that the servers can be accessed when needed from any workstation.
These mobile facilities are used in a number of different applications and, as a result, the internal set-up may be reconfigured accordingly. The switching and extension capabilities of KVM are particularly beneficial in this process. If, for example, a truck is used to capture content from a live concert and then a golf tournament; the resources within the vehicle will need to be configured and scaled accordingly, be that in terms staff numbers, types of machines needed, etc. Once the event is complete, the truck can be re-assigned to cover another type of event.
Traditionally, the truck would need to be completely reconfigured to meet the requirements of the new job. However, using a high performance IP KVM solution enables technicians to program pre-set configurations. As a result, once an OB truck has finished one project, it can be easily configured in situ using the presets.
In this way, fewer technicians are required to handle the rearrangement of equipment through manual patching.
Outside broadcast challenges
Currently, there's a drop in performance when extending DVI and USB signals across long distances that must travel through many hops. DVI signals running at 1920x1080 are often subject to signal loss when there are several hops in the signal path. While home run loops seem like an ideal solution, they’re not always practical. Lower resolution signals of 1280x1024, on the other hand, do not suffer from this problem as much as 1080. And, modern GPU's now have four outputs all running at 1080, so there might be a need to extend all 4 signals; especially when extending desktops to multiple monitors. Taking all of this into account, as we move into the future, the extension of signals will likely prove a challenge for the OB industry, especially into higher resolutions from the GPU and greater bandwidth to drive USB devices.
The use of high performance IP KVM solutions has been bringing tremendous benefit to the broadcast sector for several years already. These operations are able to enjoy enhanced flexibility, scalability, optimum use of resources, cost-effectiveness and a more ergonomically sound working environment. When it comes to the use of KVM in OB trucks – these advantages clearly stand out and ensure that not only are operators able to work in a comfortable, fully functional environment, but are able to switch between machines, shots, content and audio; an absolute must in such a high pressure environment. Going forward, this versatility and reliability will certainly provide a valuable use case for the further adoption of IP throughout the broadcast workflow.