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How to Deliver Untethered Immersive Experiences for Live-Streamed Sports

The convergence of three key technologies--5G, cloud-based video processing, and 360-degree video--is creating a new freedom in the art of live sports production and delivery.

The convergence of three key technologies--5G, cloud-based video processing, and 360-degree video--is creating a new freedom in the art of live sports production and delivery.

MediaKind introduced our first digital satellite newsgathering codec 23 years ago, and we've been involved in live production and live-first videos all the way through that time. So, whether it's from space, from the seafloor, 4K live Olympics coverage, helping NASCAR go into remote production through their service provider, PSSI, we've been involved in some of these live event pieces all the way through time.

Challenges of Producing Premium Event Content

What we've seen in that 20+ years of experience, is that live event production is limited by a number of different areas. Particularly for major sports events, you've got staging, prep time, going out and deciding on camera locations. All of that takes time, and it takes money in advance. And then when you're onsite, you've got all the cost of people and time and infrastructure, rigging out for major live events.

For premium live event-type sports content, we've always had that demand for quality. Typically, you’re working multi-camera content captured onsite that is going to go back to a production system. It's going to be edited. You're going to have to do graphics overlay, and all these other different postproduction elements video before it goes out to the consumer.

Quality vs. Mobility

That generally leads to immobility. You end up rigging high-quality cameras in fixed locations and having to cable those locations in, and that gives a lack of flexibility in how you can cover live events.

Now, news and other forms of content have bypassed some of these restrictions. They've gone to microwave, they've gone to 4G-bonded modems to overcome preptime, setup. But you're trading off that quality vs. the mobility piece.

There are some great solutions with 4G and 4G bonding. But what we see going forward is that some of these new technologies are going to break down some of these barriers. In particular, the combination of 5G and cloud-based processing is going to break some of these creation barriers.

Delivering New Kinds of Experiences

First, we're going to see wider coverage, new camera locations, the flexibility that these technologies will give in providing the ability to cover live and premium sports events differently. And progressively, over time, the combination of these different technologies--5G, cloud processing, 360-degree video--are going to create new experiences, such as virtual front-seat-row experiences for people to view, better and higher quality views from in-car footage, and even full-player and first correspondent-type views as well.

In the next section I'll share with you some of the recent events that we've done over the past year that are driving towards this direction of untethered live event coverage.

Producing and Delivering the US Open

One of the first “untethered” events we did was with Fox Sports in June last year, for the US Open. This was a technology-approved concept with Fox, with AT&T for the 5G network, for Ericsson for all of the 5G core networking, and ourselves for the video and media processing. And this was all about expanding the camera locations to bring the audiences closer to the action.

So what we had here was two golf carts rigged out with encoding and 5G modem technology. Those golf carts were able to follow the action around the golf course at the US Open, and thus provide a new experience and a wider coverage of the US Open in comparison to taking the cable fixed-camera locations that have typically been used at events like that in the past.

We were using AT&T’s 5G connectivity to link those mobile cameras back to the production truck. It was within the 28gHz band, and with that 5G, we were able to get over 650Mbps by directional data connections. This gave us very high data capacity--wireless within the event--and it was done with a 5G core in a box. Everything that was required from the core network of 5G was put into a rackmount portable box.

That's what was taken out onsite as well, to become the 5G receive infrastructure that was needed so that you could make almost a portable 5G network for doing this type of event coverage. We had two 4K Ultra High Definition HDR cameras that were going around covering that event, and they were transmitting back to the production truck at 80 Megabits per second.

Now, in terms of overall latencies, the camera-to-production truck latency was about 12 milliseconds. That was the sort of latency that we were getting through 5G. And that's quite interesting when you start to think about that sort of latency for remote production and remote camera control. In terms of the total encode-to-decode latency from the camera back to the production truck, that was just under 700 milliseconds.

We were running HEVC encoding and we were not particularly running in a low-latency or a low-delay mode for the encoding, so you could certainly cut down that sort of latency from camera back to production truck.

But what this really did with 5G is untether those camera locations, and make them possible with high quality to go around and cover those live sports events.