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Multicam Sports Webcasting With NDI and the TriCaster TC1

Here's a look at how 4K-Over-NDI support, hardware-based instant replay, and Skype TX integration can benefit sports broadcasters.

Skype TX and Live Sports

When you simply can’t get a camera where you need to, the TC1 offers a creative solution to bringing in remote video to your workflow. Skype TX is a new feature from the Microsoft-owned property that allows you to maintain a call with multiple individuals simultaneously. It also supports HD quality.

The TC1 has Skype TX integration built in. This allows you to pull from any of your connected Skype calls and use them in your program. One potential is getting unique on-field coverage from a reporter or camera operator that otherwise couldn’t take a large camera on location. You could also pipe in callers from remote locations to provide color commentary or reactions to your event.

Hardware

The TC1 doesn’t just win sports production competitions with a strong spec list and extensive I/O (Figure 3, below). A speedy processor capable of floating point YCbCr +A 4:4:4:4 video processing and floating-point 96 kHz audio processing keeps the feeds running smoothly even with dozens of inputs being fed simultaneously. Two built-in 3TB hard drives can store the colossal amount of data from the 4K sources. After a shoot, program output and ISO recordings can be exported for further editing.

Figure 3. I/O on the TC1’s rear panel

Since a TriCaster is basically a turbocharged PC with some specially engineered hardware, it can be completely controlled with just a simple keyboard and mouse. It’s not ideal for complex multisource productions, but it’s a good option to have in a pinch. The real elegance of the TC1 comes out when it’s paired with one of NewTek’s hardware switchers.

Keyboard shortcuts make the keyboard/mouse interface painless to use with the TC1, but there’s no comparison to having a dedicated switcher with buttons labeled and assigned individually to each function of the software. When the fast action of sports changes in milliseconds, you can’t waste time hunting and pecking for just the right button. And since sports productions are often in a rotating list of locations, it’s helpful to keep as few cables as possible in the mix. This is another area where NDI is the MVP.

4K Over NDI

NewTek’s NDI is a fascinating development about 2 years in the making. I asked NewTek’s Scott Carroll and Chris Burgos to tell me more about this IP protocol and how it differs from what other companies are doing with video over IP. Here’s what Carroll had to say about NDI: “NDI is a protocol or enabling technology to move video bi-directionally over IP in real time. NewTek developed NDI, and we continue to add features and improve performance. But we’ve also made it royalty-free to anyone in the industry who wants to use it. To date, several hundred other manufacturers have implemented NDI into their products. What that amounts to is that any NDI-enabled device on a network will be able to share video sources over that network. It doesn’t have to be a NewTek product.”

Chris Burgos expanded on Carroll’s comments about NDI being available to any device manufacturer or developer. “NewTek now has over 400 third-party companies with NDI in their currently selling products, with over a million devices that support NDI. This is another key differentiator that many people don’t realize. NDI is already being leveraged at scale for productions today. In the recent boon of NDI, many major companies have come forth to work directly with NewTek on products to leverage NDI and their specialty (Vizrt, Wowza, Skype).”

He adds that NDI benefits “live productions wanting to be both flexible and not have a ton of overhead because so much of the technology can leverage consumer-level IT hardware. This means you can cover complex productions like collegiate football games on a fraction of the cost and lose nothing in your production value.”

NewTek has taken the long view in developing NDI. While a dedicated network is advised for any video application, the protocol is extremely light on bandwidth requirements, which helps IT departments sleep easier. It also currently provides support up to 8K resolutions. So although the TC1 offers resolutions only up to 4K, users of NDI will be ready for next-gen productions with today’s technology. This also means that if you’re wary of investing in a 4K system because it’s still too early, forget about it. Even if you’re only producing 1080 content, an NDI workflow will still support you well into the future of possible changes in UHD production. And before you swear off NDI due to previous bad experiences with IP video, know that NDI was developed specifically to alleviate common IP video problems like high latency and visual artifacts or quality loss. NewTek even claims that 4K resolutions can be recorded at up to 1,000 fps using NDI’s efficient encoding.

The last part of NDI’s hat trick is the fact that it is a true end-to-end IP video solution. What this means, according to Burgos, is that, “Once a signal converts from SDI (or whatever it started out as) into NDI, it will stay NDI the entire way through until delivery. This is a benefit for NDI because it allows for the flexibility (we don’t care what resolution or type the source is), scalability (NDI is extremely light on the network), [and] future proofing.”

Carroll adds this: “By ‘full end-to-end IP solution’ we mean being able to create and deliver multicamera video content over a network without the use of a single SDI cable. Since we introduced our NDI PTZ Camera and the connect Spark products, this makes it possible to connect cameras (and other devices with the Spark products) onto the network, into your switcher, and out. We have the MediaDS, a 4-channel streaming encoder which can take your NDI signal and output it to any number of destinations at different resolutions as necessary.”

Being able to route cameras and switchers to the TC1 over a network reduces your cable requirements. Some NDI or IP cameras support Power over Ethernet (PoE) and can further reduce cabling by one, removing the need for a dedicated power supply. This allows many cameras to be used with only one or two cables—Ethernet for power and control (in the case of PTZ cameras) and SDI for signal (Figure 4, below).

Figure 4. Using Ethernet for power and control and SDI for signal with this PTZ camera

Even a switcher can be plugged into the TC1 with just an Ethernet cable. NDI is not your father’s Video over IP, and it can prove more than just useful for your live sports productions.

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