François Vaillant has been the Director of Media Infrastructure with Radio-Canada’s Production team since 2007. After an early career in the Canadian Armed Forces, he held a series of positions at Marconi Canada, Nortel Telecom, Bendix Avelex, Oerlikon Aérospatial, and Videotron Telecom Ltd. He joined Radio-Canada in 2005 as Senior Manager of Maintenance, where he was in charge of managing projects such as converting the Maison de Radio-Canada studios to HD between 2006 and 2007 and updating the CDI news infrastructure between 2009 and 2011.
What is a Remote Production Terminal (RPT)? It involves integrating a variety of concepts implemented or tried-out over the years. The idea behind RPT is being able to produce programs remotely with a pared-down location staff. Production teams such as audio and video switchers, camera controllers, VTR people, and production teams can remain in our well-equipped facilities and make optimal use of them.
Several Olympic Games have used a similar concept, feeding all the sources to Montreal and Toronto through digital transmission links and editing and producing in Montreal instead of from a remote location.
Obviously, the equipment used for the Olympics varied depending on the time and the workflow from one period to another. Everything had to be started from scratch each time.
As a result, we were looking for a transmission system, standardised here in one of the technical equipment centres at the Maison de Radio-Canada (MRC), consisting of a terminal that could receive around eight HD camera feeds with attached audio simultaneously, and two-way control and Internet links. The idea was to be able to easily direct all this traffic to whichever MRC studio was available.
The terminal at the remote location is set up in a small 18-foot cube van that can easily be moved to the site of the event. The equipment does not need to be set up for each event; only the audio/video peripherals for the camera operators as well as other technical and production staff need to be set up.
With this concept in mind, we had to find technology that met our criteria. CBC/Radio-Canada implemented a Canada-wide network called Next Generation Converged Network (NGCN) based on technology from Evertz (a Canadian company with head offices in Burlington, Ontario). The system chosen for our intercity network is the Advanced Optical Transport Platform (ATP). This system can be used to insert a large number of audio/video input and data formats, to encode everything in MPEG format (MPEG2, MPEG4 or JPEG2000), and to manage the compression rate and its priority in the transmission line-up. There is also a lot of flexibility in the transfer formats, varying from OC3 to OC192, or using an Ethernet interface (Gig Port).
Figure 1 – Overview of the ATP System
We began seriously considering this technology for our RPT both to make use of the expertise acquired from the NGCN and to interact easily with CBC/Radio-Canada’s cross-country network.
We were dealing with a proven, flexible technology that could work point-to-point or connected through our private network, the NGCN.
The RPT is currently set up permanently and functionally in Technical Equipment Centre 1 (“Centrale d’équipement technique 1” – CET1 – in French), ready to handle any remote site. Regardless of the distance, productions that require the system will need to rent a fibre optic cable with a 1-Gb interface and they are ready to go. Once connected in this way, the system can link up with Studio 45 at the MRC, with a capacity of eight HD cameras and camera control, the required interphone and audio, and an Internet connection.
The other end is set up in packing crates in a truck adapted for the equipment. The cameras chosen (HSC-300) have a Triax connection to capitalise on the facilities that already exist in most stadiums and concert halls, considerably reducing the set-up time.
In the Field
To give you an example, we captured the various elements of the technical and operational tests that we carried out when the project was implemented. One of the tests carried out at Montreal’s Saputo Stadium was aimed at validating the acceptable compression threshold to allow the greatest number of links coming from the remote site. The RPT is set up from a gigabit transfer port (1,000 Mb/s, two-way), and we had to transfer the maximum amount of video, audio, control, intercom, and Internet (all of it at 1,000 Mb/s). The encoding used was JPEG2000, the same type of card used in our private intercity network (NGCN). JPEG2000 was chosen for its very short lead-time (minimal propagation delay with the highest possible compression) as well as its acceptable acquisition cost. A very short lead-time is essential for live feeds and on-air formatting of the various feeds.
The tests at the Saputo Stadium clearly showed that the equipment could transfer a maximum of eight audio/video feeds at a compression rate of approximately 90 Mb/s per video as well as the data and control required for field production, meaning the intercom, CCU camera control, and Internet without any delay problems.
Aside from the technical integration problems that we had to deal with, one of the biggest issues remains the associated production methods and workflow. This type of equipment raises new challenges for remote production with a minimum of staff at the recording location. Basically, the trucks arrive and we have to plug them into the Stadium’s Triax connections, connect the rented fibre optic between the recording location and the MRC equipment centre and, in the best-case scenario, send our people out into the field and hook up the necessary intercoms.
Once all the feeds have reached the selected MRC studio, the programming and technical teams in the control room give their instructions to the field team the same way the studio teams regularly do. Used effectively, the equipment can significantly lower costs in a variety of ways by severely reducing the size of the teams sent out, the set-up time and the high cost of mobile HD rental, and by optimizing our already-set-up studio facilities.
In the interest of clarity, it is worth including a brief word about the Gigabit Ethernet link that we have to rent. Ethernet is the Internet’s transfer format. If you order a 10 Mb/s, 100 Mb/S, or 1 Gb/s (1000 Mb/s) link, the packets transmitted (as on the Internet) can take paths and go through transfer equipment that can desynchronise our signals. Given the way in which we use it, we are forced to reserve a dedicated point-to-point Gigabit Ethernet link that goes through a fixed equipment path between the recording location and the MRC using a fixed bandwidth. Why fixed bandwidth? Because the Ethernet protocol shares bandwidth based on the priorities set for the various links that share the transport tunnel. As a result, the important thing to consider is that the reserved link should be point-to-point, and the 1 Gb/s should be fixed and continuous.
In the end, the RPT is functional and operational, and despite the fact that it will certainly need to be modified and adapted for a variety of production needs and technological issues, the RPT is ready to be used in actual situations. At first glance, it seems well adapted for sports, elections, talk shows, and Ricardo-type productions, all of which could benefit from the technology.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank the main crewmembers who helped design and implement the RPT.
First of all, the design, integration, and configuration part was largely done by Nicolas Teasdale, Advanced Maintenance Technician in Montreal, backed up by several members of the Maintenance team.
It is also important to acknowledge the efforts of Guy Groleau, Master Maintenance Technician, who handled the major part of the Maison de Radio-Canada side of things as well as the operational tests; and of Louis Tanguay, who took care of integrating the transfer truck.
Several managers and supervisors were involved to varying degrees, but I would especially like to thank Francis Bossé, Implementation Group Supervisor, who handled the work priorities; Jean-François Leclerc, Supervisor of the Technical Store, who will follow up the vehicle part of the project; France Laforme and Josée Pilon, Purchase and Real Estate Plan Supervisors, who followed up and supported the project’s financial aspect; and Benoit Trottier, Technical Director, who took care of the project’s operational and program aspects.
Last but not least, I would like to thank the NGCN team, who leant us their knowledge and experience throughout the project.