If you’ve been watching news programs on the TV for more than a few years, one thing will surely have struck you – and that’s just how many journalists, camera crews, sound recordists, engineers and so on are being sent to the furthest flung parts of the world to bring back ‘on the spot’ reports.

That’s a function of two things. The first is that, in a world where attention spans are diminishing on what seems like a daily basis, capturing and retaining viewers’ attention has become significantly more challenging.

The second is technology. The equipment it takes to transmit pictures and sound from even the remotest of locations is smaller, lighter, more capable and less expensive than it’s ever been.

It’s not just news, though. Any and every major event – sporting, political or whatever – now seems to be covered by an outside broadcast (OB) crew.

The equipment involved in either case may have become less expensive and more capable – but broadcasting from a location other than a studio continues to be hugely expensive. And then there’s the cost of the satellite uplink.

Costs reduced

“OB costs, in particular live UHD production, could be considerably reduced if current broadcast engineering technologies were replaced with internet-based infrastructure,” wrote Adrian Pennington in a recent issue of Broadcast.

In that regard, he went on to note, the trial by BBC R&D from Glasgow during the Commonwealth Games was a milestone. Signals from four trackside Sony 4K cameras were converted into IP and routed over dark fibre to an IP-operated production gallery at the Glasgow Science Centre, Pennington wrote, pointing out that the experiment also used a UK-wide network of links operating at 100GB/s to test remote video switching. The test was conducted simultaneously over DTT to probe the BBC’s planned hybrid broadcasting system. Future large-scale events could be produced in IP and similarly broadcast over the air to TVs and streamed to tablets and mobile phones.

“Benefits include cost savings on sending OB trucks and crew to venues and bypassing satellite uplinks, as well as potential new content production techniques,” Pennington concluded.

R&D engineers at the BBC – itself the subject of constant scrutiny in terms of what it costs – may, however, have come up with a solution in the form of Stagebox.

Stagebox is an innovative broadcast camera-mounted device that enables TV programme makers to link with multiple cameras and move high-quality high-definition (HD) video and audio content over a standard internet network. Moreover, it can help the broadcast industry in its move towards an open and end-to-end Internet Protocol (IP) production chain, delivering significant time and cost savings. One commentator has described it as a “revolution in outside broadcasting”.

Game-changing

High profile events from the Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race and the Glastonbury music festival have already benefited from Stagebox but it is as at home in an environment where a single camera is being used for a news interview as it is in one in which 15 cameras are capturing a major occasion. What’s game-changing about it is that it eliminates the need to deploy an expensive OB truck and crew.

The fact that Stagebox makes current outside broadcasts more affordable is only part of its appeal. Another is that, because it is much less expensive to deploy, smaller events – local music festivals, for example – can be covered that would previously not have had TV cameras present because of the cost of coverage.

Stagebox can be used to create a virtual OB capability using multiple cameras controlled remotely from anywhere with an Internet connection, creating significant improvements to workflow efficiency.

It’s not just about reducing the cost of deploying a truck and crew, however. The cost of post-production work is also dramatically reduced using Stagebox, as the technology uses low-cost and almost ubiquitous Cat-6 Gigabit Ethernet networking wiring, switches and routers, rather than using relatively expensive SDI (Serial Digital Interface) networks.

Production tools – such as vision mixers, ARC devices and colour correctors – are also ‘virtualised’, meaning post-production is uploaded on networks far faster. This means HD feeds can be captured in real-time, recorded into editable files on the fly, and post production can start instantly with no additional SDI routing, recording, or transcoding costs.

The world of broadcasting is being transformed by the potential of IP technology and Stagebox is a potentially vital element within that transformation.